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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 21:16 GMT
Chernobyl closed again after leak
Chernobyl staff reassure local residents that the station is safe Chernobyl staff reassure local residents about safety

The Chernobyl nuclear power station has been closed because of a leaking pipe - only days after it was re-started following five months of repairs.

Officials said there had been no release of radioactivity, and that the pipe affected the cooling system rather than the reactor itself.

In 1995, the Ukrainian government gave a commitment to close the power station by the year 2000, but the shutdown has been delayed because of power shortages.

'Not serious'

A spokesman for the plant, Oleh Holoskokov, said the incident was not serious.

"Any incident at the station in people's minds means something big and dangerous. We understand that the halt of the reactor means new charges that our equipment is dangerous and we need to close the station."

The ruined fourth reactor in 1986 The ruined fourth reactor in 1986
He said the plant was in excellent condition.

All but one of Chernobyl's four reactors have been closed down. One melted down in the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, another was destroyed by fire in 1991. A third ceased operating in 1996.

Lengthy repairs to the remaining reactor this summer included work on its pipe system, which had been found to be riddled with cracks.

The repairs were due to have ended on November 9, but were prolonged for 10 days because of lack of funds.

An independent expert, Giorgi Kochinski, said the work had been done poorly and in a hurry.

The station was re-started on 26 November. Officials say it will now re-open on 8 December .

Closure schedule

When the the plant is closed down, there is a risk of pipes freezing. The plant has a standby boiler, but officials say it is short of fuel.

The Ukrainian authorities are divided on the safety of the plant, and how long to keep it in operation.

A spokesman for the environment ministry, Vadim Grichenko, said on Thursday: "We're shocked. The plant has got to be shut down for safety reasons. We cannot put the lives of the population in danger."

But the plant's bosses say it is only two-thirds of the way through its working life. The current plan is to close it in the middle of next year, when its existing fuel rods will need replacing.

The G7 group of industrialised nations, which has been leading efforts to get Chernobyl closed down, says the design of the station is inherently unsafe.

It has offered to provide a $1bn loan to complete unfinished reactors at two other more modern nuclear power stations in Ukraine.

One of these, near the town of Khmelnitsky, was closed twice last month because of leaking pipes.

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See also:
16 Sep 99 |  Europe
First baby born in Chernobyl
23 Jul 98 |  Europe
'Close Chernobyl before 2000'
07 Mar 99 |  Europe
Chernobyl reopens
24 May 99 |  Sci/Tech
Chernobyl legacy mounts
23 Apr 98 |  Analysis
Dangers of the Soviet nuclear legacy
20 Oct 98 |  Europe
Analysis: The Soviet nuclear legacy
08 Jul 99 |  Europe
Schroeder confronts Chernobyl dilemma

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