Ukrainian president: Land around Chernobyl should be brought "back to life"

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Saturday that the area around the ruined Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident, should be revived.

In a weekly radio address three days after the 20th anniversary of the 1986 explosion at the plant, Yushchenko urged his nation to "combat the stereotype of Chernobyl as an incurable tumor on Ukraine's body."

"Chernobyl was a dead zone. It cannot last forever. This is land that we should revive and bring back to life," he said, reiterating a theme he focused on during commemorations of the disaster.

Yushchenko has called for scientific studies to determine how the land could be used, and has floated possibilities including a storage site to hold Ukraine's used nuclear fuel, and a nature preserve that would take advantage of the surprising natural resurgence that has occurred in an area largely bereft of humans.

"We will perform health programs, restore lands, create nature preserves," he said in the radio address.

Yushchenko has also insisted that the top priority must be securing the plant. The concrete-and-steel shelter hastily built over the ruined Reactor No. 4 is crumbling and dotted with holes. The US$1.1 billion (Ђ885 million) internationally funded project to replace it remains on the drawing board.

Yushchenko said construction of the new shelter would be launched "in the nearest months" and that it should guarantee the safety of the destroyed reactor for "at least 100 years."

The April 26, 1986 explosion and fire at Reactor No. 4 sent a radioactive cloud across Europe, contaminating large areas of land and prompting the Soviet government to permanently evacuate more than 300,000 people.

On Friday, U.N. officials called for more action to address the challenges faced by Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, the countries most affected by the catastrophe.

"The biggest challenge now facing affected territories is being the need to create new jobs, promote investment and growth, restore a sense of community self-reliance, and improve local living standards," said Kemal Dervis of the United Nations Development Program, reports AP.


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