CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER STATION, Ukraine (AP) -- Workers have raised the first section of a colossal arch-shaped structure that eventually will cover the exploded nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station.
Project officials on Tuesday hailed the raising as a significant step in a complex effort to clean up the consequences of the 1986 explosion, the world's worst nuclear accident. Upon completion, the shelter will be moved on tracks over the building containing the destroyed reactor, allowing work to begin on dismantling the reactor and disposing of radioactive waste.
Suma Chakrabati, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is leading the project, called Tuesday "a very significant milestone, which is a tribute to the ongoing commitment of the international donor community, and an important step towards overcoming the legacy of the accident."
The shelter, shaped like a gargantuan Quonset hut, will be 257 meters by 150 meters (843 feet by 492 feet) when completed and at its apex will be higher than the Statue of Liberty.
The April 26, 1986, accident in the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe and forced the evacuation of about 115,000 people from the plant's vicinity. A 30-kilometer (19-mile) area directly around the plant remains largely off-limits and the town of Pripyat, where the plant's workers once lived, today is a ghostly ruin of deteriorating apartment towers.