World Donors Pledge More Cash to Make Chernobyl Safe
Author: Madeline Chambers
The latest contributions, which bring the total raised by 28 donor governments to about $800 million, mean work can start on a permanent shelter for the reactor to stop radioactive leaks.
"I have been to Chernobyl many times and I think it is very important that this project is brought to a successful conclusion," Hans Blix told reporters after a meeting at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Blix, a former UN chief arms inspector, was head of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the time of the explosion on April 26, 1986.
The European Union and G8 group of industrialised nations, which promised about $200 million on Thursday, are the biggest contributors. Russia is expected to make its first donation to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund in the next few days.
The fund's managers expect five or six more countries to come up with contributions soon to raise the total to the $1 billion needed for completion.
The Chernobyl blast in what was then the Soviet Union sent radioactive clouds across Europe and contaminated vast tracts of land in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
Several thousand deaths have been attributed to the explosion. Millions were evacuated or received treatment for various illnesses, particularly thyroid cancer.
"I flew over the site in a helicopter a few days after the explosion and saw black smoke from the burning," Blix told Reuters. "It was quite cataclysmic."
The shield will replace the crumbling concrete and steel "sarcophagus" which was hurriedly erected around the burning fourth reactor in the weeks after the explosion.
The station later resumed electricity generation but was closed in 2000 at the insistence of the international community.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko last month called on the government to speed up the project and said he hoped construction could be started by the 20th anniversary of the disaster next year.
The project to make the destroyed reactor safe is due to be completed in about 2008.
"I would like to thank the bank and the international community for helping us resolve this matter together," said Ukrainian minister for emergencies Davyd Zhvaniya.
Ukraine is contributing $22 million to the fund, administered by the EBRD, and has reassured donors that its government will supervise the project properly.
The EBRD said it had evaluated bids from two consortia to carry out the engineering work and that it planned to award the contract later this year.