Ukraine President Orders Speedy Closure Of Chernobyl Reactor

KIEV, Ukraine -- The president of Ukraine ordered Thursday the country's Emergency Situations Ministry to present him with a plan for the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant within 20 days.

The crumbling Chernobyl sarcophagus

In September Ukraine signed a contract with France's Novarka to build a cover over the damaged Chernobyl reactor, which exploded in 1986 in the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The country also signed a deal to build a "dry storage" facility for spent nuclear fuel on the site of the plant with U.S. company Holtec International.

"I must have a concrete plan for decommissioning the Chernobyl NPP within 20 days," Viktor Yushchenko said as he introduced new minister Volodymyr Shandru.

The president also said that the construction of the cover for NPP should be started in the first quarter of next year to avoid anymore delays.

The plant's reactor No. 4 has been protected by a concrete Soviet-designed "sarcophagus" since the disaster occurred 21 years ago.

The replacement of the crumbling structure, now long overdue, has been repeatedly put off due to funding difficulties.

On July 17 the Assembly of Chernobyl Shelter Fund Donors gave its approval for the deal with Novarka to build a steel cover over the reactor at a preliminary cost of 490 million euros (about $680 million).

The decision came after numerous delays since the organization, which comprises 28 countries including the G8 nations and is run by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), pledged in 2005 to allocate only $200 million for a new vault to contain the radioactive material still inside reactor No. 4.

In August EBRD signed a contract with the Ukrainian Ministry for Emergency Situations and a state company overseeing the plant, granting Ukraine 330 million euros (about $460 mln) to secure the damaged reactor.

The project is fraught with engineering difficulties, due to the high radiation threat. A huge steel vault, which will be constructed away from the reactor site, will then be slid into place on rails sealing the plant for 100 years, and further measures are expected to reduce the threat or remove the radioactive material from the plant.

Estimates by international bodies of the number of deaths caused by the world's worst nuclear disaster vary dramatically. Fifty-six people were reported to have been killed directly and another 4,000 to have died of thyroid cancer shortly after the accident.

Several million more are believed to have been exposed to different degrees of radiation.

Vast areas, mainly in the three ex-Soviet states, were contaminated by the fallout of the explosion. More than 300,000 people were relocated after the accident.

But 5 million people still live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine classified as "contaminated" with radioactive elements. An 18-mile zone around the reactor remains largely deserted to this day.

The amount of international aid to the affected territories is still to be calculated, but UN experts put the figure at hundreds of billions of dollars, some of which has been misappropriated.

Source: RIA Novosti

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