The containment structure at Chernobyl is slowly crumbling [Reuters]
An international conference has raised $788m to help build a containment shell at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, falling short of Ukraine's $1bn fundraising target.
The pledges were made at a three-day conference in Kiev on Tuesday, marking 25 years since the world's worst nuclear accident on Ukraine's northern border with Belarus.
"This is what we have been able to raise through joint efforts - and we consider this figure preliminary - €550m ($788m)," Viktor Yanukovich, the Ukrainian president, said.
He noted that the Soviet-era disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 had left Ukraine with a "deep wound which it will have to cope with for many years".
The ruins of Chernobyl's Number Four reactor, which blew up in April 1986 after a safety experiment went wrong, are housed in a cement structure.
The structure is slowly crumbling and there are fears that radiation from more than 200 tonnes of nuclear material may escape into the atmosphere.
A European-backed venture foresees a new 100-metres high shell over the reactor that will slide into place over the damaged reactor, sealing it at least until the end of the century.
During that time, work can be undertaken to dismantle the present shelter and move radioactive material to a safer place.
But Neave Barker, Al Jazeera's correspondent, reporting from Kiev said that further meetings would be necessary before the funding target would be reached.
"Much of the money comes from the European Union and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development," he said.
"But many of the 30 or so countries that were present at the donor conference said that now is just not the time to part with large sums of money because of the global financial situation ... more meetings will need to follow before the entire sum has been raised."
The crisis unfolding at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, damaged when an earthquake struck the country in March, overshadowed the conference.
Earlier this month the situation in Japan was upgraded to 7 - the highest rating and the same as Chernobyl - on the international scale of nuclear incidents. But Japanese officials said Fukushima had so far only leaked around 10 per cent of the radiation emitted by Chernobyl.
Delegates expressing solidarity with Tokyo's efforts to control the crisis and Japan's ambassador told the gathering that "under the challenging circumstances" Japan would not be able to pledge additional funds to the Chernobyl effort.
The Kiev conference launches a week of commemorations in Ukraine marking the Soviet-era explosion and fire.
A prevailing southeast wind carried a cloud of radioactivity over Belarus and Russia and into parts of northern Europe.
The official immediate death toll from Chernobyl was 31, but many more died of radiation-related sicknesses such as cancer, many of them in neighbouring Belarus.