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Friday, April 3, 1998 Published at 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK

World: Europe

Chernobyl II feared
image: [ The countryside around Chernobyl remains highly radioactive ]
The countryside around Chernobyl remains highly radioactive

Watch this story in Real Video
Experts say another nuclear disaster could soon engulf the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine.

The concrete case, which was built around the ruined reactor to seal in deadly waste and fuel, is crumbling.

[ image: The wrecked interior of the reactor]
The wrecked interior of the reactor
Video footage obtained by the BBC shows cracks in the roof of the sarcophagus and water dripping into the foundations.

As a result, the structure could collapse on the ruins of the reactor sending radioactive dust billowing into the atmosphere.

The head of maintenance at the plant, Artur Korneyev, said the most serious effect would be on Ukraine's river system.

"The Dnieper River, which flows through Kiev, would carry radioactive pollution," Mr Korneyev told the BBC. "Eventually the whole Black Sea area could be contaminated."

Dr Bill Wilkinson of the British Nuclear Industry Forum: "fears of another major disaster are exaggerated" (26")
Radioactivity 300 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb was released into the atmosphere after the accident at the plant in April 1986.

It was the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Children living nearby contracted cancer. Crops, livestock and vast areas of land across Europe were contaminated by the radioactive fallout.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus had to be resettled away from farmland contaminated around the plant.

The metal casing that surrounds the plant was hastily assembled after the accident in an effort to stem the spread of radioactive dust. But experts now say it is showing signs of decline.

[ image: Cracks in the walls]
Cracks in the walls
As part of a European understanding, the Chernobyl power plant will be closed down in two years. In return, wealthier Western nations will contribute money to build a new sarcophagus for the power plant.

But even when the reconstruction is complete, the Chernobyl disaster will remain a symbol of the danger of nuclear power. Experts believe that 100 years from now, Ukraine could still be living with the consequences of the 1986 disaster.

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