Ukraine is about to begin the construction of a new shelter above the devastated fourth unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, officials said.

A contract was signed two years ago between Ukraine and a French-led consortium Norvarka, to build the new ‘sarcophagus.’ The cover will cost $505 million and may be ready in five years, they said.

The work for the cover, claimed to stay for another 100 years, will begin in 2010, while the giant arch will be erected by 2015. It will have a length of 257 metres, width of 150 metres and a height of 108 metres.

The project has been evaluated and presented to the State Nuclear Regulatory Committee. Nuclear and radiation security requirements are taken into account in the action plan.

The arch will be assembled 180 metres away from the existent sarcophagus for reducing the radiation impact on workers, they said. Once it is ready, the arch will be railed and placed above the initial cover erected 23 years ago.

The worst nuclear accident in the human history, Chernobyl, occurred on April 26, 1986, spreading radioactive waves in which thousands of people died. The fallout from the incident drifted over extensively; parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe were also affected. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 3,36,000 people. According to official post-Soviet data, about 60 per cent of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus.

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