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Together, they oversaw construction of Chernobyl’s new safe confinement structure, which was built to contain the remains of the number 4 reactor unit at the nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which was destroyed in 1986.
Strictly off-limits to the public, Mr Coulet describes their Chernobyl worksite of more than five years as a “no man’s land”.
To enter, they first dressed in special suits for protection from radiation and contaminated dust. Then, they donned a fresh layer of clothing, which they had to dispose of before leaving the site.
The pair worked in 40-degree heat in the summer and minus-38 degrees in the winter.
David Coulet (left) and Nicolas Caille at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.
They lived in a town called Slavutych that was specifically built in 1986 about 50 kilometres away from the nuclear plant to house those who were displaced by the catastrophe.
The arch-shaped steel dome they were building to surround the reactor was set to prevent radiation leaking for 100 years.
By comparison, building the Metro Tunnel – twin nine-kilometre rail tunnels beneath the city – might be a piece of cake.
“No,” Mr Caille said hastily. “Everything is totally different,” he said.
The enormous protective dome over the top of the exploded Chernobyl reactor building. CREDIT:AP
The structure at Chernobyl is more than 90 metres high and three times the weight of the Eiffel tower. It is longer than two jumbo jets and the total size of the roofing and cladding amounts to 12 football pitches.
The engineers built the 36,000-tonne structure 300-metres away from the reactor and slid it into place – a process that took two weeks. It was the “the biggest moveable structure”, Mr Caille said.
In the world of engineering, this project was like the “Olympic Games”, said Mr Caille, who also described it as a unique challenge that was underpinned by the feeling that they were building something that was “good for humanity”.
While the Metro Tunnel will improve Melbourne’s rail network it may not measure up to these lofty standards but construction-wise, the engineers confess the project has been deeply challenging.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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