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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Promises to Close Chernobyl Reactor Soon

One of two nuclear reactors still operating at the ill-starred Chernobyl nuclear power plant will be closed for good at the end of November, the Ukrainian prime minister has said.

Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko, speaking on Russian television Saturday, was repeating a pledge to close reactor No. 1 in line with a timetable negotiated with the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations. At the end of September, Ukraine's environment and nuclear safety minister, Yury Kostenko, had told a news conference: "On Nov. 30, reactor No. 1 will be stopped completely" -- but after numerous pledges and retractions in the past, this was not taken as the final word.

Kostenko's promise, for example, followed a warning from Kiev in mid-September that the Chernobyl plant's permanent closure could be delayed because of the republic's need for energy with the onset of winter.

Ukraine has long promised to shut down the entire Chernobyl plant, site of the world's worst civilian nuclear-disaster 10 years ago when one of its reactors exploded and released a contaminated cloud that spread across much of Europe.

Most of the pressure to close the plant has come from Western nations fearing a repetition of the 1986 disaster.

Ukraine insists that it needs foreign aid to finance the closure of the Chernobyl plant, which still provides 5 percent of the country's electricity. Kiev has often used the Chernobyl problem to pressure concerned donor nations for money.

The World Bank said in October that it and the International Monetary Fund would likely pledge $1.4 billion in aid to Ukraine, with further contributions of $400 million expected from the European Union, the United States and Japan. These funds, to be confirmed at a meeting in November, would be used to fill the republic's expected budget gap for 1997 and to help offset the costs of closing`Chernobyl, according to the World Bank.

Ukrainian officials announced plans in October for a nuclear energy ministry that would manage the republic's five nuclear power plants and $3.1 billion of foreign aid for Chernobyl.

The Chernobyl plant has four reactors. Reactor No. 4 was destroyed by the explosion and resulting fire in April 1986. Reactor No. 2 was closed after a fire in 1991. Reactor No. 1 is now to close Nov. 30, while the last functioning reactor, No. 3, is due to close in 1999.

A series of incidents in and around Chernobyl has continued to keep environmentalists and donor nations nervous about the plant. Last spring, forest fires broke out in abandoned villages near the nuclear plant on the 10th anniversary of the fateful explosion.

In October, reactor No. 3 was temporarily shut down because of a fault in a cooling system pump.

In September neutron radiation readings inside reactor No. 4 increased sharply, prompting reports that a nuclear reaction could be taking place inside the "sarcophagus" -- the concrete shell hastily built to contain the damaged reactor after the explosion.

The increased neutron activity -- which has occurred on two previous occasions, in 1990 and 1995 -- has not been fully explained, but Viktor Baryakhtar, vice president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and the Ukrainian president's top nuclear adviser, has said the activity results partly from rainwater leaking under the deteriorating sarcophagus.