Kiev (AFP) Sept 24, 2010
A French company has begun work on erecting a new sarcophagus to confine the Chernobyl reactor that exploded in 1986 in the world's worst nuclear disaster, a spokeswoman for the operation said Friday.
Workers from France's Novarka are laying rails that will be used to slide a new sarcophagus over the reactor, said Maya Rudenko, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian state enterprise responsible for securing the reactor.
"It's the first large-scale operation by Novarka for this project," Rudenko said. The Ukrainian authorities over the last three years have carried out preliminary work to clean up the site and demolish buildings, she added.
The fourth reactor at a power station in the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl, around 100 kilometres north of Kiev, exploded in April 1986, contaminating a swathe of Europe, with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia the worst affected.
The remains of the reactor were hastily covered with a concrete sarcophagus in 1986, but the structure is now cracked and unstable.
A consortium made up of French construction companies Bouygues and Vinci won a tender in 2007 to build a new sarcophagus, financed by an international foundation.
The 108-metre-high arched structure, weighing 20,000 tonnes, will be assembled close to the reactor and then slid on rails over the existing sarcophagus.
The project will cost a total of at least 870 million euros (1.17 billion dollars), according to estimates by the Ukrainian government.
The project currently has a "deficit of 550 million euros," deputy prime minister Andriy Klyuev said during a visit to the site on Thursday.
earlier related report
With a large business delegation in tow, Medvedev will travel to China at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao, his second trip to the country since assuming office in 2008.
The packed agenda of his three-day trip will include visits to Beijing, Shanghai and Dalian, a port in northeast China which was under Russian control at the turn of the 20th century.
Relations between Moscow and Beijing -- once bitter foes during the Cold War -- have a turbulent history.
The two nations position themselves as counterweights to US global dominance and the Kremlin likes to call its ties with Beijing a "strategic partnership." But Moscow has been watching China's formidable economic might with a mixture of awe and uneasiness.
A key sticking point in ties is that Russian energy supplies still account for the bulk of economic cooperation, analysts say.
The Kremlin, on a mission to modernize Russia's hydrocarbon-dependent economy, wants more Chinese investments and know-how, while Beijing is in no rush to commit, they say.
"Russia has been increasing its energy and materials supply but China bought little else," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib investment bank.
"Medvedev will undoubtedly push for Chinese support for his modernization programme and will try to get a commitment from the government to encourage its major corporations to increase investment in the Russian economy and especially outside of extractive industries."
Russia and China jointly run only three industrial parks, said Sergei Luzyanin, deputy director of the Far East Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"That's a drop in the ocean, of course. It's clear that you need hundreds of them."
"Russia, of course, is trying to entice large investment capital but it is not coming so far."
Energy is also expected to be a major focus of the talks.
"A whole set of documents (to be signed) is related to expanding cooperation in the oil and gas sphere," Medvedev's top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters.
Russia is keen to diversify its energy supplies and has been in talks with China, the world's largest energy consumer, over gas deliveries.
With pricing remaining a major issue, those talks have dragged on for several years and Russia's powerful prime minister Vladimir Putin travelled to Beijing last October to try to push the talks forward.
Russia's energy czar and Putin's deputy, Igor Sechin, travelled to China earlier this month to lay the groundwork for Medvedev's trip.
During Sechin's visit, Russia and China announced plans to jointly build a 5-billion-dollar oil refinery in the port city of Tianjin and a network of at least 500 petrol stations in the country.
Last year, Moscow and Beijing agreed a 20-year deal to pump Russian oil to China in return for 25 billion dollars in loans.
After talks with top officials in Beijing, Medvedev will travel to Shanghai for Russia Day at World Expo.
Medvedev will kick off his China trip with a visit to Dalian, where he will visit a memorial to Soviet Union war dead.
Known in Russian as "Dalny" (remote), Dalian came under Moscow's control at the turn of the century and was the scene of a major clash between Russian and Japanese forces in the 1904-05 war known as the battle of Port Arthur.
Medvedev will visit the city at a time when China is entangled in a bitter territorial dispute with Japan. Some analysts have said Beijing may try to secure Russia's support in the diplomatic conflict.
Prikhodko said the Dalian trip had been in the works for a year and was intended as a "pro-Russian and not an anti-Japanese gesture."
Top billionaires including Viktor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska are set to follow Medvedev to China.
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