New fears at Chernobyl

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The condition of the shell covering Chernobyl's ruined nuclear reactor worsened over 1997, increasing the chances it will collapse and release radioactive dust, an official said.

Studies last year showed that the roof of the concrete-and-steel shelter is in bad shape and a collapse is becoming "more and more" likely, said Chernobyl deputy director Valentin Kupny.

The beams holding up the roof are in "catastrophic condition," said Mr Kupny, who is responsible for the sarcophagus that was hastily built over the reactor after the 1986 disaster.

There are 34 metric tons of radioactive dust in the structure, and that amount increases by several tons every year as fuel masses break up.

- AP, Kiev