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Official: Chernobyl Shell Unsafe

August 11, 1992

MOSCOW (AP) _ The concrete shell built around the ruined Chernobyl nuclear reactor is cracked and leaking and may become unsafe in another five or 10 years, an official said in an interview published Tuesday.

But other officials with ties to the nuclear power station dismissed the comments by Professor Vladimir Karasev and said the reactor’s ″sarcophagus″ would last decades.

Ukraine last month launched a competition to design and build a new long- term shell to encase Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4, which exploded on April 26, 1986, in the world’s worst nuclear power accident.

Karasev, general director of the research center in charge of the shell hurriedly built to contain the wrecked reactor, said the current structure is neither safe nor tightly sealed.

″Many people think the sarcophagus is sealed hermetically,″ he told the newspaper Rabochaya Tribuna. ″Alas, it is not so.″

Radioactive material inside the shell includes ″lava″ formed of sand, concrete and metal melted by intense heat after the explosion. As it cools, the ″lava″ could collapse and release more radioactive dust, Karasev said.

Dust already is seeping out of cracks that riddle 11,000 square feet of the shell, he said.

At best, the shell can be guaranteed to last five or 10 years more, and ″the lowest limit is what is usually relied on in such cases,″ he said.

Karasev’s warning was discounted by several other officials.

Vladimir Kurnosov of the Power Equipment Research Institute in St. Petersburg, who headed the team that designed the shell, told Rabochaya Tribuna that the shelter is guaranteed to last 30 years.

Warnings about its safety are raised by people ″who are simply afraid to go near the sarcophagus,″ he said. ″I have personally been inside it and I can say that there is nothing wrong there.″

Spartak Belyaev, deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow which designed the 1,000-megawatt reactor, suggested in an interview to the newspaper Izvestia on Monday that the warnings were prompted by political reasons.

Although three of the four reactors remain operational at Chernobyl, the Ukrainian Parliament voted earlier this year to shut the plant down entirely by the end of 1993 and make Ukraine a nuclear-free zone.

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