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Ukraine: Chornobyl To Dominate Tomorrow's EU Summit

Prague, 4 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Safety precautions at the nuclear power plant in Chornobyl and its closure within three years are likely to dominate tomorrow's meeting in Kyiv between the European Union's highest officials and Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma.

In a telephone interview today, a spokeswoman for the EU's Executive Commission told RFE/RL that questions involving Chornobyl top the 15-nation group's agenda for the planned three hours of discussion in the Ukrainian capital.

The EU will be represented by its current president, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Executive Commission President Jacques Santer and Hans van den Broek, the Commissioner responsible for relations with Eastern Europe.

Van den Broek's spokeswoman, Louisewise van der Laan, said EU officials are hoping for a strong, affirmative response to yesterday's decision by the Commission to recommend a $93 million grant to Ukraine.

The grant is to help rebuild the damaged sarcophagus around the ruined number four nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. It still must be approved at an upcoming meeting of the EU's 15 finance ministers, but van der Laan said the Commission was expecting no problems at that meeting.

She also said that the EU was now hoping for a firm commitment from the U.S. on its contribution to funding needed work on the concrete bunker built over reactor four after the 1986 explosion at Chornobyl, considered the world's worst ever civilian nuclear accident. An international team of experts recently visited the site and reported the sarcophagus was in dire need of repair to prevent radiation leakage.

It is estimated that the cost of fully securing reactor four will be about $750 million. At a summit meeting of the Group of Seven three months ago, the world's leading industrial powers pledged $300 million as their contribution. The remaining $450 million is expected to come from other countries at a pledging conference next year and from Ukraine itself.

Van der Laan said yesterday's Commission recommendation showed that the EU "put its money where its mouth is." Europe, she said, has taken the lead and Union officials are now expecting the U.S. to join concretely in the effort. They are also hoping for greater cooperation from Ukraine itself, which has pledged to close down the entire Chornobyl facility by the year 2000.

Other subjects due to be discussed tomorrow, according to the spokeswoman, include the implementation of a partnership and cooperation agreement between the EU and Ukraine. The agreement is expected to be fully ratified later this year by the EU's parliament, but its economic and trade provisions have already gone into effect.

A partnership agreement also provides for political cooperation, but is one grade lower than the EU association agreements signed by the 10 Central and East European nations seeking rapid entry into the Union.

Van der Laan said the EU wants to help Ukraine integrate as rapidly as possible into the world economy. She said Brussels would fully support and seek to assist Ukraine's entry into the World Trade Organization, the 131-nation body that was created two years ago to replace the old GATT (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade).

The Kyiv summit will be the first of its kind, although there have been previous meetings between high EU and Ukrainian officials. Talks are due to get underway. After a press conference, the EU officials will be Kuchma's guests for dinner before flying back late tomorrow to Brussels.