Manitowoc cranes rise to challenge at Chernobyl site

A decade of disaster management: Manitowoc cranes complete ten years of lifting to seal the nuclear accident site

When a giant arched shelter was slid into place over the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in Ukraine towards the end of last year, it marked the end of seven years of toil to build the world’s largest land-based moving structure and cover one of the world’s biggest man-made disaster areas. It also marked more than a decade of crawler and tower cranes from Manitowoc working on the site.

Resembling an aircraft hangar, the arch was first designed more than two decades ago, with construction starting in 2010. Its purpose is to cover the concrete and steel structure that was hastily built upon the ruins of the reactor of the erstwhile nuclear power plant, to contain the radiation that spread from it after an explosion tore it apart around 30 years ago.

A massive engineering feat, the new arch measures 152m by 244m and is 107m high. Built to last at least a century, its purpose is to seal in all toxic material and radioactivity from the reactor. The structure is designed to withstand corrosion, storms and extreme temperatures, apart from a build-up of radioactivity inside it from the still leaking reactor.

To accomplish such a marvel of engineering, in such extreme conditions at one of the world’s most difficult disaster sites, required equipment robust enough to be dependable under the stress that working in a radioactive site required. That equipment was a squadron of Manitowoc crawler cranes and Potain tower cranes.

More than a decade ago, a few years before the actual construction started, ten heavy lifters from the Manitowoc Group rolled onto the site. Since then, the eight Potain tower cranes and two Manitowoc crawler cranes have worked non-stop, braving high winds, rain and snow, the freezing Ukrainian winter and the toxic radioactive environment.

With the arched shelter now complete over the disused nuclear power plant, many of the Manitowoc cranes employed on the project have been dismantled. Five of the eight Potain tower cranes have left the job, as have both Manitowoc 2250 crawler cranes. The cranes provided the majority of the heavy lifting work for the largest land-based moving structure ever built.

Thibaut Le Besnerais, global product director for tower cranes at Manitowoc, says: “This really was a challenging job, and Manitowoc was one of only a few companies capable of providing equipment up to the task. Our involvement in this work dates back to 2005, when a special application Potain MD 3200 was used to build the first concrete containment shelter for the project. Our expertise and customer care was also crucial, as every task had to be meticulously planned within a highly detailed and organised working plan. We are extremely proud to be involved in this project and to play our part in such a feat of true engineering excellence.”

The Potain cranes used on the project were four MR 605 B models, three MD 485 B units and one MD 345 B unit. The cranes were all supplied by Novarka, a consortium formed by French construction companies Bouygues TP and Vinci Grand Projects, which handled the project. Manitowoc’s local Ukrainian distributor, Hoisting Machines, provided technical support on-site.

According to Manitowoc, the project, though challenging, was not new in terms of magnitude for Potain. The French brand’s cranes are employed around the world on large-scale industrial and infrastructure projects, and have featured on some of the world’s largest dam, bridge, power station and skyscraper developments of modern times.

The purpose of the arch is not only to put a lid on the stricken reactor to prevent the further spread of radiation, but also to manage the disaster further by enabling workers to use remote-controlled equipment to remove residual nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive components for safe burial elsewhere.

At the ceremony for the $1.5bn new arch project, Ukraine’s president Petro O. Poroshenko concluded: “Let the whole world see today what Ukraine and the world can do when they unite, how we are able to protect the world from nuclear contamination and nuclear threats.”

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