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Ukraine sets Chernobyl shutdown date

Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear reactor
Chernobyl: Scene of the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster in 1986  

PARIS, France (Reuters) -- The last operating nuclear reactor at Ukraine's notorious Chernobyl plant will be shutdown before the end of the year, the country's president has confirmed.

The reactor, scene of the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster in 1986, will cease to operate on December 15.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told a news conference at France's Elysee presidential palace: "It's a political decision...and it will be a historic event, I invite the world press to come and witness it.

"In 1997, we took the decision with the European Union to shut down the reactor and this was a definitive decision."


The news conference took place during a day of talks between Kuchma and three leading EU figures: French President Jacques Chirac whose country hold's the EU's rotating presidency, European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana.

The talks centred on compensation to be paid by the EU and others to Ukraine which draws six percent of its energy from the last Chernobyl reactor and must now build two new nuclear power plants with Western aid.

"The (European) community and its member states are providing a total of 430 million euros ($372 million) ...which makes the EU the single largest provider of financial assistance for the operation," a joint statement issued on Friday said.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster

More than three million of Ukraine's 50 million people were affected by the 1986 disaster.

Thirty-one people died immediately when a power surge triggered an explosion. Thousands more are believed to have died since then from the disaster's effects.

The explosion spewed into the air -- over Ukraine, Belarus and other areas outside the then-Soviet Union -- 30 to 40 times the radiation of the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Since 1986 the reactors at Chernobyl have gradually been taken out of service. In 1991 a fire shut down one of the remaining reactors, and another was closed in 1996 leaving just one in use.

The EU pledged to aid Ukraine in return for the reforms and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) has granted credits for the construction of the new reactors.

Ukraine has also applied for credits from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and hoped to get a $100 million loan from the ERBD to buy fuel and replace capacities to be lost in the Chernobyl closure.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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The Uranium Institute: Chernobyl
Nuclear Energy Agency: Chernobyl

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