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Chernobyl's deadly legacy -- 15 years on

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is marking the 15th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, with the Chernobyl power plant finally lying idle.

But the former Eastern Bloc country is still dealing with the deadly legacy of the catastrophic explosion and fire on April 26, 1986, which sent a large radiation cloud over much of Europe and contaminated large areas of then-Soviet Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

With the last operating reactor at Chernobyl shut in December, the government is struggling to provide employment to some 6,000 Chernobyl workers and take care of the workers' town of Slavutych.

"The 2001 budget did not provide for the social needs and for works related to the plant's closure," says Chernobyl Director Vitaly Tolstonohov. "We had to do much work in resolving the questions of financing, and have partially solved them."

More than 4,000 people who took part in the hasty clean-up have died, according to government estimates, and over 70,000 Ukrainians left fully disabled.

Altogether, Ukraine's health ministry estimates that one in 16 of the population of 49 million is suffering from grave health disorders linked to the disaster with 400,000 adults and 1.1. million children entitle to state aid.

Thyroid cancers in particular are on the rise -- with neighbouring Belarus having similar problems.

Several thousand of those affected gathered in Kiev in the weekend to protests that they were not receiving their state entitlement.

"Chernobyl victims are now owned 737 million hryvna ($136 million) and the debt grows by up to 40 million hryvna every month," said Yuriy Andreev, who heads a victims' union.

Gorbachev waited 18 days before commenting on the Chernobyl nuclear accident  

The greatest worry remains the visibly rusting concrete and steel sarcophagus over the ruined reactor which a $758 million internationally-funded project now aims to make environmentally safe.

And there is growing frustration that other money promised by the international community to compensate for the loss of Chernobyl electricity -- in particular to complete two new reactors -- has not materialised, with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development raising new conditions for loans.

"I consider this is as unwillingness to fund construction of the reactors," said President Leonid Kuchma.

"Why do we go with our hand outstretched, and they always beat us on our hands by various conditions? Didn't we know that it would be so when we were closing down Chernobyl?"

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Chernobyl Disaster
Chernobyl Radiation Information
The Uranium Institute: Chernobyl
Nuclear Energy Agency: Chernobyl
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Ukranian Ministry for Emergencies

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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