Twenty-five years after the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster, lack of funding and attention from the international community has stalled health studies and cleanup work at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant.

That's the assessment of a news feature in this week's journal Nature, which offers lessons for Japan as it struggles to come to terms with the effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami on its devastated nuclear reactors.

In the article, Nature's news editor, Mark Peplow, details current efforts to build a new confinement shelter for Chornobyl's reactor 4 before the sarcophagus becomes too unstable.


This May 10, 2007, file photo shows empty houses in the town of Pripyat and the closed Chornobyl nuclear power plant in the background. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

"But the international Chornobyl Shelter Fund that supports the US$1.4-billion effort still lacks about half of that cash, and the completion date has slipped by almost ten years since the shelter plan was agreed in principle in 2001," he writes.  

While the reactors are no longer operating, they continue to give off large amounts of radioactive waste.

That's partly because of flooding in some of the waste-storage buildings and reactor 4's turbine hall. The article reveals how every month, 300,000 litres of radioactive water must be pumped out and stored on site.

While about 3,500 people continue to work at the Chornobyl plant and the surrounding area as monitors, cleaners and guards, remediation work is expected to continue until 2065.

In the meantime, the health and psychological impacts of the disaster linger among local residents, offering perhaps the most important lesson for Japanese officials, according to the article.

"A nuclear accident haunts a region long after the reactors have cooled. If areas of Japan are significantly contaminated with radioactive caesium-137, which loses half its radioactivity in 30 years, the government may have to maintain an exclusion zone for decades."