Pope welcomes Chernobyl shut-down

 Anti-nuclear campaigners have joined the Pope in welcoming this weekend's closure of the notorious Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. In a message to the Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, Pope John Paul said the event was a "significant step toward peace". He added: "all those in your country and throughout the world are pleased to see this significant action". On 26 April 1986, a huge explosion ripped the plant, the worst nuclear accident in history. Fourteen years later, the Ukrainian government has decided to close the plant, in line with the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding signed in Ottawa. The Pope, who will visit the Ukraine in June, said that: "In this Jubilee year, in which we celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Christ, saviour of man, it is encouraging that your country has taken a significant step toward peace, thus offering your fellow men throughout the world a sign of hope for a safer and more fraternal world." A spokeswoman for Christian CND said: "The news of the closure is wonderful. But we are still very concerned about the other other potential nuclear hazards throughout the former USSR. However, this is a very significant step forward." During a press conference on Friday, Nina Kovalska, Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican, said that the closure of the plant is "a symbol of hope" for Ukrainian people. But it will not have "immediate effects", she noted, adding that closure requires "an extremely complicated technological process, which will last at least 30 year".

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