Work starts on permanent Chernobyl container
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On the 26th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the former USSR, Ukraine's president on Thursday launched the construction of a structure to contain the site of the failed reactor for the next hundred years.
AFP - Ukraine launched Thursday construction of a new shelter to permanently secure the stricken Chernobyl plant as it marked the 26th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster.
President Viktor Yanukovych pressed a symbolic button at the construction site, watched by workers and ambassadors from China, Japan and a number of other countries that contributed to the massive project, expected to cost 1.5 billion euros.
"In the name of Ukraine, I express my deep thanks to all the donor countries to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund for their understanding and effective aid to our country in overcoming the largest disaster in human history," Yanukovych said.
An explosion during testing at the power plant in the early hours of April 26, 1986, sent radioactive fallout into the atmosphere that spread across Europe, particularly contaminating Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.
An international drive has raised funds from governments towards building a new permanent covering to slide over a temporary concrete-and-steel shelter that was hastily erected after the disaster and is now dangerously crumbling.
The 20,000-tonne arched structure, known as the New Safe Confinement, is designed to last for a century and spans 257 metres.
"Over this problem, Ukraine has sensed a shoulder of friendship from most of the world's countries," Yanukovych said in a message to the nation posted on his website.
"We never stop taking care of the safety of the covering of the fourth reactor," the Ukrainian president said, referring to the reactor that blew up and triggered the crisis.
International donors have so far agreed to contribute 550 million euros ($730 million) to the project, with the balance coming from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.
As the president visited the site, around 1,000 Chernobyl clean-up workers rallied in Kiev over cuts to their benefits in the latest of a string of angry protests over the austerity measure, the Interfax news agency reported.
The Soviet Union ordered thousands of people to Ukraine following the Chernobyl accident, working without adequate protection.
Although only two people were killed in the initial explosions, the United Nations atomic agency says that 28 rescue workers died of radiation sickness in the first three months after the accident.
According to Ukrainian official figures, more than 25,000 of the cleanup workers, known as "liquidators" from then-Soviet Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have died since the disaster.
Ukraine on Thursday announced that it was awarding state honours to more than 40 of the liquidators.
Chernobyl is around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Kiev, close to the borders with Russia and Belarus. The area around the plant is still very contaminated and is designated as a depopulated "exclusion zone."