Dmytro Hrodzynskyy, a Ukrainian scientist who is monitoring the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster warns that the levels of radiation around the destroyed reactor are risingBecause the concrete cover placed over the remains of the damaged reactor is failing. He believes the remaining fuel inside the reactor is heating up.

But other experts say there?s no need to worry about further explosions at the site. Professor Hrodzynskyy, who heads the Ukrainian Government’s commission on radiation security, told the Izvestia newspaper that 24% of babies now born near Chernobyl have birth defects. Thyroid cancer in local children is now 1,000 times more likely than before the disaster and the situation could get worse because increasing levels of radiation have been detected leaking from the site’s unreliable casing.

“There is more than [half a mile] of holes and cracks there,” he says. “Fuel is starting to heat up inside the ruined reactor… and radioactive dust is escaping.” The concrete tomb, which was designed to cover the ruins of the nuclear reactor and the hundreds of tons of nuclear fuel remaining from the 1986 disaster, was built too hastily and is now failing, Hrodzynskyy says.

The Ukraine is dependent on Western financial aid to maintain the site and has complained that is does not have enough to do the job properly. A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna says the agency is aware of the problem but can only register official reports filed by national agencies. The head of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, Volodymyr Kholosha, says there are no new dangers. “The Ukrainian and foreign experts who permanently monitor the shelter facility see no cause for concern,” he says. “The same has been confirmed by the data received from monitoring equipment.”

He denies that fuel was heating up inside the crippled reactor and says the cover was designed to allow air in and would be replaced as planned in 2007. “There is no chance of a chain reaction inside the reactor,” Kholosha says.

About 250 people gathered near the ruins of the reactor recently to observe a minute’s silence on the anniversary of the day Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor number four blew up 16 years ago. The explosion sent clouds of radioactive smoke over much of Europe. Between 15,000 and 30,000 people have since died from effects of the explosion and the United Nations estimates that nearly six million people continue to live in contaminated areas. An 18-mile exclusion zone is still maintained around the site, although there is talk of trying to generate tourism in the area. Chernobyl’s other three reactors continued to be used for years after the accident but the last reactor was finally closed down in 2000.

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