On the anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster, Ukraine began work on a containment unit for the damaged Chernobyl reactor. The shelter will allow experts to clean up radioactive material in the reactor.
Warning nations to take extreme care with nuclear energy, Ukraine's president thanked international contributors for their donations to create a new, safer cover for the Chernobyl reactor, which exploded 26 years ago.
"The Chernobyl disaster underscored that mankind must be extra careful in using nuclear technologies," President Viktor Yanukovych said. "Nuclear accidents lead to global consequences. They are not a problem of just one country; they affect the life of entire regions."
Yanukovych made his remarks during a ceremony inaugurating the initial assembly of a massive arch of a steel containment shelter over the reactor.
New Safe Confinement
Construction on the so-called New Safe Confinement is slated to finish in 2015 and the new shelter will allow experts to dismantle the reactor and clean up the radioactive waste still present.
On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the nuclear reactor spewed radiation that winds carried over much of the northern hemisphere with Belarus, Ukraine and Russia bearing the brunt of the fallout.
A so-called "sarcophagus" was built over the reactor, however, it has leaked radiation in recent years.
Donors pledged 740 million euros ($980 million) to build the new, permanent containment barrier and a nuclear fuel waste facility.
Ukraine not left alone
"It feels good to note that Ukraine wasn't left alone with its pain," Yanukovych said. "We felt that the whole world came to our rescue."
Yanukovych said 2 million people have been hurt by the tragedy and that it was up to Ukraine to protect and treat them.
His promises, however, fell on deaf ears as over 1,000 protesters staged a rally Thursday outside the parliament in Kyiv, demanding an increase in compensations and pensions for cleanup workers and victims.
According to Ukrainian statistics, over 25,000 of the cleanup workers, who became known as "liquidators" from then-Soviet Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have died since the disaster.
The regions directly surrounding the plant remains contaminated and is designated an "exclusion zone" where people are not permitted to live.
sms/jw (ap, AFP)