Chernobyl Closure Applauded by John Paul II

«A Sign of Hope for Safer World,» He Says

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2000 ( John Paul II regards the closure of the notorious Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine as a «significant step toward peace.»

On April 26, 1986, a huge explosion ripped the plant, the worst nuclear accident in history. Fourteen years later, the Ukrainian government has decided to close the plant, in line with the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding signed in Ottawa.

In a message to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the Pope said he joins «all those who in your country and throughout the world are pleased to see this significant action.»

The Pontiff, who will visit this largely Orthodox country in June, said that «in this Jubilee year, in which we celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Christ, savior of man, it is encouraging that your country has taken a significant step toward peace, thus offering your fellowmen throughout the world a sign of hope for a safer and more fraternal world.»

During a press conference today, Nina Kovalska, Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican, said that the closure of the plant is «a symbol of hope» for Ukrainian people. But it will not have «immediate effects,» she noted, adding that closure requires «an extremely complicated technological process, which will last at least 30 years.»

The project is being funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has allocated the equivalent of $688 million, of which only «27% has been confirmed,» the ambassador disclosed. She appealed to the international community to «fulfill the commitments assumed in the Ottawa memorandum,» and warned: «Chernobyl is not a national problem; it affects the whole of Europe.»

The 1986 accident killed 30 firemen and released a cloud of gas that claimed thousands of lives since. Exact casualty figures aren´t known, Kovalska said. «Tens of thousands of people have fallen ill from the effects of radiation,» she said. «In the case of adults, the consequences have been established, but the children have suffered consequences. There is high infant mortality in the Ukraine.»

Reuters reported today that one out of every 16 Ukrainians suffers from health problems related to the accident, as well as millions of people in neighboring Russia and Byelorussia.

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