On April 26, the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Ukraine launched the construction of a new structure to house the plant.
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the northern Ukrainian SSR exploded during testing at 1:23 a.m. Radioactive fallout was expelled into the atmosphere, mostly affecting Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.
It has become known as the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
Foreign ambassadors and workers gathered at the construction site to watch President Yanukovych press a symbolic button, to signify the beginning of construction.
“In the name of Ukraine, I express my deep thanks to all the donor countries to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund for their understanding and effective aid to our country in overcoming the consequences of the worst man-made disaster in human history,” Yanukovych said.
After the disaster, a shoddily constructed steel-and-concrete sarcophagus was erected over the site, and has since become cracked and weathered.
The structure spans 257 meters and weighs 200,000 tons. It is called the New Safe Confinement, and is intended to last for a century. Expected to be completed in 2015, the project is projected to cost 990 million euros.
After the reactor’s explosion, the Soviet Union sent thousands of workers to the area around Pripyat’ and Chernobyl (60 mi. north of Kiev) to clean up. Many of them died after being exposed to too much radiation.
Ukrainian figures put the total death toll of Chernobyl clean-up workers at 25,000 since 1986, although the exact figures are unknown and vary widely.
“We have felt that the whole world has come to help us,” said President Yanukovych.
Memorial ceremonies have taken place around Ukraine and Belarus, in honor of the tragedy, those who were lost, and those still suffering.