KIEV -- Nuclear engineers reduced
power in one of Chernobyl's reactors today, the
first step toward closing the world's most
notorious nuclear plant for good.
The long-awaited move was an encouraging one for
Western governments and environmentalists eager to
close the book on Chernobyl, site of the world's
worst nuclear disaster 10 years ago.
But the shutdown is haunting plant workers and
their families and Slavutich, a town in this
former Soviet republic whose existence depends on
The closure has sent Ukrainian officials
scrambling to find other sources of electricity
for this already energy-starved nation at the
onset of winter. Some are threatening to restart
Chernobyl's reactor No. 2, idle since a massive
fire in 1992.
If there are no problems, operators will continue
to cut power over the next 12 to 15 hours, he
said, until the 1000-watt Soviet-designed RBMK
reactor is switched off completely.
Under heavy pressure from the West, Ukraine agreed
to shut the plant by the year 2000. The Group of
Seven leading industrialized nations then pledged
$3.1 billion in aid to compensate Ukraine for the
jobs and electricity that will be lost with the
During a turbine test on April 26, 1986,
Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded, spewing
radioactive dust across much of Europe. At least
31 people were killed in the immediate aftermath
of the blast.
Tens of thousands are believed to have died since
from radiation-related sicknesses, mostly early
cleanup workers. Millions in Ukraine, Belarus and
Russia still live on contaminated land.
The reactor's deadly remains, along with an
unknown amount of leftover nuclear fuel, are
encased in a leaky concrete "sarcophagus" thatwas
hastily erected after the explosion.
Environmentalists say plutonium is leaking into
the ground and threatening Ukraine's drinking
Chernobyl officials point to safety improvements
on their remaining reactors. Their plant is
plagued by frequent minor accidents -- but so are
Ukraine's other four nuclear plants.
Chernobyl provides 7 percent of Ukraine's
electricity. Energy officials complain that they
have no other source to make up for it.
Desperately in debt to neighboring Russia for oil,
gas and electricity, Ukraine already rations
energy to most of its residents.
As part of the G-7 aid deal, Ukraine pressed for
funds to complete two long-abandoned reactors at
the Rivne and Khmelnitska nuclear plants. But many
say those reactors are dangerous and outdated.