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 November 30, 2016
Giant Arch, a Feat of Engineering, Now Covers Chernobyl Site in Ukraine

 Resembling an aircraft hangar, a giant arched shelter was slid into place over the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in Ukraine on Tuesday. The shelter, the world's largest land-based moving structure, is a feat of engineering decades in conception and years in the making.

The arch, which was first designed more than two decades ago and has been under construction since 2010, covers the deteriorating steel and concrete sarcophagus that had been hastily built after a botched test at the power plant led to an explosion and fire that sent plumes of radioactive ash across Europe 30 years ago.

The new structure, which is about 500 feet long, has a span of 800 feet and is 350 feet high, is designed to last at least a century and is intended to prevent any additional spewing of toxic material from the stricken reactor.

In 2014, The Times took a look at what it would take to build the arch, a structure designed to withstand extreme temperatures, corrosion and tornadoes. Our correspondent found that engineers hoped the arch would enable workers, using remote-controlled equipment, to eventually dismantle and remove the fuel and other highly radioactive components for safe burial elsewhere.

Even with the new arch, the surrounding zone --- roughly 1,000 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island --- will remain largely uninhabitable and closed to visitors without authorization. Over the years, vegetation has reclaimed much of the land and the abandoned infrastructure; for example, trees shoot out of the rusted roofs of vacant buildings in the ghost town of Pripyat.

The project has been operated by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. A number of Western countries, as well as Ukraine and Russia, contributed more than $1.5 billion to the project, and the bank provided more than $500 million of its own.

The accident, on April 26, 1986, was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. It forced more than 50,000 people to evacuate the surrounding area, which was declared off limits. More than two dozen workers died from radiation exposure, and an unknown number of other personnel were injured while responding to the disaster. Many more people around Chernobyl and far beyond were affected indirectly, with an increase in cancers and other diseases.

"Let the whole world see today what Ukraine and the world can do when they unite, how we are able to protect the world from nuclear contamination and nuclear threats," President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said at a ceremony.