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Ukraine Marks Chernobyl's 23rd Anniversary

Ukraine paid homage Sunday to the victims of the 1986 Chernobyl power plant catastrophe, the world's worst civilian nuclear accident.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko attended anniversary services for the dead. He also joined other top officials in laying wreaths at "The Heroes of Chernobyl" memorial in Kyiv.

Catholic and Orthodox churches across Belarus also marked the tragedy with solemn services. In an address Sunday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko noted that his country's southeastern frontier, about 15 kilometers from Chernobyl, was blanketed with 70 percent of all airborne contamination from the site.

The ruins of Chernobyl reactor number four hold 200 tons of nuclear fuel. The site is still dangerously radioactive, and a vast concrete sarcophagus built to enclose it, is deteriorating.

The Kyiv government signed a deal in 2007 with a French consortium to construct a new steel casing around the plant.

The half-billion dollar project is still under construction.

The death toll from the explosion on April 26, 1986 at Chernobyl's Reactor 4 remains hotly debated. Soviet authorities 23 years ago said 32 people died as a direct result of the blast.

Since then, thousands of others have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. and the World Health Organization has predicted 9,000 people will eventually die from Chernobyl-related cancers. The environmental group Greenpeace says the death toll could exceed 90,000.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.