Ukraine to Launch Chernobyl Shelter on Anniversary
Ukraine mourned Thursday the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, as its president prepared to launch construction of a vital new shelter to contain the stricken nuclear plant.
In a message mourning the victims, President Viktor Yanukovych described Chernobyl as the "largest human-caused disaster of the 20th century" and thanked countries that have contributed to the massive sarcophagus project.
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.
In an emergency cleanup, workers placed a temporary concrete and steel shelter over the reactor, but that structure is now dangerously crumbling.
An international drive has raised funds from governments towards building a new permanent covering, which will slide over the original one.
Later Thursday, Yanukovych is due to formally launch construction of the 20,000-tonne structure, known as the New Safe Confinement. Its arch measuring 257 meters (843 feet), the structure is designed to last for a century.
"Over this problem, Ukraine has sensed a shoulder of friendship from most of the world's countries," Yanukovych said in his message.
"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, which is expected to cost a total of 1.5 billion euros, with the balance coming from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.
Ukraine last year also launched construction of a new storage facility to stockpile nuclear waste in the contaminated zone.
Yanukovych and the country's minister of emergency situations, Viktor Baloga, were due to lay flowers at the site at 1130 am (0830 GMT) and the launch ceremony was due to begin half an hour later.
Chernobyl is around 100 kilometers (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."