UKRAINE Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has announced that Chernobyl will close this year. Kuchma made the announcement following a meeting with the US energy secretary Bill Richardson in Kiev, although he did not specify a particular date.

Richardson welcomed the announcement and promised the US will provide funds to help complete the reactors at Rovno and Khmelnitski, which are about 85% complete. The US will also help Ukraine construct fossil fuel reactors to compensate for the loss of power from Chernobyl.

The Ukraine has criticised the West for foot-dragging over providing promised financial help to address the country’s energy crisis. The Group of Seven industrial nations failed to approve $1.2 billion in credits last year. The US has now agreed to take an active part in a conference of donor countries to be held in Germany in May. Kuchma and Richardson agreed to create a joint Ukrainian-US expert group to study the technical aspects of the closure.

Unit 3 at Chernobyl, the only unit still operating, was restarted on 2 February and reconnected to Ukraine’s grid the next day. The unit had been shut down on 1 February when its water system developed excessive pressure. It had only been restarted earlier in the day following closure on 30 January due to a coolant leak.

Ukraine has drawn up a five year national plan to reduce the impact of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. According to deputy emergency situations minister Vladimir Kholosha, the plan contains measures to address health problems, reinforce radiation protection, reduce radiation in the affected area, to improve social security and rebuild the local economy. The plan is to be implemented between 2001 and 2005 and it will be funded jointly by the Ukrainian government and the international community.

Some 300 Chernobyl liquidators, who carried out work at Chernobyl immediately following the accident, picketed the Lugansk Regional State Administration building on 3 February. They were protesting at the 2000 draft budget which reduces compensation payments to those whose health was damaged during the clean-up work.