Chernobyl Closes

By Cynthia Kirk

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Ukraine has closed the Chernobyl nuclear power factory. The world's worst nuclear accident happened there fourteen years ago. A huge explosion and fire at the factory released radioactive material into the atmosphere. The accident has been blamed for thousands of deaths. And it has caused serious environmental problems.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma gave the order to close the factory. The action followed years of intense international pressure from western countries.

The factory's last working nuclear reactor, reactor number three, was closed last month. It was reactor number four that caused the terrible accident in Nineteen-Eighty-Six. It was the result of a design problem in one of the reactors. An explosion blew the top off the reactor, releasing the dangerous nuclear material.

Many areas of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were affected. A huge radioactive cloud spread over Europe.

The damage from the accident is still being measured. It is estimated that between fifteen and thirty-thousand people died from it. And health officials say more than three-million people in Ukraine suffer serious health problems linked to radiation sickness. Almost half of them are children.

Experts say the real long-term problem is in the soil. They say the soil in areas near Chernobyl contains high levels of radioactivity. They say radiation has made farmland near the factory useless.

Chernobyl has experienced many problems since the accident fourteen years ago. For years, environmental groups and foreign leaders have been pressuring Ukraine to close it down. But the Ukrainian government refused to do so. It said Chernobyl provided needed electricity and thousands of jobs. The government demanded aid in return for closing the reactor.

The European Commission has approved a six-hundred-million dollar loan. The money will help Ukraine build two new reactors to provide electricity. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is to provide another two-hundred million dollars.

Experts say closing Chernobyl should end the danger of future accidents at the factory. Yet they say much more still remains to be done. They say making Chernobyl environmentally safe will take many years.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.

Voice of America Special English