Environment News Service

AmeriScan: April 27, 1999

RICHARDSON TO VISIT CHERNOBYL

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is going to Ukraine in May to see the progress on safety and environmental problems. His announcement was made in conjunction with the 13th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident of April 26, 1986. He will tour Chernobyl and attend the opening of an energy trade and investment conference in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Richardson said the Department of Energy is working with its counterparts in other countries towards the permanent shutdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the U.S. began cooperative efforts to improve the safety of 65 operating Soviet-designated reactors in nine host countries, with Ukraine's 14 reactors at five nuclear power plants a key focus. Procedures, training and equipment developed following the 1979 Three-Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania have been transferred to older RBMK reactors like Chernobyl and to newer VVER designs similar to U.S. pressurized water reactors. These efforts have helped to prevent more major accidents, Richardson said. But serious problems remain at Chernobyl. The Department of Energy, with representatives of the G-7 countries and Ukraine, developed a plan to improve the hastily constructed shelter around the destroyed Chernobyl Unit 4 reactor. An international Shelter Implementation Project, managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, will stabilize and strengthen the shelter over the next eight years. Chernobyl Unit 3, next to the disaster site, is still operating but is slated for shutdown by 2000. The U.S. is helping fund construction of a conventional heat plant that will provide steam for shutdown activities and helping develop a plan for decommissioning of one of the two shutdown reactors at Chernobyl. The U.S. supports an International Chernobyl Center with laboratories in Slavutych, the town of 28,000 built to house Chernobyl workers after the town of Pripyat was evacuated. The goal is to make Slavutych a center for scientific and technological expertise related to nuclear power and the environment.

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