Ukraine raised hundreds of millions of euros for the construction of a new shelter over the ruined reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant during a donors conference in Kiev on Tuesday (April 19th).
Although the pledges, totaling 550m euros, fell short of the 740m euros the country was seeking for the shelter and related projects, European Commission (EC) President Jose Manuel Barroso dubbed the meeting a success.
Experts say a new sarcophagus needs to be built to contain the radiation that is leaking through cracks and holes in the concrete and steel cover that was erected hastily after the blast and meltdown at the nuclear plant’s Unit 4 on April 26th, 1986.
The gigantic arched structure that will slide into position over the damaged reactor, 110km north of Kiev, will be over 100m high, 250m wide and 160m long, and will seal what has been left of the facility until at least the end of the century. That and all other major projects at Chernobyl are expected to be completed by 2015.
Tuesday’s conference marked the beginning of a week of commemorations in Ukraine of the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in history, blamed for thousands of deaths, although the actual death toll remains uncertain and an issue of heated debate.
In an opening speech at the event, attended by officials from more than 40 countries and international organisations, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said it will take his country decades to deal with the legacy of the 1986 catastrophe.
“The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant caused Ukraine a deep wound which it will have to cope with for many years,” he was quoted as saying. “Neither Ukraine nor the world community has the right to turn back from seeking answers to the questions which Chernobyl has presented us with,” he added.
Yanukovich said the Ukrainian government would provide 29m euros on top of the 550m euros from donors, including about 110m euros from the EU.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, Barroso said the 27-nation bloc was the biggest donor for efforts to clear up Chernobyl, as it has already contributed a quarter of the funds that were needed in the wake of the disaster, as well as 470m euros for safety and social projects.
“Today, I am honoured to announce an additional pledge by the Commission of around 110m euros,” he said.
The EC president said “further lessons” should be drawn when it comes to nuclear safety, but stopped short of mentioning the recent accidents at the Fukushima plant in Japan.
“Because Chernobyl is a stark reminder that nuclear risks do not stop at our borders, our responsibility and solidarity should not stop at our borders either,” Barroso stressed.
Grigor Stoichkov, a former senior official from the ruling communist party in Bulgaria at the time, said earlier this year that he learned about the explosion at Chernobyl on May 2nd, a day after the mass Labour Day celebrations in Sofia.
“The minister of health called me to tell me that we had received information from [the International Atomic Energy Agency in] Vienna about the catastrophe at Chernobyl,” Stoichkov said in an interview in January. The information, he alleged, suggested “the radiation was insignificant” and that it was safe to consume fruits and vegetables after they were well washed.
That was the main advice Bulgarians were given at the time.