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The BBC's Rob Parsons
"The world breathes a sigh of relief"
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The BBC's James Robbins
"Rarely has the turn of a switch symbolised so much"
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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 15:15 GMT
Chernobyl shut down for good
President Kuchma and premier Yushchenko remember the dead
Mr Kuchma and PM Yushchenko remember the dead
The ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear plant has been permanently shut down. The closure comes more than 14 years after a reactor at the site exploded in the world's worst civil nuclear catastrophe.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma gave a nationwide television address before ordering the Chernobyl control room to turn a knob shutting down the last working reactor.

Mr President of Ukraine, the third reactor is being stopped for good. I have nothing more to add

Plant director Vitaly Tovstonohov
"To fulfil a state decision and Ukraine's international obligations, I hereby order the premature stoppage of the operation of reactor No 3 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant," Mr Kuchma said.

His words were relayed to Chernobyl via a live television link.

In the control room, shift chief Oleksandr Yelchishchev turned a black switch - marked BAZ, short for "rapid emergency defence" - sending containment rods sliding into the reactor core to bring a halt to the nuclear chain reactions taking place there.

Workers' tears

Within seconds, a dial showed the reactor's output dropping to zero.

"Mr President of Ukraine, the third reactor is being stopped for good. I have nothing more to add," reported the station's director, Vitaly Tovstonohov, wearing white protective clothing.

Chernobyl is turned off - watched by tv relay in Kiev
Chernobyl is turned off - watched by tv relay in Kiev
About 100 workers at the plant followed events in the control room on a large television screen. Many had tears in their eyes as they stood and watched.

Representatives from more than 10 countries including the United States attended the closing ceremony.

The ceremony followed a church service in Kiev to remember those who died in the nuclear disaster.

Thirty-one people, mostly firemen, were killed immediately after the explosion, and several thousand more - those involved in the clean-up and children - have since died from radiation-related illnesses.

Ukraine says the health of millions of its people have been affected by the disaster.

International pressure

The country agreed to close down the plant under intense international pressure. The schedule was finally agreed during a visit by US President Bill Clinton to Kiev earlier this year.

A concrete sarcophagus covers the ruins of the fourth reactor
A sarcophagus covers the fourth reactor's ruins
Even so, the Ukrainian parliament made a last-minute attempt on Thursday to keep the plant open for the rest of the winter, voting to postpone closure until April 2001.

Angry Chernobyl workers staged protests as President Kuchma took foreign dignitaries including the premiers of Russia, Belarus and Georgia on a tour of the plant, which supplies roughly 5% of the country's electricity needs.

Ukraine has pledged not to use Chernobyl for electricity generation again, though it will take until 2008 before the last fuel rods are removed from the plant.

The disaster occurred nearly 15 years ago on 26 April 1986, when an experiment went wrong, causing the fourth reactor to melt down and explode.

Funding plans attacked

The European Union has agreed to provide a total of nearly $1bn to help build two replacement nuclear reactors in the former Soviet republic.

Chernobyl workers
The closure will be a blow to employees at the plant
But environmentalists Greenpeace International condemned the EU plans terming them as "utterly cynical".

The pressure group's nuclear expert, Tobias Munchmeyer, said Ukraine should instead meet its energy capacity needs through renewable sources and improving efficiency.

Greenpeace International also said the closure of the Ukrainian plant should be followed by shutdowns at similar plants in Russia and Lithuania.

"We cannot afford to wait another 14 years before the remainder are shutdown," said Mr Munchmeyer.

International funds have been made available to make safe the concrete sarcophagus hastily thrown up around the ruins of the stricken Chernobyl reactor in the months following the 1986 explosion.

However, a permanent solution, including the possible construction of a second shelter, remains a long way in the future.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Europe
EU to fund Chernobyl replacements
15 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Chernobyl still hitting hill farms
05 Jun 00 | Europe
Chernobyl closure saga
10 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Chernobyl's effects linger on
15 Dec 00 | Media reports
Mixed feelings as Chernobyl closes
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