Ukraine will open Chernobyl site to tours

By Maria Danilova
Associated Press / December 14, 2010

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KIEV, Ukraine — Beginning next year, Ukraine plans to open up the sealed zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to visitors who wish to learn more about the disaster that occurred nearly 25 years ago, the Emergency Situations Ministry said yesterday.

Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing radiation over a large swath of northern Europe, in the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Hundreds of thousands of people were resettled from areas contaminated with radiation fallout in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Related health problems still persist.

The so-called exclusion zone, a highly contaminated area within a 30-mile radius of the exploded reactor, was evacuated and sealed off in the aftermath of the explosion. All visits were prohibited.

Today, about 2,500 employees maintain the remains of the closed nuclear plant, working in shifts to minimize their exposure to radiation. Several hundred evacuees have returned to their villages in the area despite a government ban. A few firms offer tours to the restricted area, but the government says those tours are illegal and their safety is not guaranteed.

Yulia Yershova, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman, said experts are developing travel routes that will be both medically safe and informative for Ukrainians as well as foreign visitors.

She did not give an exact date when the tours were expected to begin.

“There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn’t stray away from the group,’’ Yershova said. “Though it is a very sad story.’’

Helen Clark, the United Nations Development Program chief, toured the Chernobyl plant together with Baloha on Sunday and said she supported the plan because it could help raise money and tell an important lesson about nuclear safety.

“Personally I think there is an opportunity to tell a story here and of course the process of telling a story, even a sad story, is something that is positive in economic terms and positive in conveying very important messages,’’ said Clark, according to her office.

The ministry also said yesterday it hopes to finish building a new safer shell for the exploded reactor by 2015. The new shelter will cover the original iron-and-concrete structure hastily built over the reactor, which has been leaking radiation, cracking, and threatening to collapse.

The new shell is 345 feet tall, 853 feet wide, and 490 feet long. It weighs 20,000 tons and will slide over the old shelter using rail tracks. The new structure will be big enough to house the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The overall cost of the project, financed by international donors, has risen from $505 million to $1.15 billion because of stricter safety requirements, according to Ukrainian officials. top stories on Twitter

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