Workers have finished building a concrete slab under the stricken nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant three days ahead of schedule, Radio Moscow reported today.
The home service Russian-language broadcast, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp. in London, said miners who had bored a tunnel underneath Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor have completed "a monolithic reinforced concrete slab, which is supposed to create reliable protection from below."
Soviet officials have said the slab is designed to prevent radioactive contamination of ground water.
In the past, officials have said they planned to entomb the ruined reactor in a concrete "coffin" to seal off radiation for hundreds of years until the fuel element inside decays.
On June 1, the defense daily Krasnaya Zvezda reported that army engineers had blasted a tunnel through to the ruined reactor, and that the tunnel was fitted with pipes to carry cement to pour around the reactor.
Today's radio report suggested the coffin will now start to be built. No estimates have been given for how long this will take, but earlier this month it was reported that Communist Party officials were expected to have approved a design for the coffin by Friday.