Nuclear waste storage inaugurated in Chernobyl

Friday, April 25, 2008

KIEV (AFP) — Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko Wednesday inaugurated a nuclear waste storage and processing centre in the contaminated zone around the Chernobyl nuclear station ahead of the catastrophe's 22nd anniversary, his press service said.

The centre's first module, constructed with the European Commission's aid, would be launched by the end of the year, Valentin Melnichenko, a project official, told AFP.

He said it would be able to store up to 75,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste from Chernobyl and its surrounds.

The entire complex, which is due to be completed in "five to 10 years," will also allow storage and processing of radioactive waste from four nuclear power stations currently operational in Ukraine, he added.

No storage of foreign nuclear waste is planned, assured Melnichenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian company Technocenter which had constructed the complex.

On April 26, 1986, reactor number 4 at Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, contaminating large parts of Europe but especially the then-Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Over 25,000 "liquidators" who worked on the ruined reactor and constructed a concrete sarcophagus enclosing it, lost their lives, according to official figures.

The station, whose last reactor continued to produce electricity, was closed down in December 2000.

On Wednesday, Chernobyl's director Igor Gramotkin announced the completion of works reinforcing the old sarcophagus which was built in the immediate aftermath of the accident to confine radioactive leaks.

The sarcophagus, which had become a constant menace due to cracks, would now be able to hold against an earthquake of 6.0 on the Richter scale, Gramotkin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

A consortium including France's Bouygues and Vinci construction companies meanwhile launched preparations for the construction of a new steel dome over the old sarcophagus, the Interfax said.

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