The Nuclear Power Plant in Crimea That Chernobyl Stopped Dead - Atlas Obscura
Join us on an Atlas Obscura Trip in 2019 »

The Nuclear Power Plant in Crimea That Chernobyl Stopped Dead

It has had a second life as a photogenic, atmospheric ruin.

The unfinished nuclear power plant in Crimea.
The unfinished nuclear power plant in Crimea. Artur Synenko/Alamy

Building infrastructure—roads, railways, power plants, schools—takes an incredible amount of ambitious planning, and it doesn’t always go right. This week, we’re looking at unfinished infrastructure—places around the world where grand visions didn’t quite live up to their potential.

In the 1960s and 1970s, nuclear power seemed like the next great frontier in electricity generation, and after seven years of planning, construction on a major nuclear reactor in Crimea, intended to supply power across the peninsula, began in 1975. It was a big enough project that a new town, Shcholkine, sprung up to house the workers. The Soviet Union was in the middle of a push to increase nuclear power generation, particularly in more western areas, far from other fuel resources.

By 1986, most of the first reactor had been built, and a second was starting to come together. Then, in April, the Chernobyl nuclear accident happened.

All of a sudden, nuclear energy projects were subject to greater scrutiny, and officials started to worry about the location of the Crimean nuclear power plant, which was on a geologically unstable area. Economic strain in the Soviet Union didn’t help the case. In 1987, the project was shut down, and the station unfinished.

Inside the reactor.
Inside the reactor. Merkushev Vladimir/CC BY-SA 3.0

Crimea’s power plant is far from the only nuclear project to stall out. Across the world, it’s possible to find half-finished nuclear projects that lost their funding, were built in locations later deemed too dangerous, or raised so much opposition that their builders backed down.

The plant in Crimea, though, had a second life as a photogenic, atmospheric ruin. Since the plant was never finished, no nuclear materials were ever brought to the site, and if it became dangerous, it was only dangerous in the way any deteriorating hulk might be. The plant became a popular place for people who are drawn to abandoned buildings to poke around, and in the 1990s, a music festival spent four years hosting parties in the empty engine room. The plant’s also been a set for sci-fi movies.

The plant is slowly crumbling.
The plant is slowly crumbling. Merkushev Vladimir/CC BY-SA 3.0

Once the project was over, the town of Shcholkine had little reason to exist. Some people stuck around, but work was hard to come by. Over time, the plant has been gradually stripped of metal and other scrap, and the site’s now owned by a private entity, which could harvest the remaining material. There’s been talk from time to time of reviving the idea of building a nuclear plant here, but there’s little hope of that happening. Instead, the power plant will always be unfinished, until it’s pulled down entirely.