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    KIEV, March 20, 2004. (RIA Novosti correspondent Yevgeny Alexandrov). Public hearings on the construction of a new protective shield, or sarcophagus, over the ruined nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant are held in the town of Slavutich, the Kiev Region of Ukraine.

    The town administration, public representatives and executive power officials are discussing the feasibility study of building a new sarcophagus over the old one, which was erected in the year of the Chernobyl catastrophe. A RIA Novosti correspondent was told this at the press service of the enterprises which is to built the new protective shield.

    The present sarcophagus covering the fourth generating power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was ruined by a blast in April 1986, was built in the conditions of high-level radiation by a distance assembly method. The main purpose of the first protective shield, whose service life expires in 2006, was to prevent the spread of radioactive dust outside the reactor.

    At present Ukrainian scientists know nothing about the processes going on within the reactor, nor do they know about the state of about 200 tons of the nuclear fuel within the reactor. Meanwhile, the technical state of the sarcophagus has worsened - cracks appeared in its walls and its ceiling has sagged somewhat. Experts warn that a caving in of the sarcophagus may lead to worse environmental consequences than those of the 1986 accident itself.

    Therefore a new arch-shaped sarcophagus, "Shield 2," was designed. It will be built close to the fourth generating power unit and then placed over it. The expected service life of the new sarcophagus is 100 years.

    The cost of making the generating unit safe, including the building of the arch, is estimated at $758 million. This work is financed by the International Chernobyl Fund "Shield" ($708 million) and the Ukrainian Government ($50 million). The operator bank in financing the project is the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

    The building of the foundation for the new sarcophagus is expected to begin in April 2006. The EBRD on March 15 announced a tender for erecting a new shield over the destroyed generating power unit.

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