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Archive for Saturday, December 16, 2000

Chernobyl nuclear plant shut down

December 16, 2000

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— Chernobyl was shut down forever with the flip of a switch Friday, shifting attention to needed repairs on the sarcophagus covering the nuclear plant's ruined reactor, which is leaking radiation 14 years after the world's worst nuclear accident.

The closing of Chernobyl's last working reactor was intended to prevent disasters like the one that sent a radioactive cloud across Europe, affecting millions of people and leaving a poisoned zone in this former Soviet republic.

President Leonid Kuchma, issuing the order to halt the reactor, alluded to the difficult work still ahead, saying: "This menacing page of the book of modern history cannot be considered closed."

At a state ceremony in Kiev, Kuchma gave the order to halt the reactor using a video linkup with the plant 84 miles away. At 1:16 p.m., Chernobyl shift chief Oleksandr Yelchishchev turned a switch, sending containment rods sliding into the core of reactor No. 3. Within seconds, a dial showed the atomic reaction in the core dropping to zero. Kuchma asserted that energy-starved Ukraine was "forsaking a part of our national interests for the sake of global safety."

On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded and caught fire, contaminating vast areas of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus all part of the Soviet Union at the time and spewing a radioactive cloud over Europe.

The Kremlin tried to conceal the accident and delayed evacuation of people from nearby towns for days. Firefighters and other workers who were the first at the destroyed reactor had little or no protection from radiation.

More than 4,000 cleanup workers have died since and 70,000 have been disabled by radiation in Ukraine alone.

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