Ukraine Raises $790 Million to Seal Chernobyl, Below Its $1 Billion Target

Ukraine failed to raise the $1 billion to seal Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, as budget concerns and the accident at Fukushima in Japan caused some governments to balk at further spending.

The former Soviet republic, which hosted a donor conference in Kiev today, raised about 550 million euros ($790 million) from countries including the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and Germany, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said today in Kiev. Japan declined to offer a donation, as did Spain, Italy and Saudi Arabia.

Japan’s battle to contain leaks at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant reignited the debate about nuclear safety 25 years after Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor exploded and spewed radiation across Europe. Even so, cash-strapped governments, still recovering from the global crisis, were wary of new expenditures to make Chernobyl safe, President Viktor Yanukovych said.

“We all realize the resources are far beyond the limits that any individual country can potentially provide,” Yanukovych told reporters today. The conference was held as part of commemorations for the accident on April 26, 1986. “Without overstating, the successful solution to Chernobyl’s problems has a global dimension,” he said.

EBRD, EU Pledges

Of the sum pledged today, the European Commission promised 110 million euros and the EBRD pledged at least 120 million euros. The EBRD and the commission will work to get more funding, European Commission President Jose Barroso said.

“Chernobyl is a stark reminder that nuclear risks do not stop at our borders,” Barroso said. “Our responsibility and solidarity should not stop at our borders either.”

Barroso said he hopes to other countries will donate later on. Italy, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada and Mexico may announce donations at another time, Yanukovych said.

The U.S. delegation, led by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, donated $123 million, the most by any one country. Brzezinski said nations need to work together to help improve nuclear safety in Ukraine and “stands shoulder to shoulder” with Japan.

“Twenty-five years after that terrible day, the U.S., in concert with our G-8 partners and the international community, remains committed to helping the Ukrainian people clean up Chernobyl,” Brzezinski said.

Measure of Cooperation

The outcome of the conference will be a measure of willingness to improve safety and keep the accidents in Ukraine and Japan under control, Vince Novak, the EBRD’s director of nuclear safety, said in an interview before the event. The London-based EBRD is the broker for the fundraising effort.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is the operator of the Fukushima plant, which was damaged by the March earthquake and tsunami. Workers are still struggling to contain radiation at Fukushima and prevent further damage to the plant’s four reactors.

The 1986 meltdown killed at least 31 plant workers and firefighters in three months and forced the evacuation of a quarter of a million people.

The Chernobyl project involves a 105-meter high arched roof that, once assembled on a field next to the damaged reactor, will be rolled into place and sealed for 100 years. After that, workers will be able to dismantle the old structure from inside the protective cowl. Novarka, a joint venture of units of French engineering companies Vinci SA (DG) and Bouygues SA (EN), has already begun work on pouring the concrete base.

Makeshift Sarcophagus

The new shelter can proceed because it won’t be completed until 2015 and the Ukrainian government has three years to find the remainder of the financing, Novak said.

The current concrete-and-steel cover was built in a rush as emergency personnel scrambled to clean up deadly radioactive debris that killed the adjacent forest and forced dozens of villages in the area to be abandoned forever. The western wall started collapsing, requiring Chernobyl workers to erect two scaffolding towers in 2008 to prop the unstable structure.

To contact the reporters on this story James M. Gomez in Prague at jagomez@bloomberg.net Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at dkrasnolutsk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hellmuth Tromm at htromm@bloomberg.net

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