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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernobyl Workers Find Nuclear Fragment

KIEV, Ukraine - Workers at the Chernobyl atomic plant found a highly radioactive nuclear fuel fragment atop the sarcophagus that covers a reactor ruined in the world's worst nuclear accident, officials said Thursday.

The 20-centimeter fragment, found last week during a scheduled sarcophagus inspection, emits radiation of some 200 Roentgen an hour at close range, which is thousands of times higher than normal background radiation.

The fuel piece could have been blown onto the roof through a ventilation shaft located between the ruined reactor No. 4 and Chernobyl's only working reactor, No. 3, said Svetlana Linkevych, a spokeswoman for sarcophagus workers.

Experts are now determining how the fuel reached the sarcophagus roof and the ways to remove it safely, she said.

The sarcophagus was hastily constructed to cover the reactor that exploded and caught fire in April, 26, 1986, spewing a radioactive cloud over parts of Europe.

With the help of foreign aid, Ukraine is trying to make the leaky structure environmentally safe. It is believed to contain tons of radioactive fuel and dust.

Some 180 tons (198 short tons) of nuclear fuel were located in the reactor at the moment of its explosion, and scientists have accounted for only 140 tons (154 short tons) of it.

Ukraine has promised to close down the plant on Dec. 15 following pressure from Western nations, domestic and foreign environmental groups and ordinary Ukrainians concerned about the site's safety.