A leading Russian scientist has claimed that the sarcophagus entombing Chernobyl's broken nuclear reactor is dangerously degraded and he warned that its collapse could cause a catastrophe on the same scale as the original accident almost 20 years ago.
Professor Alexei Yablokov, President of the Centre for Russian Environmental Policy, said the concrete and metal sarcophagus was riven with cracks, already leaking radiation and at risk of collapse unless repairs were undertaken and work on a replacement urgently begun.
"If it collapses, there will be no explosion, as this is not a bomb, but a pillar of dust containing irradiated particles will shoot 1.5 kilometres into the air and will be spread by the wind." Depending on how the wind is blowing, Russia or Belarus would bear the brunt of such a dust cloud. Ukraine, where Chernobyl is located, would also be affected.
The sarcophagus is designed to keep a lid on what is left of the nuclear reactor that exploded with such dire consequences during an unauthorised test in April 1986 and is supposed to stop the mass of unspent nuclear fuel that lies beneath from entering the atmosphere.