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The ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear plant has been permanently shut down in Ukraine - more than 14 years after a reactor exploded in the world's worst civil nuclear catastrophe.

On 26th April 1986, at 1.23 a.m., the world's worst nuclear disaster took place at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine. More than 190 tons of highly radioactive uranium and graphite were expelled into the atmosphere causing an international ecological calamity - and exposing the people of Chernobyl to radiation 300 times greater than that from the Hiroshima bomb.

A United Nations 1995 Report estimated that a total of 9 million people were directly or indirectly affected by the Chernobyl disaster and that 3 - 4 million of those were children.

U2 fans may know that an Irish charity, Children of Chernobyl, emerged to help child victims of the disaster, and that it has long been supported by U2. Bono's wife, Ali, is the patron of the charity, which was initiated and is led by Adi Roche.

The charity was founded after a desperate appeal faxed to the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1991. The message was from doctors caring for children in the Chernobyl-affected country of Belarus and it read,

'S.O.S. Appeal. For God's sake, help us to get the children out.'

In the time since the charity has brought thousands of children to Ireland for summer breaks and sent more than IR£12m worth of humanitarian aid to Belarus, Western Russia & The Ukraine. It has also organised life saving operations for dozens of children under it's Long Term Care Programme and sponsored a 100-strong ambulance fleet in Belarus.

Two years ago U2 donated the proceeds from their hit single The Sweetest Thing to help more children from the region.

Today, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma gave a nationwide television address before ordering the Chernobyl control room to turn a knob shutting down the last working reactor.

'To fulfil a state decision and Ukraine's international obligations, I hereby order the premature stoppage of the operation of reactor No 3 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,' Mr Kuchma said.

His words were relayed to Chernobyl via a live television link. About100 workers at the plant followed events in the control room on a large television screen. Many had tears in their eyes as they stood to watch.

Representatives from more than 10 countries including the United States attended the closing ceremony. Thirty-one people, mostly firemen, were killed immediately after the explosion, and several thousand more - those involved in the clean-up and children - have since died from radiation-related illnesses.

The country agreed to close down the plant under intense international pressure. The schedule was finally agreed during a visit by US President Bill Clinton to Kiev earlier this year.

An area the size of England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined - over 160,000 square kilometres - is estimated to have been contaminated by the disaster. Chiefly affected are Northern Ukraine, Western Russia and the Republic of Belarus.

Over 1.3 million people are registered with Chernobyl linked health problems, for example respiratory problems, nose bleeding, vomiting, severe headaches and depression. Links between nuclear radiation and cancer are controversial. Links with leukaemia and cancer of the thyroid are now acknowledged.

There is a 10 - 15% chance of curing childhood leukaemia in Belarus. It is 85% in the western world.

If you would like to learn more about supporting the Children of Chernobyl, visit
their site

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