Workers have raised the first section of a structure that will eventually cover the exploded reactor at Ukraine's Chornobyl nuclear power station.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which is leading the project, hailed the progress on November 27 as a major step toward cleaning up the aftermath of the 1986 explosion, the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster.
Vince Novak, the EBRD’s director for nuclear safety, said the jacking operation to complete the first stage of lifting was one of the most crucial phases of the project.
The initial lifting operation raised around 5,000 tons of steel to a preliminary height of up to 22 meters.
Victor Zalizetsky, the deputy head of the Project for New Safe Confinement Construction at Chornobyl, said the structure should stop the spread of radiation from the damaged reactor.
"The task of this object is to provide for the nonproliferation of radioactivity and contaminating aerosols, within the surrounding environment, and correspondingly this will protect both Ukraine and European countries from radioactive contamination," he explained.
Zalizetsky said the network of arched steel beams should have a lifespan of a century.
When it is completed in 2015, if all goes according to plan, the structure will reach a span of 257 meters and a height of 110 meters.
After the 1986 disaster, a sarcophagus was quickly built to entomb the damaged No. 4 reactor. However, cracks in that structure have been discovered.
The cost of the project is estimated at some $1.2 billion. Most of the funding is coming from 40 donor nations to the Chornobyl Shelter Fund run by the EBRD.
Analysts say one of the biggest challenges facing the project is dismantling the plant's chimney. That must be removed in order for the new covering to be put in place. However, the chimney is coated with radioactive residue, which could disperse into the atmosphere as the chimney is taken apart.
The official short-term death toll from the Chernobyl accident was 31, but many more people subsequently died of radiation-related sicknesses such as cancer.
The worst contamination occurred within a radius of 30 kilometers around the plant, the so-called Exclusion Zone. That area has been deemed uninhabitable.
With reporting by AP and Reuters