The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine _ The Chernobyl power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear accident, should be closed immediately, a U.S. official said Saturday.

The plant is "full of safety violations," Deputy Energy Secretary William White said, echoing recent conclusions of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We would like to see it closed down immediately. Today," White said in an interview after touring the plant 50 miles north of Kiev on Friday.

White said Ukrainian officials assured him the plant would be shut "as soon as Ukraine's energy system is in balance."

Just when that might be was unclear. Ukrainian officials have said Chernobyl would be shut down when a more modern, four-reactor plant comes on line in 1998. But they also have said they don't have the $34 million needed to finish the new plant.

The Energy Department said in a statement released in Washington that the two governments had agreed to begin "joint analysis of options" for closing Chernobyl as soon as possible, calling that an important "commitment-in-principle" from Ukraine.

Although crippled by the 1986 disaster and a fire in 1991, Chernobyl still supplies Ukraine with 7 percent of its energy.

The 1986 explosion killed at least 32 people right away and thousands more may have died from radiation exposure. The accident contaminated a huge area and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. Read Next Article