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Chernobyl Anniversary Is Solemnly Observed

April 27, 1998|From Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine — With solemn ceremonies and rallies, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus on Sunday marked the 12th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that continues to haunt the three former Soviet republics.

Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma declared that his country would adhere to pledges to close the ill-fated nuclear power plant.

"Chernobyl will be closed--that is clear," the president said after a ceremony near the monument to Chernobyl's victims.

But Kuchma said a definite shutdown date depends on when promised Western aid will arrive.

Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded during a test on April 26, 1986, killing at least 32 people in the immediate blast and sending a deadly cloud of radiation across large sections of Europe.

In a speech broadcast nationwide, Kuchma estimated the damage suffered by Ukraine at up to $130 billion. Health officials say close to 3,600 Ukrainians who took part in the cleanup effort have died of radiation exposure.

Russian officials say an estimated 10,000 Russian "liquidators"--those involved in the cleanup--have died.

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In 1995, Ukraine and leading industrialized nations agreed to close the plant in exchange for Western aid. The money would help finish two nuclear reactors to compensate for the energy Chernobyl provided.

Ukrainian officials say they are prepared to keep the plant's only functioning reactor open well into the next century if they do not receive the aid.

In Russia, Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexi II presided over a memorial ceremony at Moscow's Mitino cemetery, the burial site for 28 firefighters who died at Chernobyl.

In neighboring Belarus, about 7,000 people demonstrated in Minsk, the capital, waving banners with the symbol for radiation and slogans such as "Chernobyl is our common pain."

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