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EU pledges help to build a new shell around Chernobyl

As the Chernobyl disaster edges towards its 25th anniversary, cracks and holes have appeared in the concrete shell over the power plant. The EU has pledged 110 million euros to help Ukraine to fix the problem.

Abandoned buildings in the area in front of the Chernobyl plant

The concrete casing over the Chernobyl plant is cracking

The European Union promised an additional 110 million euros ($157 million) toward building a new shelter to isolate the Chernobyl power plant on Monday, having also pledged financial help for Ukraine's other nuclear power plants.

"Tomorrow, on behalf of the European Commission, I will announce in the pledging conference an extra EU pledge of about 110 million euros," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, ahead of an official event to pledge the money on Tuesday.

Viktor Yanukovych, left, welcomes Jose Manuel Barroso

Barroso (r) promised Yanukovych a total of some 160 million euros in EU funds

The original concrete shell covering the disaster site since late 1986 has developed cracks and holes and is no longer considered reliable.

EU representatives are set to meet other donors in the Tuesday meeting - aimed at raising a total of 740 million euros for the covering - as Ukraine prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the world's biggest nuclear disaster later this month.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who is co-chairing the conference to include the Group of Eight countries was expected to announce a separate French contribution of at least 47 million euros, a French government source told the Reuters news agency.

'Not just Ukraine's business'

In a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Barosso said he was "confident that those events tomorrow will bring the desired results, notably in securing necessary funds to complete the safety work on the Chernobyl site."

The upcoming anniversary of the disaster has gained new significance - and safety efforts in Chernobyl new popularity - in light of the recent nuclear disaster in Japan.

"Overcoming a tragedy of such a scale cannot be only Ukraine's business, Yanukovych said, adding, "The event in Japan has again confirmed that such events are a challenge for all of humanity."

Proving EU commitment

Barroso and Yanukovych signed a separate deal Monday, in which the EU pledged an additional 48 million euros to ensure safety at Ukraine's four other nuclear power plants, which provide about half of the country's electric power.

Part of the funds will go toward dealing with nuclear waste, the Ukrainian presidency said in a statement.

"This demonstrates again the EU commitment to nuclear safety, both at home and outside its borders," Barroso said.

An abandoned house in Belarus

The area around Chernobyl remains largely abandoned 25 years later

20,000 tons of protection

The fourth reactor at the Chernobyl power plant near Ukraine's Belarus border exploded in April 1986, heavily contaminating parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and sending radioactivity as far as Scandinavia and Ireland. Some 310,000 people were initially evacuated from the immediate area, which is still considered dangerous.

Work on the new shell began last year by a consortium made up of French construction companies Bouygues and Vinci. The construction is due to be completed by 2015.

The arched structure, 108 meters (354 feet) in height, is set to weigh some 20,000 metric tons. It will first be assembled close to the reactor and then slid on rails over the existing shelter.

Author: David Levitz (AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Richard Connor

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