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UPDATE: Cash promised to help clean up Chernobyl

International donors have pledged extra cash to help build an enormous cover over the Chernobyl nuclear reactor that was destroyed 25 years ago on 26 April 1986.

In the months following the world’s biggest civilian nuclear disaster, thousands of workers (‘liquidators’) built a concrete ‘sarcophagus’ around the highly radioactive remnants of the reactor, to prevent further release of radioactive material. But that sarcophagus is now crumbling, despite a series of repairs, and a more permanent cover is being prepared.

The new safe confinement shelter (see video) is billed as the world’s largest mobile structure. The giant steel arch will be built adjacent to the shattered remnants of reactor 4 and then rolled into place – it will measure 150 metres long and 105 metres high, with a span of 257 metres.

The arch is expected to be in place by 2015, and will enable robotic cranes inside to dismantle the sarcophagus and parts of the reactor. The whole Chernobyl site is expected to be cleared by 2065.

The costs of the project are enormous, and somewhat uncertain. A few months ago, the Chernobyl Shelter Fund that supports the effort said that it lacked about half of the US$1.4 billion (roughly a billion euros) needed to complete the work. But the numbers get bigger once other essential building projects are included – such as a storage facility for all the spent nuclear fuel that remains in other reactors on site. AFP now reports that a total of €1.1bn is already in place, with a further €740 million left to raise.

A meeting in Kiev today, chaired by Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, brings together international partners to the fund to work out how they will make up the shortfall.

Overall, the pledging meeting raised an extra €550 million, Reuters reports. That includes an extra €110 million (US$157 million) from the Commission, while France has come up with €47m, according to EU Observer.

“Nuclear safety is a global issue that requires a global response,” Barroso said in a statement ahead of the meeting. “We hope that our key partners will also step up their contributions in order to complete the works of the shelter by 2015.”

The global consequences of a nuclear accident are, of course, being reinforced daily by the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is likely doing the Ukrainians no harm in their lobbying for more funds.

“To overcome a tragedy of such a large scale cannot be done by one country,” Yanukovych said today at the Kiev briefing with Barroso. “Events in Japan showed that such catastrophes are a challenge for all of mankind.” (Bloomberg)

Meanwhile, thousands of Chernobyl liquidators protested cuts to the pensions they received as compensation for their dangerous work at the reactor. (Voice of America)

A week of activities to commemorate Chernobyl continues in the Ukraine.

Read more in this feature story on Chernobyl’s legacy, and in a Nature editorial on the need for further research on the impacts of the accident.

For full coverage of the Fukushima disaster, go to Nature’s news special.

For a selection of our coverage in Japanese, see Nature Asia Pacific.


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