AUR#687 Chornobyl & Soviet Union Collapse; Nuclear, A Green Makes Case; That Night Personnel Could Not Care A Damn; Holiday In Hell

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April 26, 2006, 20th Anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
(Chornobyl +20 – Part I, AUR #685, Friday, April 7, 2006)
“The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl this month 20 years ago, even more
than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse
of the Soviet Union five years later. Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe
was an historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and
there is the very different era that has followed.” Mikhail S Gorbachev

Mr. E. Morgan Williams, Publisher and Editor

Clicking on the title of any article takes you directly to the article.
Return to the Index by clicking on Return to Index at the end of each article

: By Mikhail S Gorbachev
Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, April 17, 2006

COMMENTARY: By Patrick Moore, The Washington Post
Washington, D.C., Sunday, April 16, 2006; Page B01

COMMENTARY: By Dominic Lawson, The Independent
London, United Kingdom, Friday, Apr 07, 2006

Letter-to-the-Editor: By Linda Walker, The Independent
London, United Kingdom, Wed, Apr 12, 2006

Ukraine and the USA now have far better options to meet
energy needs and address climate change
Ukrainian-American Environmental Association
Rivne, Ukraine, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 17, 2006

“On that night the personnel could not care a damn, pardon my language.”
NTV Mir, Moscow, Russia, in Russian 1600 gmt 16 Apr 06
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, in English, Sunday, April 16, 2006

ITAR-TASS news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1126 gmt 4 Apr 06
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, in English, Tuesday, Apr 04, 2006

By Mike Duff, Financial Times Weekend Magazine
London, United Kingdom, Friday, April 7 2006

Sense of victimhood and fatalism does more damage than radiation
By Erika Niedowski, Sun foreign reporter
Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday, April 9, 2006

ddp news agency, Berlin, in German 1356 gmt 12 Apr 06
BBC Monitoring Service. UK, in English, Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mara D. Bellaby, Associated Press Writer, AP
Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, April 17, 2006


First of a three-part series by Kathy Sheridan
By Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland, Sat, Apr 08, 2006
Second of a three-part series by Kathy Sheridan
Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland, Monday, Apr 10, 2006

Third in a three-part series by Kathy Sheridan
By Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland, Tue, Apr 11, 2006

An International Conference in Kyiv (Ukraine), April 23-25, 2006
Sascha Mueller-Kraenner, Leiter Referatsgruppe Europa, Nordamerika
Berlin, Germany, Friday, April 7, 2006


VIEWPOINT: By Mikhail S Gorbachev
Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, April 17, 2006

The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl this month 20 years ago, even more than
my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the
Soviet Union five years later. Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe was an
historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and there is
the very different era that has followed.

The very morning of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear station on April
26, 1986, the Politburo met to discuss the situation, and then organised a
government commission to deal with the consequences. The commission was
to control the situation, and to ensure that serious measures were taken,
particularly in regard to people’s health in the disaster zone. Moreover,
the Academy of Science established a group of leading scientists, who were
immediately dispatched to the Chernobyl region.

The Politburo did not immediately have appropriate and complete information
that would have reflected the situation after the explosion. Nevertheless,
it was the general consensus of the Politburo that we should openly deliver
the information upon receiving it. This would be in the spirit of the
glasnost policy that was by then already established in the Soviet Union.

Thus, claims that the Politburo engaged in concealment of information about
the disaster is far from the truth. One reason I believe that there was no
deliberate deception is that, when the governmental commission visited the
scene right after the disaster and stayed overnight in Polesie, near
Chernobyl, its members all had dinner with regular food and water, and they
moved about without respirators, like everybody else who worked there. If
the local administration or the scientists knew the real impact of the
disaster, they would not have risked doing this.

In fact, nobody knew the truth, and that is why all our attempts to receive
full information about the extent of the catastrophe were in vain. We
initially believed that the main impact of the explosion would be in
Ukraine, but Belarus, to the northwest, was hit even worse, and then Poland
and Sweden suffered the consequences.

Of course, the world first learnt of the Chernobyl disaster from Swedish
scientists, creating the impression that we were hiding something. But in
truth we had nothing to hide, as we simply had no information for a day and
a half. Only a few days later, we learnt that what happened was not a simple
accident, but a genuine nuclear catastrophe – an explosion of Chernobyl’s
fourth reactor.

Although the first report on Chernobyl appeared in Pravda on April 28, the
situation was far from clear. For example, when the reactor blew up, the
fire was immediately put out with water, which only worsened the situation
as nuclear particles began spreading through the atmosphere.

Meanwhile we were still able to take measures to help people in the disaster
zone; they were evacuated, and more than 200 medical organisations were
involved in testing the population for radiation poisoning.

There was a serious danger that the contents of the nuclear reactor would
seep into the soil, and then leak into the Dnepr river, thus endangering the
population of Kiev and other cities along the riverbanks. Therefore, we
started the job of protecting the river banks, initiating a total
deactivation of the Chernobyl plant. The resources of a huge country were
mobilised to control the devastation, including work to prepare the
sarcophagus that would encase the fourth reactor.

The Chernobyl disaster, more than anything else, opened the possibility of
much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew
it could no longer continue. It made absolutely clear how important it was
to continue the policy of glasnost, and I must say that I started to think
about time in terms of pre-Chernobyl and post-Chernobyl.

The price of the Chernobyl catastrophe was overwhelming, not only in human
terms, but also economically. Even today, the legacy of Chernobyl affects
the economies of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Some even suggest that the
economic price for the USSR was so high that it stopped the arms race, as I
could not keep building arms while paying to clean up Chernobyl.

This is wrong. My declaration of January 15, 1986, is well known around the
world. I addressed arms reduction, including nuclear arms, and I proposed
that by the year 2000 no country should have atomic weapons. I personally
felt a moral responsibility to end the arms race.

Chernobyl opened my eyes like nothing else: it showed the horrible
consequences of nuclear power, even when it is used for non-military
purposes. One could now imagine much more clearly what might happen if a
nuclear bomb exploded. According to scientific experts, one SS-18 rocket
could contain 100 Chernobyls.

Unfortunately, the problem of nuclear arms is still very serious today.
Countries that have them – the members of the so-called “nuclear club” – are
in no hurry to get rid of them. On the contrary, they continue to refine
their arsenals, while countries without nuclear weapons want them, believing
that the nuclear club’s monopoly is a threat to the world peace.

The 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe reminds us that we should
not forget the horrible lesson taught to the world in 1986. We should do
everything in our power to make all nuclear facilities safe and secure. We
should also start seriously working on the production of the alternative
sources of energy.

The fact that world leaders now increasingly talk about this imperative
suggests that the lesson of Chernobyl is finally being understood.
Mikhail Gorbachev, last president of the USSR, chairman of the Gorbachev

Foundation in Moscow and the head of the International Green Cross
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

COMMENTARY: By Patrick Moore, The Washington Post
Washington, D.C., Sunday, April 16, 2006; Page B01

In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear
energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my

That’s the conviction that inspired Greenpeace’s first voyage up the
spectacular rocky northwest coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen
bombs in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental
movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be
the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster:
catastrophic climate change.

Look at it this way: More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United
States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions — or nearly 10 percent of
global emissions — of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for
climate change.

Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that
can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for
power. And these days it can do so safely.

I say that guardedly, of course, just days after Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad announced that his country had enriched uranium. “The nuclear
technology is only for the purpose of peace and nothing else,” he said. But
there is widespread speculation that, even though the process is ostensibly
dedicated to producing electricity, it is in fact a cover for building
nuclear weapons.

And although I don’t want to underestimate the very real dangers of nuclear
technology in the hands of rogue states, we cannot simply ban every
technology that is dangerous. That was the all-or-nothing mentality at the
height of the Cold War, when anything nuclear seemed to spell doom for
humanity and the environment.

In 1979, Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon produced a frisson of fear with their
starring roles in “The China Syndrome,” a fictional evocation of nuclear
disaster in which a reactor meltdown threatens a city’s survival. Less than
two weeks after the blockbuster film opened, a reactor core meltdown at
Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant sent shivers of very
real anguish throughout the country.

What nobody noticed at the time, though, was that Three Mile Island was in
fact a success story: The concrete containment structure did just what it
was designed to do — prevent radiation from escaping into the environment.
And although the reactor itself was crippled, there was no injury or death
among nuclear workers or nearby residents.

Three Mile Island was the only serious accident in the history of nuclear
energy generation in the United States, but it was enough to scare us away
from further developing the technology: There hasn’t been a nuclear plant
ordered up since then.

Today, there are 103 nuclear reactors quietly delivering just 20 percent of
America’s electricity. Eighty percent of the people living within 10 miles
of these plants approve of them (that’s not including the nuclear workers).
Although I don’t live near a nuclear plant, I am now squarely in their camp.

And I am not alone among seasoned environmental activists in changing my
mind on this subject. British atmospheric scientist James Lovelock, father
of the Gaia theory, believes that nuclear energy is the only way to avoid
catastrophic climate change.

Stewart Brand, founder of the “Whole Earth Catalog,” says the environmental
movement must embrace nuclear energy to wean ourselves from fossil fuels.

On occasion, such opinions have been met with excommunication from the
anti-nuclear priesthood: The late British Bishop Hugh Montefiore, founder
and director of Friends of the Earth, was forced to resign from the group’s
board after he wrote a pro-nuclear article in a church newsletter.

There are signs of a new willingness to listen, though, even among the
staunchest anti-nuclear campaigners. When I attended the Kyoto climate
meeting in Montreal last December, I spoke to a packed house on the question
of a sustainable energy future.

I argued that the only way to reduce fossil fuel emissions from electrical
production is through an aggressive program of renewable energy sources
(hydroelectric, geothermal heat pumps, wind, etc.) plus nuclear.

The Greenpeace spokesperson was first at the mike for the question period,
and I expected a tongue-lashing. Instead, he began by saying he agreed with
much of what I said — not the nuclear bit, of course, but there was a clear
feeling that all options must be explored.

Here’s why: Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are
intermittent and unpredictable they simply can’t replace big baseload plants
such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too
volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric
resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the
only viable substitute for coal. It’s that simple.

That’s not to say that there aren’t real problems — as well as various
myths — associated with nuclear energy. Each concern deserves careful

[1] Nuclear energy is expensive. It is in fact one of the least expensive
energy sources. In 2004, the average cost of producing nuclear energy in the
United States was less than two cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with
coal and hydroelectric. Advances in technology will bring the cost down
further in the future.

[2] Nuclear plants are not safe. Although Three Mile Island was a
success story, the accident at Chernobyl, 20 years ago this month, was not.
But Chernobyl was an accident waiting to happen. This early model of
Soviet reactor had no containment vessel, was an inherently bad design and
its operators literally blew it up.

The multi-agency U.N. Chernobyl Forum reported last year that 56 deaths
could be directly attributed to the accident, most of those from radiation
or burns suffered while fighting the fire. Tragic as those deaths were, they
pale in comparison to the more than 5,000 coal-mining deaths that occur
worldwide every year.

No one has died of a radiation-related accident in the history of the U.S.
civilian nuclear reactor program. (And although hundreds of uranium mine
workers did die from radiation exposure underground in the early years of
that industry, that problem was long ago corrected.)

[3] Nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years. Within
40 years, used fuel has less than one-thousandth of the radioactivity it had
when it was removed from the reactor. And it is incorrect to call it waste,
because 95 percent of the potential energy is still contained in the used fuel
after the first cycle.

Now that the United States has removed the ban on recycling used fuel, it
will be possible to use that energy and to greatly reduce the amount of
waste that needs treatment and disposal. Last month, Japan joined France,
Britain and Russia in the nuclear-fuel-recycling business. The United States
will not be far behind.

[4] Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to terrorist attack. The six-feet-
thick reinforced concrete containment vessel protects the contents from the
outside as well as the inside. And even if a jumbo jet did crash into a
reactor and breach the containment, the reactor would not explode. There
are many types of facilities that are far more vulnerable, including liquid
natural gas plants, chemical plants and numerous political targets.

[5] Nuclear fuel can be diverted to make nuclear weapons. This is the
most serious issue associated with nuclear energy and the most difficult to
address, as the example of Iran shows. But just because nuclear technology
can be put to evil purposes is not an argument to ban its use.

Over the past 20 years, one of the simplest tools — the machete — has been
used to kill more than a million people in Africa, far more than were killed
in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings combined.

What are car bombs made of? Diesel oil, fertilizer and cars. If we banned
everything that can be used to kill people, we would never have harnessed

The only practical approach to the issue of nuclear weapons proliferation is
to put it higher on the international agenda and to use diplomacy and, where
necessary, force to prevent countries or terrorists from using nuclear
materials for destructive ends.

And new technologies such as the reprocessing system recently introduced in
Japan (in which the plutonium is never separated from the uranium) can make
it much more difficult for terrorists or rogue states to use civilian
materials to manufacture weapons.

The 600-plus coal-fired plants emit nearly 2 billion tons of CO2annually —
the equivalent of the exhaust from about 300 million automobiles. In
addition, the Clean Air Council reports that coal plants are responsible for
64 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 26 percent of nitrous oxides and 33
percent of mercury emissions.

These pollutants are eroding the health of our environment, producing acid
rain, smog, respiratory illness and mercury contamination.

Meanwhile, the 103 nuclear plants operating in the United States effectively
avoid the release of 700 million tons of CO2emissions annually — the
equivalent of the exhaust from more than 100 million automobiles. Imagine if
the ratio of coal to nuclear were reversed so that only 20 percent of our
electricity was generated from coal and 60 percent from nuclear.

This would go a long way toward cleaning the air and reducing greenhouse gas
emissions. Every responsible environmentalist should support a move in that
direction. ( -30-
Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, is chairman and chief scientist of
Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. He and Christine Todd Whitman are co-chairs of a
new industry-funded initiative, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which
supports increased use of nuclear energy.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

COMMENTARY: By Dominic Lawson, The Independent
London, United Kingdom, Friday, Apr 07, 2006

Of all the articles written to mark the 20th anniversary of the world’s
greatest nuclear disaster, at Chernobyl, the most significant appeared in
Wednesday’s Independent.

Andrew Osborn had travelled to the site of the explosion and revealed that
it had become an unplanned nature reserve. Animals have returned of their
own accord, including 7,000 wild boar and a similar number of elk’ it is
now the home of 280 species of birds, many of them rare and endangered.

Even the cooling ponds of the power station are teeming with fish. One of
the former inhabitants who has returned, Maria Shaparenko, said: “It’s very
nice here in summer, everything blooms. In fact nothing is wrong here, it’s
just that people have been scared off by the radiation.”

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, 375 British farmers are not allowed to
take their lambs to market without first notifying the Food Standards
Agency, whose officials consider the land still to be “dirty” as a result of
fallout from Chernobyl. The farmers had originally been told, back in 1986,
that they would be free to sell their produce within six months.

The guiding principle of all bureaucracies, alas, is that their work is
never done. But who is right in this case: 82-year-old Maria Shaparenko, or
our very own Dame Deirdre Hutton, head of the FSA?

Scientific opinion seems increasingly to favour Maria over Deirdre. Studies
of survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs show that those not near
the epicentre of those two dreadful blasts, and who therefore endured
relatively low amounts of radiation, have enjoyed a life expectancy no less
high than among Japanese of the same age who were not living in the affected

A less gruesome experimental finding is demonstrated by the inhabitants of
the Iranian town of Ramsar, whose rivers and streams have an extraordinarily
high concentration of radium, and who endure a background radiation level
more than 5,000 times the safety level recommended by the American
Environmental Protection Agency.

According to Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, ex-chairman of a UN committee
on radiation effects, “there are many generations living in homes in Ramsar and
we found no evidence of any harm”. Indeed, Doctor John Cameron of
Wisconsin-Madison goes further: “Ifs been known for some time that radiation
stimulates the immune system. Studies show that animals live longer with an
increase of radiation. There’s no doubt in my mind that radiation at
moderate levels is beneficial.”

The point seems to be that whereas the official safety level here and in
America is based on the idea that the effects of radiation are linear in
nature, the facts show that the true risk ratio follows a J-shape: radiation
is either harmless or beneficial up to surprisingly high levels, and then
suddenly, as soon as the dose becomes truly massive, it becomes very
dangerous indeed.

This presumably explains why the actual number of deaths directly
attributable to Chernobyl was so much lower than almost everyone expected.
But it’s not surprising that those expectations were so high. It was a
contrived nuclear disaster of a sort which a terrorist might have thought

In a bizarre experiment, the Chernobyl Reactor Number Four was made to run
at a dangerously low level, the emergency cooling unit was disconnected and
the emergency safety mechanism was switched off.

Not surprisingly, the 1,000-tonne concrete reactor shield was blown clean
away in a mighty explosion, instantly killing 31 plant workers. Iodine-131
and Caesium-137 rained down upon the populations of Belarus and Ukraine.

Yet although the Western media for many years claimed 100,000 people had
died as a result, it appears that only 134 people are known to have received
dangerously high doses of radiation, of whom 14 have since died (though
several of those deaths were attributed to unrelated causes).

The official UN report concluded that the radiation from Chernobyl caused no
measurable increase in birth defects and no rise in the “background rate” of

These facts have taken on more than merely scientific interest, now that the
political leaders of western Europe are beginning to realise that a return
to a civil nuclear power station building programme is necessary if they are
to meet the commitments demanded of them by the Kyoto treaty. Necessary,
that is, if they do not want the lights to go out.

The Finns, who take the Kyoto Treaty particularly seriously, are now
constructing their fifth nuclear reactor and the fascinating thing is that
this project was originally planned back in the 1980s but scuppered by the
political fallout from Chernobyl.

Ifs also interesting that, like us, the Finns get about a quarter of their
energy from nuclear power, and also like us, are nervous about over-reliance
on gas pipelines controlled by Mr Putin.

The French lead the way in nuclear self-sufficiency: three-quarters of their
electricity needs come from close to 50 indigenous nuclear power stations.
By the way, do you know any anti-nuclear campaigners who refuse to take
their families on holiday to France on health and safety grounds?

It is becoming increasingly clear that this is the issue that will divide
the environmentalist movement. I’ve written before about how James Lovelock,
the creator of the Gaia theory, has broken away from many of his former
colleagues in the movement by insisting that only nuclear power can combine
carbon-emission reduction with maintenance of our current standard of

In 2004 he was joined by the former Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh
Montefiore, who had been a fundraiser for Friends of the Earth for more than
20 years, but who was asked to resign over his pro-nuclear stance.

He declared in response: “The future of the planet is more important than
membership of Friends of the Earth.” In a gracious statement following
Montefiore’s death last year, Tony Juniper, the executive director of FoE,
said: “He was a tireless campaigner for the environment, who was never
afraid of challenging conventional wisdom.”

Organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, originally
outspoken challengers to conventional wisdom, now represent it, at least
among the well-to-do British middle classes. This is a victory for their
propaganda and campaigning skills, but intellectually they now appear more
like conservative defenders of the status quo, too rigid in their thoughts
to cope with internal dissent.

When Hollywood joins the movement you know it’s reached its high-water mark:
I was amused to see that Michael Douglas has been co-opted, declaring that
“I will never be able to safely take my children to my father’s hometown in
Belarus because of what happened there.” Yes, you will, Michael. Listen to
the birds of Chernobyl.

Animals have returned and the cooling ponds of the power station are
teeming with fish. -30-
Contact: Dominic Lawson,
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

Letter-to-the-Editor: By Linda Walker, The Independent
London, United Kingdom, Wed, Apr 12, 2006

Sir: So, a little radiation every day is just what the doctor ordered, if
Dominic Lawson is to be believed (“Listen to the birds of Chernobyl”, 7
April). Mr Lawson quotes selectively from the article by Andrew Osborn.

Maria Sharapenkos’ quote, “In fact nothing is wrong here. It’s just that
people have been scared off by the radiation” was followed in Mr Osborn’s
article by, “But a few doors away, Roman Yushchenko, an old man riddled
with cancer, is turning black beside a chamber pot of his own blood-red
urine”. Mr Yushchenko added: “Chernobyl may have turned into a sanctuary
for flora and fauna. For human beings it remains less welcoming.”

Animals seldom live long enough to be affected by low-level radiation.
Natural selection allows them to flourish, especially with few humans and
no hunting.

To claim that “scientific opinion favours Maria’s case” is wrong. The
Chernobyl Forum report of September last year, predicted at least 4,000
excess cancer deaths. This body is headed by the International Atomic
Energy Agency, whose chief role is the promotion of nuclear power, so this
report is widely believed to have downplayed the effects. A report by the
Greens in the European Parliament puts the figure between 30,000 and

Mr. Lawson’s argument that a revival of nuclear power is necessary if
western leaders “do not want the lights to go out” is spurious. At present,
25 per cent of our energy needs are met by electricity, less than a quarter
of this generated by nuclear power. If Britain were to build 20 nuclear
stations, this would reduce our total carbon emissions by 8 per cent.

A far greater contribution to our Kyoto commitment could be made through
energy conservation and renewable energy which would not provide terrorist
targets or cause a waste-disposal problem lasting thousands of years.

It is not possible to say with certainty the extent of the health effects
from Chernobyl. Apart from the well-documented explosion in thyroid cancer,
there are no reliable statistics about other cancers, genetic defects, heart
disease, blood disorders and diabetes. But there is sufficient anecdotal
evidence to indicate there may have been a significant rise in these

The Chernobyl charities in Britain have combined to commemorate the 20th
anniversary of the disaster and launched an appeal for independent research
into the health effects caused by low-level radiation in Belarus, Russia and

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
Send in names and e-mail addresses for the AUR distribution list.
Ukraine and the USA now have far better options to meet
energy needs and address climate change

Ukrainian-American Environmental Association
Rivne, Ukraine, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 17, 2006

RIVNE, UKRAINE/WASHINGTON DC — Twenty years ago, on April
26, 1986, the world experienced the worst commercial nuclear accident in
history when the Chornobyl reactor near Kyiv, Ukraine exploded.

Today, the nuclear industry is attempting to revive itself – ostensibly
as a solution to climate change. Notwithstanding Chornobyl’s heavy
toll on the health of its citizens and the local environment, Ukrainian
officials are contemplating the construction of 11 new reactors.

In addition, 12 new reactors have been publicly proposed for the United
States. A new reactor is now under construction in Finland while India,
China, Bulgaria, Russia and other countries are building or actively
considering building new reactors.

Government leaders in Ukraine, the United States, and other countries
who advocate a return to nuclear power have failed to learn the lessons
of Chornobyl.

Twenty years later, nuclear power remains a highly dangerous
technology, whose safety depends heavily on the absence of human error
and the certainty that plants can be protected against terrorist attack
and nuclear materials against theft.

Twenty years later, nuclear power remains the most expensive energy
technology available and one that cannot compete in the marketplace
unless heavily subsidized by the government and shielded from the
responsibility for the costs associated with insurance,
decommissioning, and waste disposal.

Twenty years later, neither Ukraine, the United States, nor any other
nation has developed the technology, or the sites, to permanently
isolate lethal, long-lived radioactive waste from the environment.

Yet, twenty years later, one thing has changed.

Today, renewable energy and energy efficient technologies have matured
to the point that they not only obviate any need for new nuclear
construction but also can enable the phase-out of existing plants and
sharp reductions in the use of fossil fuels.

Energy efficiency alone could reduce energy use in the United States by
at least 20 percent and arguably up to 40 percent or more (compared to
the eight percent of total energy supply provided by nuclear power).

In Ukraine, which now consumes more than four times as much energy
per unit of national product as does the U.S., efficiency measures could
curb consumption by at least 60 percent (compared to the 12 percent now
provided by nuclear power).

Renewable energy sources (e.g., biomass/biofuels, geothermal,
hydropower, solar, wind) which now provide seven percent of U.S. energy
needs and three percent of Ukrainian energy needs are technically and
economically capable of at least tripling their contribution in both
countries within the next 15-20 years.

Coupled with aggressive energy efficiency programs, they could meet the
bulk of both countries’ energy needs by mid-century while simultaneously
reducing reliance on fossil fuels and energy imports as well as slashing
greenhouse gas emissions.

Twenty years after Chornobyl, the lesson for both Ukraine and the
United States remains: A nuclear future is dangerous, expensive, and
environmentally destructive. Moreover, it is not necessary. There are
safer, cleaner, cheaper, and more socially acceptable alternatives
available now.
The Ukrainian-American Environmental Association is a private,
non-governmental organization founded in 2004 and chartered in both
the United States and Ukraine. It is a network of 500+ Ukrainian and
American NGOs, academic researchers, businesses, and government
officials to facilitate the exchange of information on a broad array of
environmental issues including, but not limited to, energy policy,
climate change, air and water pollution, toxic wastes, soil conservation,
sustainable agriculture, and wildlife and wilderness protection.
CONTACT: Taras Lychuk +38 (067) 750-51-92, Ken Bossong
+1 (301) 588-4741 (through till April 20). U.S.A. Mailing Address:
8606 Greenwood Avenue, #2; Takoma Park, MD 20912
Ukraine Address: 11 Strutynska Street, #18; Rivne, Ukraine 33003
e-mail:; URL:
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
On that night the personnel could not care a damn, pardon my language.”

NTV Mir, Moscow, Russia, in Russian 1600 gmt 16 Apr 06
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, in English, Sunday, April 16, 2006

The makers of the “Secret Life of Chernobyl” documentary on Russian NTV
Mir channel visited the zone of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 20 years after
the event, which happened on 26 April 1986.

Many villagers, who were evacuated at the time, later returned to their
homes. There are no shops, no electricity or running water. People survive
by using produce from their vegetable gardens. They claim it is safe despite
the fact that the radiation level in the affected area is eight times above
the norm, the film said. Local farmers grow potatoes. “We send our produce
to Moscow and St Petersburg,” a farmer said.

For the past 20 years professor of genetics Vyacheslav Konovalov has been
collecting genetically modified species in areas in Ukraine and Belarus
affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Foreign journalists offered him a lot of
money to show his collection, “but I did not agree”, Konovalov said.

The collection includes a calf with two heads and three ears. According to
Konovalov, when a photograph of “a foal with eight legs” from his collection
was shown to USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, the latter’s response was:
“But this is simply not possible.”

Aleksandr Kovalenko, deputy director of the Chernobyl nuclear power station,
“had access to all the secrets of the Chernobyl disaster”. He kept as a
memento the red emergency button from the station’s control room – by
pressing it, the operator caused the explosion of the nuclear reactor.

“On the day in question the personnel of generating unit No 4 were carrying
out some tests. Engineers wanted to make sure that the reactor could cool
down in the event of an accident,” the commentary said.

Kovalenko takes over the story. “On that night the personnel could not care
a damn, pardon my language. The lads came from different places, some even
came all the way from Kharkiv in order to carry out the tests. By tradition,
all tests always ended with a party to mark the occasion. So the table was
already laid. There were also three weddings taking place that that night
that one could attend if one had time.”

“Later the investigation established that, due to operational error, the
power of the reactor fell almost to zero. Under regulations, the reactor had
to be shut down for eight hours and after that the tests could start anew.

But nobody wanted to wait. In order to increase the power of the reactor,
the station’s personnel switched off the four levels of automatic
protection,” the commentary said.

“Of course, they wanted to finish the tests as soon as possible,” Kovalenko
explained. “The lads wanted to go home, it was weekend, some had to go
back all the way to Kharkiv, plus these three weddings.”

“The reactor got out of control. The operator was too late to press the
button of automatic protection No 5. An explosion followed,” the

commentary said.

Kovalenko kept that button of automatic protection. Looking at the
red button in his hands, he noted: “By one wrong move, we messed
up half of Europe, Ukraine, part of Russia and Belarus.”

Specialists are still arguing about who is to blame for the Chernobyl
disaster: the station’s personnel or the design of the reactor?

“Aleksandr Kovalenko made a sensational admission: mistakes in eliminating
the aftermath of the disaster increased the radioactive pollution of
Belarus. In order to cool down the burning hot reactor, liquefied nitrogen
was poured under it that produced the effect of a stove and the fallout from
the reactor only increased,” the commentary said.

“The Soviet Union spent enormous amounts to eliminate the aftermath of the
disaster but people’s lives are most precious. The liquidators gave their
lives free in order to save the world,” the film said. Archive footage
showed soldiers clearing the roof of the generating unit of radioactive fuel
with their bare hands. Two of these soldiers were shown later in the film:
one crippled, the other dying in agony.

The documentary included archive footage of 1986 showing the scene of the
disaster, the town of Prypyat, bus loads taking residents of Prypyat away,
pop singers giving a concert in Prypyat, locals, exhibits from geneticist’s
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

ITAR-TASS news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1126 gmt 4 Apr 06
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, in English, Tuesday, Apr 04, 2006

MOSCOW – Two decades on from the Chernobyl [nuclear power station]
accident, only a few local agricultural products from the contaminated areas
present a health risk for the people of Bryansk Region, Leonid Ilyin, a member
of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and director of the Scientific
Research Centre Institute of Biophysics, told a news conference at ITAR-
TASS news agency today.

“Radiation levels remain high in places where the land has not been
treated,” he said, explaining that “radioactive contamination after the
accident affected 2,955,000 hectares of agricultural land in Russia”. The
member of the academy said that “airborne radiation over inhabited areas has
returned to background levels”.

According to Ilyin, “natural processes and the countermeasures put in place
have reduced the level of contamination in agricultural produce many times
over”. However, the problem of rehabilitation of fodder fields in
water-meadows is still not finally resolved.

“These fields are the main source of fodder for many holdings in dry years,”
he explained. However, thanks to contamination reduction measures, “the
concentration of radiation present in milk, meat and some food products of
plant origin is now coming down and reaching safe levels”.

Admitting that “we are seeing increased mortality rates and depopulation in
the areas affected by the accident”, Anatoliy Tsyb, director of the Medical
Radiological Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences,
explained that this demographic situation arises only because “only elderly
people live in this area, so the birth rate is virtually nil”. -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
NOTE: Send in a letter-to-the-editor today. Let us hear from you.

By Mike Duff, Financial Times Weekend Magazine
London, United Kingdom, Friday, April 7 2006

Paris is wonderful in the springtime, obviously. So are Venice and Barcelona
and Prague. But for a really impressive weekend away, one guaranteed to
trump any dinner party travel conversation, why not consider Chernobyl?

Twenty years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the determined
adventure tourist can now visit the infamous Ukranian reactor site, and the
30km “exclusion zone” around it, and catch a haunting glimpse of the former
Soviet Union’s brutal lack of regard for human life.

Long regarded as a shameful secret, Ukraine’s increasingly pro-European
government is beginning to acknowledge Chernobyl’s unlikely potential as
a tourist destination. And the trip is surprisingly easy. There are direct
flights from London to Kiev, which is about a three-hour drive from the
plant. Several operators in Kiev now offer day trips to Chernobyl on an
officially guided tour for about $100 per person.

It is also possible to hire a personal guide in Kiev (normally an
out-of-work nuclear scientist) who can negotiate a private visit.

Photographer Tom Salt and I paid $280 for a day with one personal guide
and a second, official guide in the exclusion zone, which gave us freedom to
roam pretty much where we wanted. Both spoke excellent English and both,
confusingly, were named Maxim.

We spent another $20 on what is locally known as “honey” – bottles of
spirits and boxes of chocolates to ease the way through the several
checkpoints on the way to the site.

Safety is obviously a concern for the casual visitor. According to the
International Atomic Energy Agency there are still elevated levels of
radiation around the reactor, but exposure levels are “tolerable for limited
periods of time”. According to the Maxim who was our official guide, who
works a 15-days-on, 15-days-off shift, we would be exposed to about as
much radiation “as [on] an eight-hour flight”.

Common sense is still necessary. Maxim warned us not to touch anything, to
keep away from dusty areas and – more surprisingly – to steer clear of any
vegetation. Plants and trees are often highly contaminated because they
absorb large doses of radiation from groundwater.

The official tour parties are given boiler suits to wear over their
clothing, though our guides seemed to think this offered more reassurance
than actual extra protection. Everybody entering or leaving the exclusion
zone also has to step on to a special machine that checks hands and feet for

The town of Chernobyl itself is about 15km from the former power station of
the same name. Although dilapidated, it is still the base for hundreds of
workers who are decommissioning Chernobyl’s other reactors and constructing
a new EU-funded shield over the remains of Reactor Four, which exploded
after a failed safety test on April 26 1986.

The town also contains a memorial to the firefighters and “liquidators” who
died during, and after, the clean-up operation.

Hundreds of soldiers, miners and firemen were sent into the reactor to clear
debris and build the protective sarcophagus over its smouldering remains in
the weeks following the accident. (They were known, chillingly, as
“bio-robots” by the managers and bosses who sent them in, in lieu of any
actual robots.)

Officially, 56 people have died so far as a result of the failure, but the
effects are still being felt. The World Health Organisation estimates that a
further 4,000 people will eventually die prematurely of cancer caused by
exposure to radiation.

For their sacrifice, the liquidators received the thanks of the Soviet
people and a small medal that shows a drop of blood splitting the atom.
Later, I find one of these medals on eBay for $5.

It wasn’t just people who were contaminated, of course. Another of
Chernobyl’s “must-sees” is the radioactive scrapyard where hundreds of
vehicles used in the clean-up were parked in neat rows and then abandoned.

They are still there, ranging in size from basic Lada saloons to gigantic
“Hook” and “Hind” helicopters which were used to drop lead, sand and
boric acid directly into the blazing reactor core. All are still dangerously
radioactive, although many have been stripped for parts by looters oblivious
to the risks.

Despite the radiation, the vast forests within the exclusion zone teem with
wildlife: everything from wolves and wild boar to rare types of eagle, and
even the descendants of the domestic pets that were abandoned in the

People have proved to be surprisingly resilient, too. After the disaster
many local peasants spurned attempts to relocate them and returned to their
land. A decade ago there were 1,200 of them, now their numbers have
dropped to fewer than 300 and the survivors are in their late sixties or

Despite eating contaminated food for nearly two decades, the 70-year-old
husband and wife that we briefly met appeared to be very healthy. We asked
whether they worried about the effects of radiation. Did they drink water
brought from outside the zone? “No.” Did they understand why people told
them to move? “No.”

“What have we to be afraid of?” the wife said. “We are old, we have lived
here all our lives. This is a good place.” With fresh milk from two cows and
a roaring fire in their tiny cottage, one could almost see their point.

Reactor Four itself comes as a shock. The scale of the sheer-sided
sarcophagus that surrounds it becomes scarily apparent as you draw near,
as does the rust and corrosion that’s seeping from it.

Erected after the disaster in just three months, it has already exceeded
life expectations and is now cracking and unstable. If it were to collapse,
there is a good chance it would eject more radioactive debris into the
atmosphere than the original explosion.

Our guides carry dosimeters rather than Geiger counters. These make the same
ticking noise when they detect radiation, but measure cumulative exposure
rather than instant levels. In Kiev, they measured about 9 microroentgens an
hour – normal background radiation.

Standing in the shadow of the reactor this rose to 530, and official guide
Maxim warned that if it wasn’t for the snow on the ground during our visit
it could be anything up to 900.

What’s the maximum amount of time we can spend here if we still want to be
able to have children, I ask. “About five minutes,” says Maxim, deadpan.
We’ve fallen victim to an old Chernobyl joke: it turns out that workers next to
the reactor are allowed to work there for up to two hours at a time.

Before we leave, we stop to see the abandoned city of Pripyat, barely 5km
from Reactor Four. It was founded in 1970 as a model Soviet city (think
Milton Keynes) and was still being built at the time of the disaster. Its
evacuation was delayed by an attempt by local party officials to cover up
the true scale of the disaster. Nearly 50,000 residents left in a convoy of
buses a full two days after the reactor failure. Relatively few have been
back since.

It’s not quite the unblemished 1986 Soviet microcosm that you might expect.
In the past two decades it has been comprehensively looted of anything of
value. Window frames have been prised from concrete and pipes chiselled out
of walls for scrap metal. But there are still plenty of hammer-and-sickles
on display, plus reams of ideologically approved communist books in the
collapsing libraries.

The city feels full of ghosts. Faded photographs of former inhabitants are
still pinned to apartment walls, unread letters sit in mailboxes. Not only
did most of the power plant’s victims live here, but many of the city’s more
curious inhabitants also exposed themselves to massive doses of gamma-ray
radiation as they stood on roofs and bridges to watch the reactor burn.

The city’s most famous feature is its never-used fairground, complete with
corroded Ferris wheels and forlorn dodgem cars. It was completed in April
1986 and was due to open for the May Day celebrations five days after the

Trips to Pripyat will not be possible for ever. Ukraine’s searing summers
and deep-frozen winters are speeding up the dilapidation of the all-concrete
buildings. Three have already collapsed, many more are clearly close to
doing so.

But so far, it is still possible to visit this mute but cautionary monument
to what happens when nuclear power generation goes terribly, terribly wrong.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
Sense of victimhood and fatalism does more damage than radiation

By Erika Niedowski, Sun foreign reporter
Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday, April 9, 2006

CHECHERSK, Belarus — The aims are decidedly modest: to mow
overgrown grass in front of weathered, long-abandoned houses; open
a bakery to provide fresh bread to children at village schools; plant
small gardens to yield fruit and vegetables free of radiation.

Those small steps are part of the latest chapter of the long recovery
effort in this part of the former Soviet Union 20 years after an explosion
at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, the deadliest accident in the
history of nuclear power.

The accident occurred 120 miles to the southeast, across the border in
Ukraine. Thousands of workers labor at the site to maintain the protective
concrete shell around the plant’s destroyed reactor No. 4 and to remove
radioactive material from its three other reactors.

But in this rural district of scattered villages and lonely roads, the
recovery effort focuses on a different, debilitating problem: the
psychological toll the accident has taken on people here.

In a report released last fall, an international team of experts concluded
that the population’s sense of fatalism had done more than
radiation-induced cancers and the contamination of farmland to put the
future of communities in doubt.

Nadezhda Kiryushkina struggles to describe how Chernobyl changed her
village in the Chechersk district in Belarus. It’s as if she finds the
question itself somehow strange.

People have houses, she says, and jobs. She has to have her milk and
produce checked periodically for radiation. But not that often, she says.
She wishes she could go into the forest to collect birch sap and berries
the way she once did.

The tens of thousands of deaths some researchers initially forecast have
not occurred. As of mid-2005, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly
attributed to radiation exposure, most of them among emergency workers who
participated in the cleanup, according to the Chernobyl Forum, a group of
100 doctors, scientists and economists from eight United Nations agencies
and representatives from the governments of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.

More than 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have developed – the majority in
children who drank milk from cows grazing on contaminated grass – but
most of the people affected could have a normal life span.

Scientists say that so far there is no convincing evidence that the rates
of other cancers have risen. They also point to a lack of statistical
evidence for an increase in birth defects or a decrease in fertility caused
by Chernobyl.

But traditional medicine has no simple measures or remedies for the impact
on mental health.

The Chernobyl Forum described the population’s “paralyzing fatalism,”
showing up as dependence on government, apathy about poor living
conditions and people’s belief that the situation here can’t, and even
shouldn’t, become better.

“If we continue to treat them like victims, they feel like victims,” Zoya
I. Trafimchik, coordinator for a U.N. effort to encourage economic
development, said of people in the affected areas of Belarus.

Many people seem willing to settle merely for survival, trapping them in
what the Chernobyl Forum called a “downward spiral” of isolation, poor
health and poverty. That is the mentality that experts say must change.

“Don’t wait for the state’s help,” Tatyana Novak, head of the Chechersk
Rural Council, urges residents. “You should start caring about your land
and your health.”

Projects supported by the United Nations in the affected areas of Belarus
include master classes to help revive such industries as beekeeping,
devastated by the accident. A new sheep farm will provide mutton and wool
socks to children and their families. With U.N. help, residents are seeding
flower beds and building greenhouses.

They are, in short, working to reclaim control over their lives.
The explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 began in the early morning of
April 26, 1986, because of engineers’ errors, mistakes fatally compounded
by design flaws in the reactor. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and
for two days the Soviet government made no acknowledgment that an accident
had occurred. Only after Sweden detected higher-than-normal radiation over
its territory did Soviet officials disclose the disaster.

About 116,000 people were evacuated that spring and summer. Authorities
later moved an additional 220,000. Twenty-eight workers died in the first
months from radiation poisoning, according to the Chernobyl Forum. Nineteen
others died between 1987 and 2004, though not all from radiation. Thyroid
cancer has killed 15 more.

Belarus, not Ukraine, bore the brunt of the damage. Seventy percent of the
radioactive fallout from Chernobyl landed here. In a nation roughly the
size of Kansas with a population of about 10 million people, 1.6 million
live in zones deemed “contaminated” by the government.

Studies find that people living in areas with high contamination suffered
anxiety levels twice as high as those in unaffected areas. Those residents
are also three to four times more likely to report physical problems that
have no medical explanation.

Many of the residents have what physicians believe are exaggerated fears
about their health and the well-being of their children; some are unsure
whether having children is safe.

Others live cavalierly, with little regard for safety precautions. A mother
told Dr. Tamara V. Belookaya, head of the Children of Chernobyl committee,
of another dilemma: She said she preferred giving her child contaminated
berries rather than not be able to provide any nourishment at all.

People who do suffer illnesses, such as heart disease, often blame
radiation rather than poor diet, excessive drinking or other factors.

“It might sound strange, but the population does not have a full, complete
picture of the consequences of Chernobyl and the impact it has on their
health,” said Dr. Sergei S. Korsak, head physician at the regional hospital
in Chechersk.
Part of the problem is apathy. At community meetings, Korsak outlines ways
to live safely in contaminated areas, including avoiding burning yard waste.

“I make speeches and people are nodding,” he said, “but come spring,
they’ll be burning leaves and the whole city will be in smoke. How can you
make a person healthy when he doesn’t want to be? How can you make a
person free if he doesn’t want to be?”

Labels have only reinforced the situation. Called “Chernobyl victims” by
the government and the news media, many residents adopted a victim’s
mentality and have been reluctant to let it go.

“People blame Chernobyl for problems that have nothing to do with
radiation,” said Belookaya. “Today there’s no panic. There’s a feeling of

No one is allowed to live within a 6-mile radius of the Chernobyl reactors,
and that area is an unintended monument to the scale of the disaster. It’s
hard to picture what life was like in Pripyat, a planned city for workers
and their families built in the plant’s shadow, when its population was
50,000. It now is just a grim curiosity for occasional visitors who poke
around the abandoned high-rises and stare up at a long-motionless Ferris

Residents were evacuated hurriedly and without full explanation. They
expected to return within days but never did. Laundry stayed for years on
clothes lines strung across apartment balconies, as if people were about to
come home.

There are 337 people living as permanent “squatters” within 19 miles of the
plant, Ukrainian officials say. Most of those living in that exclusion
zone, marked by a government checkpoint, were already well past middle age
when the disaster occurred.

Their lives are built around constancy and monotony. They receive pensions,
care for their chickens and know on which days a shuttle will arrive to
deliver groceries or take them to town to pick up supplies.

Save for five cats, Maria Shaparenko, 82, lives alone in the otherwise
abandoned village of Illintsi in a modest house decorated with colorful
wall hangings, family photographs and framed needlepoints of smiling
wildlife. Like everyone else in the village, she and her husband, now dead,
were evacuated after the accident, but they sneaked back within two weeks:
They wanted to tend to their livestock.
Shaparenko was born here and has every intention of dying here. She
doesn’t know the radiation level in her yard, or in her home, where she
does laundry by hand in big metal buckets.

“Health is not an issue of concern,” she said. “It’s when you’re young you
should be concerned about your health.” If that is fatalism, she seems at
peace with it.

“I’m happy,” she said. “Somewhere else I would not be happy. This is all
very native and dear to me. This is the best place in the world.”

In the Chechersk district in Belarus, the population fell by more than 40
percent after the accident. A towering monument lists the names of the 43
evacuated communities and the number of houses abandoned in each.

Nadezhda Kiryushkina lives in a one-story brick house – once abandoned –
with her husband and two children in a village of 178 people. It is among
those targeted by a program that aims to reseed 50 acres of land, establish
regular household waste pickup and persuade residents to dispose safely of
the grass and weeds mowed around abandoned dwellings and the homes of
pensioners living alone.

Kiryushkina busies herself as a cleaning woman and with fixing up her
house, which was bought from the state for $400. She grows cucumbers,
cabbage and potatoes behind a crooked fence. She helps her mother, who
lives in a neighboring settlement, with the realities of owning two cows.

She describes her situation with half a shrug. “I can’t really say what’s
the difference,” she said. “For us, it’s just normal.” -30-
Contact Erika Niedowski:,0,2537877.story?coll=bal-home-headlines
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

ddp news agency, Berlin, in German 1356 gmt 12 Apr 06
BBC Monitoring Service. UK, in English, Thursday, April 13, 2006

HAMBURG – According to Greenpeace, the so-called sarcophagus over the
accident reactor of Chernobyl is threatened with collapse. “In the last 20
years, much too little has been done to secure the region from the exploding
reactor,” said Greenpeace nuclear expert Thomas Breuer in Hamburg on

The construction above the reactor is unstable, and radioactive dust is
getting outside through holes in the protective covering. The new
international plan – to repair the damage and to shove a large protective
cover over the reactor – is also only an “interim solution.” “Thereby we
leave the problems of Chernobyl to the coming generations, because no-one
is in a position to resolve the consequences of the catastrophe even
approximately,” said Breuer.

Reactor No 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded on
26 April 1986 after a nuclear chain reaction. To shield against the released
radiation, a few months after the greatest foreseeable accident (GAU), a
sarcophagus was erected over the reactor ruin. -30-
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

Mara D. Bellaby, Associated Press Writer, AP
Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, April 17, 2006

KIEV – With every cough and sore throat, every ache and pain,
Valentyna Stanyuk feels Chernobyl stalking her.

“It’s only a matter of time,” she said as she waited for a thyroid
test at a mobile Red Cross clinic in her village of Bystrichy, 150
miles west of Chernobyl.

The tests came back clean, but that’s little reassurance to this
54-year-old or to millions of others who live in parts of Ukraine,
Belarus and Russia that were heavily irradiated when the nuclear
reactor exploded 20 years ago, spewing radioactive clouds over
Ukraine and much of Europe for 10 days.

The April 26, 1986, disaster forced the evacuation of large swaths of
some of the Soviet Union’s best farmland and forests. The radiation
spread far enough to be detected in reindeer meat in Norway and
rainfall in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

It shocked most European countries into a generation-long freeze on
building nuclear plants. In so starkly exposing the failings of the
communist system, the world’s worst nuclear accident may even have
hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.

And the effect on the health of the people exposed to its invisible
poisons? That is the most heatedly debated legacy of Chernobyl.

“There is so much that we still don’t know,” said Dr. Volodymyr Sert,
head of a team of Red Cross doctors who canvass Ukraine’s rural
Zhytomyr region in search of thyroid abnormalities – one of the few
health problems that all scientists agree is linked to Chernobyl’s

“The most important thing we can do is reassure people that they
aren’t being forgotten,” he said.

After the explosion about 116,000 residents were evacuated from a
20-mile zone around the plant. Some 5 million others in areas that got
significant fallout were not evacuated.

Over the years, reports and rumors have spoken of thousands of these
especially vulnerable people dying from radiation. But a September
report by a group of United Nations agencies concluded that the
accident wasn’t nearly as deadly as feared.

Fewer than 50 deaths have been directly linked to radiation exposure
as of mid-2005, the report said. A total of 4,000 of the 600,000
“liquidators” – workers who were hastily mobilized to clean up the
accident site – are likely to die from radiation-related cancers and
leukemia, it predicted. That’s far below the tens of thousands many
claimed were fatally stricken.

The researchers found that thyroid cancer rates have skyrocketed among
people who were under 18 at the time of the accident, but noted more
than 99 percent survive after treatment.

It said there was no convincing evidence of birth defects or reduced
fertility, and most of the general population suffered such low
radiation doses that the scientists decided not to make predictions
about deaths, except to say that some increase – less than 1 percent
or about 5,000 – might be expected.

Venyamin Khudolei, director of the Center for Independent Ecological
Expertise at the government-founded Russian Academy of Science,
disagrees with the findings.

In the part of Russia most heavily hit by the fallout, mortality rates
have risen nearly 4 percent since the explosion, indicating the
Chernobyl toll in Russia alone could be calculated at 67,000 people,
he said. His findings are cited by the environmental watchdog group
Greenpeace, which on Tuesday (April 18) is to issue a report on
Chernobyl’s consequences.

A spokesman for Greenpeace International’s main office in Amsterdam,
Omer ElNaiem, said the report will use data from various sources, some
hitherto unpublished, which “will indicate a rise” over the U.N.
report’s casualty estimates.

Other experts point to studies which show increases in everything from
schizophrenia among the traumatized liquidators to breast cancer.

The U.N. report suggested that people in heavily affected areas were
gripped by “paralyzing fatalism” that induced them to see themselves
as victims and blame Chernobyl for every ailment, even those caused by
smoking or drinking.

That outraged Ukrainian officials. “I am speechless that we can allow this
blasphemy in front of the graves of those who died,” said lawmaker Borys

Researchers trying to determine death tolls – and predict deaths still
to come – don’t have an easy task. Soviet-era attempts to cover up the
chaotic and often inhumane response made it difficult to track down
victims. Lists were incomplete, and Soviet authorities later forbade
doctors to cite “radiation” on death certificates.

The rural regions affected are impoverished and unemployment is high.
Alcohol abuse is rampant, diets poor. It’s hard to distinguish
Chernobyl-related health problems from a more general post-Soviet
malaise, scientists said.

“I’m sure we’ll see claims of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds
of thousands, millions of deaths, but again we checked, we checked all
the research, all the files,” Didier Louvat, a radiation waste expert
with the International Atomic Energy Agency, said by telephone from

“The explosion was very concentrated around the facility and the
fallout was spread in great plumes that went high into the atmosphere
and crossed Europe, diffusing the concentration … It could have been
much worse.”

About 1,000 people – plant personnel, military conscripts,
firefighters from the Kiev region, emergency workers – bore the brunt
of the inferno, and 134 were officially confirmed as suffering from
acute radiation syndrome.

One person died during the explosion and his body has never been
recovered. The U.N. report says that another 28 died from radiation
sickness in 1986, and 19 of those suffering from radiation syndrome
died between 1987-2004 but not all the deaths were necessarily caused
by radiation. The rest remain alive.

Wearing no masks or protective suits, dozens of firefighters were
deployed. While the bosses sheltered underground, plant workers
recall, people stood around awaiting instructions, breathing poisoned
air as they watched smoke burst from the reactor’s exposed core.

The disregard for human life persisted. Natalya Lopatyuk, the widow of
a plant worker, said that as she was being evacuated, she saw groups
of young conscripts sunbathing while waiting for orders.

Radiation burns “tear at the skin and look something like a volcano
erupting on the body,” said Oleksandr Zelentsov, head of the
Kiev-based International Organization for People with Radiation
Disease. The victims’ bodies were considered so radioactive that
family members were told not to touch them and they were buried in
double-layered lead coffins.

Such high radiation doses, however, were short-lived. The last people
diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome – three firefighters
extinguishing a cable fire – fell ill at the end May 1986, Zelentsov
said. One is dead, one suffered a heart attack and is in serious
condition and the third is healthy, Zelentsov said.

The Chernobyl plant now is a cracked hulk in the eerie “dead zone.”
The last of its four reactors was taken out of service in 2000 and the
main activity is to shore up the concrete-and-steel “sarcophagus” that
covers the destroyed reactor.

But radiation infects a vast stretch of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia –
in the soil, in the berries and mushrooms, in the firewood needed to
heat homes.

Oleksandr Nabok, 21, has never been near the nuclear station, some 60
miles from his village, but he was recently diagnosed with thyroid
cancer. “I never thought about Chernobyl until I got this news,” he
said in a Kiev hospital as he awaited surgery.

He is one of more than 5 million people who live in areas deemed
contaminated but habitable, far removed from the villages circling the
plant that were considered so irradiated that they were bulldozed
under grave-like mounds of dirt. There, isotopes with half-lives of
24,390 years came to rest.

In Nabok’s village, experts say, the biggest concern was radioactive

People suffer from a lack of iodine in this region, so when the
radioactive iodine was released, their thyroids gobbled it up;
children’s thyroid glands work most actively, putting them at greatest
risk. Many ingested the iodine in milk from cows that had grazed on
radiated fields.

Accounts vary, but experts agree that between 4,000 and 5,000 people,
children when the explosion happened, have been diagnosed with thyroid
cancer in Ukraine and Belarus – making it the single biggest
Chernobyl-related medical problem. At least nine have died. Before the
accident, the illness was so rare that in most years only about 10
children were diagnosed with it.

The numbers keep growing. The main spurt was expected to come around
this time, but no one knows whether this is the beginning of the peak
or its end.

“We cannot tell a patient that after a certain time, cancer will not
appear,” said Halyna Terehova, an endocrinologist with the Kiev
Institute of Endocrinology.

The U.N. report found that the high anxiety levels persist and even
appear to be growing among people such as Stanyuk who live in zones
affected by contamination. “It is scary, you try not to worry about
it,” said Valentyna Yanduk, whose face brightened into a smile after
the Red Cross doctors gave her 12-year-old son Ihor’s thyroid the
all-clear. Technically he’s not considered part of the risk group – he
wasn’t even born at the time of the explosion – but his mother worries.

“For 20 years, these people have been living as victims instead of
survivors,” Louvat, the IAEA radiation expert, said. “We need to be
telling them: ‘Look, you survived this.'” -30-
Associated Press correspondent Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to
this report.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
If you are receiving more than one copy of the AUR please contact us. ========================================================

First of a three-part series by Kathy Sheridan

By Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland, Sat, Apr 08, 2006

The huge devastated area around the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear

reactor will never again be fit for human habitation, yet thousands of
people are still working there. Kathy Sheridan enters the ‘zone of alienation’.

In Chernobyl, nature has re-asserted her dominion. Free of man’s
interference for 20 years, wolves, bison, lynx and moose roam the fields and
forests around the decommissioned reactors. Massive wild boar lumber along
the roadside and sometimes on to the streets of Chernobyl town, excavating
the orchards of empty homes. Families of elk wander the empty, rutted roads.

Sergei, our guide, remarks that spring here is very beautiful. “Nature
thrives,” he says. “There is so much greenery . . . so many berries and
mushrooms and wild flowers.”

He talks about the fabulous size of the fish in the river and how the eagles
have returned, “huge eagles, with wings spanning a metre to a metre and a
half in the air”. Later we hear that birds even nest inside the sarcophagus
of the wrecked reactor.

But like a dark fairy tale, nothing here is as it seems. The bountiful
berries and mushrooms are poisoned, soaked in radiation. Only a fool would
eat the fat fish shimmering in the Pripyat River. The wild boar use their
snouts as a hoe in the contaminated soil, making them the most radioactive
of animals, shot and eaten at the poachers’ peril. The wolves prey on the
sickest animals, feeding on radiation.

Viktor, a former militia man once responsible for controlling entry into the
so-called Exclusion Zone, tells us that when he and his mates found animal
corpses in the forests, they used to perform “little experiments”. “When we
cut them open, you’d find the liver was almost gone,” he says.

The name of the zone, literally translated from Ukrainian, is “zone of
alienation”. About the size of Greater London, it is unfit for human
habitation and will remain so forever.

Given a choice, Sergei himself would not be here. Like many of the 3,800
workers who earn a living in and around the reactor, he was forced here by
high unemployment. Here, there is not only a job but a 20 per cent wage
premium, commonly referred to as “coffin money”.

For others, such as Julia Marusych, head of information in the visitors’
centre, the attraction was the ready availability of an apartment in
Slavutych, the company town built 50km away from Chernobyl after the
catastrophe. A special train brings workers three times a day from
Slavutych, crossing into Belarus and back into Ukraine.

This train has no stops, no customs, no radiation checks, in sharp contrast
to the interminable searches and questioning endured by ordinary visitors at
Belarussian border crossings.

Marusych probably has one of the most unattractive roles in PR history. A
former teacher, her job is to interpret the Chernobyl disaster for
punch-drunk visitors fresh from stumbling through the eerily empty
boulevards of Pripyat, Slavutych’s predecessor, less than a kilometre away,
the town abruptly abandoned by nearly 50,000 souls 20 years before; or from
seeing how Chernobyl town, an ancient, once-lovely settlement, has been
reduced to a radioactive research laboratory closed to all but a few
scientists, shift-workers and wildlife.

But she pulls no punches. In a small viewing room overlooking the destroyed
reactor, the only exhibit is a large model of No 4, which opens up like a
sinister doll’s house to reveal what lies inside the gunmetal grey monolith
next door.

The detail is precise, down to the tiny figurines of workers and piles of
debris. The central, and largest, component, resembling a circular hairbrush
with a deep handle, is the upper reactor plate, what Marusych calls “the
technological channels”.

“It weighed 2,000 tons, now it stands almost vertically,” she says,
demonstrating how it was lifted and turned on its side by the explosion.
“Its position is not stable.”

In fact, there is little that is stable in No 4. Where the model’s
floor-to-ceiling columns seem to be buckling, this is an alarmingly precise
representation of what is happening inside the reactor. Shifts in metal
plates mean that even the undamaged western wall is no longer stable.

“There is a threat of local collapse,” Marusych says. Meanwhile, the immense
“elephant’s foot” of melted radioactive fuel below is cracking, emitting
tonnes of radioactive dust. “The chance of a spontaneous chain reaction
inside is very low,” Marusych adds, “but it is not zero.”

For many of the workers in Chernobyl, the task is to maintain the other
three decommissioned Chernobyl reactors, still with their nuclear fuel in
place, still with their safety and cooling systems in operation, despite the
closure of the last one in 2000. This process could take anything up to 150
years. The question of where to store the spent fuel will remain long beyond

But even more challenging is the task of stabilising reactor No 4. The
desperate and heroic mission of the “stabilisation teams” is to prevent an
even greater disaster than 1986. Ninety-seven per cent of the reactor’s
radioactive material remains inside the wreckage.

To put that in context, the 3 per cent that escaped 20 years ago was enough
to make a wasteland of parts of northern Ukraine and to contaminate 70 per
cent of Belarus, a country with no nuclear plant of its own. Even now, 20
years on, no one knows for sure what secrets lie within the reactor.
According to Marusych, only 25 per cent of the “inner rooms” are accessible;
in the other 75 per cent, there is either restricted access or none.

The southern spent-fuel pool emits about 3,400 roentgens (units of ionizing
radiation) per hour. “It has no water inside . . . It is one of the most
hazardous and least investigated rooms,” says Marusych. Some 200 tonnes of
fuel lie under the reactor rooms, “and they are the most hazardous and most
inaccessible”. At the core, radiation levels are 300 million times greater
than normal safety margins.

For workers in No 4, the daily “permitted” radiation dose is around 10 times
the norm. Ordinary Ukrainian tradesmen such as welders and builders,
contracted to work inside the reactor, sign agreements to work in “intense
radiation”. They wear special overalls, carry respirators and dosimeters and
undergo medical tests before and after every 15-day spell of work. As well
as radiation training, they undergo “psychological training”.

“Not everyone is prepared for this kind of work,” says a clearly sympathetic
Marusych. “Conditions inside are very risky. People work in very small
areas. The worker is given only 10 minutes to do his welding activity and is
then replaced by another who has to be ready and psychologically prepared
to carry out his activity in just 10 minutes.”

Given the levels of radiation, a man might complete only one or two such
sessions before reaching his maximum permitted daily radiation dose.

For workers on the roof of the so-called “sarcophagus”, the allotted time is
a minute. They must run. When the sarcophagus was built in 1986 to bury
No 4 and contain its radiation, experts said it would have to outlast the
Pyramids of Egypt, such was No 4’s monstrous potency. Instead, massive
openings have appeared in the roof, gaps that extend to about 100sq m,
according to Marusych.

Rain floods in, damaging and corroding the concrete and metal inside,
dropping on to irradiated fuel, before evaporating and rising again in the
form of radioactive dust, coughing its lethal cloud on to prevailing winds.
No one can say that Chernobyl is “over”.

The story of what happened here 20 years ago is told on the centre’s video.
It ends with the message: “The Chernobyl problem is still unresolved.”

A new shelter is finally on the drawing board, after years of argument about
design and money. “It’s only a concept design,” says Marusych.

It cannot even begin until the stabilisation phase is complete. Whenever it
materialises – which could be 15 years – it will be the largest movable
structure in the world at 100m high by 250m wide, assembled 200m from
No 4 and slid into place. It should last for 100 years, they say.

What then? The message is clear. Man currently does not know enough to
make this nuclear plant safe. The cream of international expertise can only
try to make it sufficiently safe until our children or grandchildren find a
solution. Maybe there is no solution. Maybe by then they will have learned
to equal the vision of the pharaohs.

In the viewing room, it is difficult to tear one’s eyes from the forbidding
grey building next door. The flickering red numbers on the digital panel
outside the viewing room window record the radiation levels around us.

At between 1.1 and 1.2 milli-roentgens, we should hardly be worried, should
we, someone asks tentatively. There are no false assurances. It’s still
about 100 times more than the average natural level of background radiation,

says Marusych, who has been working in the plant since 1997.

Does she worry about her own health? She lowers her head for a long moment
before answering slowly and carefully: “What I believe is that everybody
should know exactly what the situation is where he works . . . especially
those inside the sarcophagus.”

At 4.30pm, workers stream out of the building and board the waiting buses
for the station and the train home to Slavutych. Nearby stands an
incongruous monumental sculpture of a beautiful youth, holding what we are
told is a symbol of flame and energy. It was transplanted here from the town
of Pripyat.

Ours is the only car on the road as we drive towards Pripyat, a kilometre
away. “Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pripyat was conquered by the atom,”
said the narrator in the video.

Some compare it to an atomic-era Pompeii. But Pripyat was only 16 years
standing when nuclear fallout forced its sudden abandonment – and not before
nearly 50,000 men, women and children had been criminally exposed by Soviet
authorities more intent on saving face than saving lives.

In Kiev’s Chernobyl Museum, a video shows one of the six weddings that took
place in Pripyat on Saturday, April 26th, hours after the explosion.

The rusting hulk of a huge, yellow Ferris wheel still dominates the great
square. It was due its inaugural spin a few days later on May Day 1986. The
nursery school still has its little bed-frames lining the walls, small
shoes, dolls, a class photograph album.

Books are scattered on the library floor, some stamped April 26th, 1986.
Rain now streams through the roof of the vast, marbled Palace of Culture
while, backstage, enormous paintings of mighty political leaders and
military men still wait to be raised in triumph in the great May Day parade.

We climb to the top of a 16-storey apartment block, where evidence of
ordinary lives remains: piles of shoes, an old sofa, peeling murals. On the
roof, a large wall-painting of a menacing male figure is as vibrant and
disturbing as the day it was executed: cruel features, sinister eyes, mouth
cast in shadow, dark jacket, red shirt and tie.

Above each block, crowning the buildings around the square, stand immense,
electrified hammer-and-sickle signs, bringing to mind Shelley’s lines : “My
name is Ozymandias, king of kings/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and tremble
. . .” Now the only ones who tremble are the television crews. Some arrive
dressed, head to toe, in full anti-nuclear/biological/chemical regalia, all
the better to impress the folks back home.

Fifteen kilometres away, through silver birch and pine forests, past large
snow- covered mounds signifying hurriedly buried homes, farm buildings and
villages and a series of signs warning of radiation hot-spots, we reach the
ancient town of Chernobyl.

Its lovely old painted wooden houses are derelict or, in a few cases, used
for radiation experiments. Local administration buildings have been put to
use as hostels for shift workers, mostly male, who pass the evenings in the
gym or playing table tennis, missing girls and normality.

Alex Pyzhovsky, a 21-year-old physics student from Kiev is here to work on
research involving mice and low-dose radiation. On his videophone, he grins
boyishly at pictures of grossly deformed animals and foetuses. “I never want
to see a mouse again when I finish here,” he says firmly. He wants to open a

Chernobyl’s beautiful old synagogue, acquired long before 1986 by the Soviet
police, still stands, a poignant place of pilgrimage for visiting Jews from
Canada and the US. It is said that Jews were massacred here in Chernobyl,
many of them buried alive.

Further along, the 500-year-old Orthodox Church of St Ilya has been
gloriously restored, in an astonishing burst of hope, turquoise and gold. A
locally born priest makes the 160km trip from Kiev every Saturday to conduct

At the edge of the virtually deserted town, near the war memorial to those
who fell recapturing the town from the Germans in 1944, stands another more
recent concrete monolith, dedicated “To Those Who Saved the World”.

It is a monument to the heroic “liquidators”, the firefighters, miners and
ordinary working men who died or risked their lives in the battle to tame
the raging reactor. By the end, they numbered around 600,000.

In a design unloved by some, it nonetheless tries to convey the fragility of
the earth and the awesome destructiveness of nuclear power, and carries the
names of fallen liquidators, including those who had died by 1996, followed
by another 200 in 2001. A large, empty space has been left for the many more
to come.

A few kilometres away in Rozsokha village, a “nuclear graveyard” stands as
another kind of memorial to the liquidators. This is where some 10,000
fiercely radioactive vehicles, including helicopters, fire engines, armoured
personnel carriers, oil tankers and buses, were neatly parked and abandoned
after the battle. Now parts are being removed for “recycling”, according to
our guide.

Meanwhile, poisoned cargo ships and boats, used to carry sand and cement
from Belarus during the battle, lie rotting at Chernobyl port, several miles
from town on the Pripyat River. Their radiation levels remain too high to be
considered for recycling. They should be buried, but the challenge for
Ukraine is finding new burial sites where groundwater will not be

Anyway, there are other priorities. Twenty years on, more than 500 (more
than half) of the burial sites used hurriedly for radioactive waste have
still to be found, still less analysed. God alone knows what is entering the
groundwater already.

That night, we stay at the state-run Chernobyl Hotel in the town, a
cream-coloured pre-fab imported from Finland 20 years ago. A radiation
dosimeter inside the door checks us out and declares us clean. The hotel is
basic but clean and warm, and the welcome hot food is said to be “safe” (ie,
brought in from Kiev).

The bread rolls are even wittily disguised as porcupines, complete with
peppercorns for eyes. There is no alcohol on offer despite the widespread
belief that vodka is good for combatting radiation.

Upstairs, we pass a black-banded picture of Rima Kiselitsa, a 49-year-old
mother and a popular, well-respected Chernobyl guide. Underneath is a spray
of flowers and the message “we will never forget you”. Rima died suddenly
two weeks ago from a brain haemorrhage.

Like so much else, her untimely death may have nothing or everything to do
with Chernobyl. Her daughter and colleagues doubtless find little
reassurance or consolation there.
At 1.23am on April 26th, 1986, in nuclear reactor No 4 in the Chernobyl
complex, 80 miles north of Kiev, a series of control-room errors and safety
violations, allied to fundamental design flaws, triggered several
catastrophic hydrogen explosions, which exposed the core, blew the
1,000-tonne cover off the top of the reactor and killed 31 people instantly.
The 800 tonnes of graphite in the core burned for 10 days in a radiological

Some 70 per cent of the radiation fell on neighbouring Belarus, a country
with no nuclear power plants. Contaminants, including plutonium isotopes
with a half-life of 24,360 years, were blown across the globe, depositing
cloud-borne radioactive material in the lakes of Japan and the hill farms of
Wales and Ireland. It was the greatest man-made disaster – the equivalent of
500 Hiroshima bombs.

Twenty years on, the level of fallout in human suffering is still debated.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organisation
say that only 50 deaths can be attributed to the disaster, that 4,000 people
at most may eventually die from it, and that most of the illnesses among the
five million people contaminated are down to poverty and lifestyle.

However, new research commissioned by European parliamentary groups,
Greenpeace International and medical foundations suggest that half a million
people have already died, that infant mortality has increased by 20 to 30
per cent and that among the 600,000 who took part in the clean-up, the rate
of cancer deaths was nearly three times higher than the norm. -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
Send in a letter-to-the-editor today. Let us hear from you.
Second of a three-part series by Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times, Monday, Apr 10, 2006

The extent of the genetic damage caused by radiation can be seen in the
suffering of children throughout the region, writes Kathy Sheridan in
Chernobyl, in the second of a three-part series

Vyacheslav Klimovich is the director of what Belarussians call a “children’s
mental asylum”, a place that, to many volunteers working for Adi Roche’s
Chernobyl charity, resonates with both horror and triumph. The radical
renovation work, teacher training and modern equipment funded by the
Children of Chernobyl Project International (CCPI) are slowly turning
Vesnovo into a bright, enlightened haven.

But for The Irish Times, on a tight schedule, it’s fair to admit that it is
no more than a stop on the long road between Minsk and Chernobyl, and

the interview with the director no more than a courtesy call.

Then a casual question elicits the information that the dignified Klimovich
was once a physics teacher. He knows enough about what lies in the soil
around highly contaminated Vetka, his wife’s birthplace, and around Gomel,
their subsequent home in southern Belarus, to fear it.

He has a son aged 13, a child with no particular disease, he says slowly,
“but he hasn’t good health either. He is very weak and gets tired very
quickly. He runs temperatures for no reason. We try to give him clean food
and vitamins . . .”

Klimovich is so fearful of radiation that the couple have decided not to
have a second child.

According to many Belarussian doctors and ordinary families to whom we

talk, his description of his son’s health and reasons for having an only child
could apply to nearly every family in the Gomel region.

Klimovich’s case is not dramatic, and his son’s unexplained lethargy and
temperature spikes will not feature in any statistic. But it’s one reason
why an eastern European cry of rage greeted last September’s Chernobyl

Forum report from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It stated that only 50 deaths could be directly attributed to the disaster,
that 4,000 at most would eventually die from it and that the majority of
illnesses among the estimated five million contaminated in the former Soviet
Union are attributable to growing poverty and unhealthy lifestyles.

Dr Michael Repacholi, manager of the WHO Radiation Programme, is

quoted in the summary: “The sum total of the Chernobyl Forum is a
reassuring message.”

Another series of reports, however, are on the way, according to the
Guardian newspaper, which will tell a radically different story. These are
also from leading scientists and doctors and take into account 50 published
scientific studies in estimates from researchers commissioned by European
parliamentary groups, Greenpeace International, and medical foundations in
Britain, Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and elsewhere.

The forthcoming estimates will suggest that at least 30,000 people are
expected to die of cancers linked directly to severe radiation exposure in
1986 and that up to 500,000 may have already died in Ukraine alone.

The deputy head of Ukraine’s National Commission for Radiation Protection
says: “We have found that infant mortality increased 20 to 30 per cent
because of chronic exposure after the accident. All this information has
been ignored by the IAEA and WHO. We sent it to them in March last year

and again in June. They’ve not said why they haven’t accepted it.”

The IAEA report has attracted much criticism for its tendency to concentrate
on numbers of deaths while virtually ignoring the incidence of morbidity,
such as chronic illness and the ongoing suffering of those who have managed
to survive life-threatening disease.

For example, the report states that nine children have died from thyroid
cancer and that 4,000 have been found to be affected, but notes that the
survival rate is around 99 per cent. The livid “Belarus necklace”, the scar
which marks such victims for life, and their lifelong dependence on
medication, rates no mention.

AE Okeanov, head of the cancer registry in Belarus for many years and now
working at the Clinical Institute of Radiation Medicine and Endocrinology
Research in Minsk, published work in the Swiss Medical Weekly in 2004,
showing that cancerous “affections” (women undergoing mastectomies, for
example) had increased by about 52 per cent in the Gomel region.

The rate for the whole of Belarus was up by 40 per cent. His study also
showed that the peak incidence rates of breast cancer had shifted to younger
women between 45 and 49 years of age.

IN THE RIVNE region of Ukraine, 310 miles west of Chernobyl, doctors are
also reporting an unusual rate of cancers and mutations.

“In the 30 hospitals of our region we find that up to 30 per cent of people
who were in highly radiated areas have physical disorders, including heart
and blood diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases,” says Alexander
Vewremchuk, of the Special Hospital for the Radiological Protection of the
Population in Vilne. “Nearly one in three of all the newborn babies have
deformities, mostly internal.”

In Belarus, Dr Vyacheslav Izhakovsky, the chief doctor at the Gomel Regional
Children’s Hospital, which treats 12,000 children a year, says that,
factoring in the plummeting birthrate, the hospital has seen the rate of
genetic damage in newborns increase by 16 times since 1985.

“We’re at a time when women who were aged between one and three in 1986

are giving birth . . . No more than 16 to 17 per cent of all newborn babies are
completely healthy,” he says. “The cause behind 60 per cent of these is the
mother’s sickness during pregnancy.

Twenty years after Chernobyl, you have to take into consideration
radiological problems. I and many doctors believe that 50 per cent of
illness is rooted in ecological problems. But we can’t prove it because we
have no time to do research. I can tell you though, that the problems are
only starting . . .”

Dr Irina Kolmanovich, the paediatrician who runs the newborns’ intensive
care unit, points to several babies with genetic problems. They include
eight- month-old Vlad, who was born with damage to his muscle and nervous
system. He can still move his legs and hands but no one is prepared to give
a prognosis. Vlad lies opposite three-year-old Masha, who was born with a
similar condition and mobility, but has been deteriorating steadily during
her short life.

Vlad’s mother is in the bracket of girls who were aged between one and three
in 1986. “It’s all genetic,” says Dr Kolmanovich, “You can read it when the

damage is ecological.”

In Gomel, in particular, people like Vyacheslav Klimovich drew their own
conclusions by not risking a second child. Quite apart from a “demographic
doomsday” being discussed by some researchers, the result can be unspeakably
tragic. Lena Pogorelova, a maths teacher in Gomel, took the “risk” of having
a child five years ago.

She had always worried about what is called the “Chernobyl effect” and had
heard about the low number of healthy newborns. She gave birth to Diana, now
aged five, who seemed normal but slowly manifested enough symptoms to fill
three handwritten pages, the main ones of which are cerebral palsy, a heart
defect, eye problems and anaemia.

Diana is now confined to a special chair, is subject to terrifying
convulsions and seizures, and is almost impossible to calm at any time. The
only saviours for Pogorelova are her mother-in-law, who acts as carer while
Pogorelova goes to work, and the hospice nurses of the CCPI.

Pogorelova’s husband, a plasterer, finds work where he can, in a region
where jobs are scarce, so Pogorelova’s income is vital. But she can hardly
find a minute even to prepare her lessons.

Diana remains the Pogorelovas’ only child. Her mother sees no hope, no

She will not attribute Diana’s condition to Chernobyl. She blames herself
for being an “old” mother (35 when Diana was born). But she does believe
that there is a sickness in the population. Many of her female teaching
colleagues have unexplained spinal problems, for example. She observes that
children are much “weaker” now than before, that they get tired far more
easily and that even psychologically there are changes.

“Radiation doesn’t only affect the liver,” she says.”It affects different
systems in the body and changes them, and we never know where it’s going to

THE OTHER CATEGORY which rails against the IAEA’s Chernobyl Forum

report is the “liquidators”, the 600,000 heroes of the Soviet Union who battled
the radioactive inferno in 1986, working in radioactive hot spots, clearing up
the debris around the plant, disposing of vehicles, suppressing dust,
demolishing villages and controlling the populations.

The forum summary asserts that “as of mid-2005, fewer than 50 deaths had
been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being
highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident
but others who died as late as 2004″.

Contrast this with what the deputy head of the National Commission for
Radiation Protection in Ukraine told the Guardian: “[ Studies show] that
34,449 people who took part in the clean-up of Chernobyl have died in the
years since the catastrophe. The deaths of these people from cancers was
nearly three times as high as in the rest of the population.”

Few dismiss out of the hand the forum’s assertion that some illnesses in the
population are attributable to growing poverty and unhealthy lifestyles or
that under-reporting in previous years might be a factor in percentage

“Of course there is some truth in this,” says Dr Izhakovsky of Gomel
Regional Children’s Hospital. “We accept there has been a certain percentage
of under-reporting but believe it is minor. And of course we have social
problems now. But there is no huge gap between living conditions then and
now, other than a small percentage.

“The disaster was a difficult situation for any republic, although Belarus
was left facing all the problems and hadn’t enough money. You can say it’s
just a socio-economic problem, but on the other hand we didn’t have the
money to deal with it. Go to Vetka and see what people are eating there,
where radiation is three times higher than it should be.

Traditionally, Belarussians go to the woods for food, and that food is not
being checked for radiation. Fifty per cent of all the effects are
environmental – you cannot get away from that.”

“WHERE DID THE IAEA do its research?” he adds angrily, pointing out that no
one consulted him, although he has been a doctor here since 1982. “Why don’t
they do some real research work?”

He castigates those responsible for keeping the people in ignorance in 1986,
for not evacuating people quickly enough, for failing to give out iodine.

The politicians thought they were gods, he says, but they couldn’t “influence
the chemical processes”. And as for the academics who helped to hide
information at the time and are now handing it over when it’s too late:
“Where were you back then?” (

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
Third in a three-part series by Kathy Sheridan

By Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland, Tue, Apr 11, 2006

With Belarus planning a new nuclear plant just 25 miles from the zone
contaminated by Chernobyl, Kathy Sheridan , in the last of a three-part
series, looks at the ‘nuclear renaissance’ and, below, hears the views of a
Belarussian scientist who refused to be silenced

Chernobyl is over. That is basically the message of the International Atomic
Energy Agency’s Chernobyl Forum, the British nuclear industry and the
Belarussian government. People died, but not many; the industry made
mistakes, but it’s all part of the “historical legacy” which the industry
has bravely put behind it – so the message goes.

And the whole affair has given the Belarussian government such insights into
nuclear power that it plans to build its own plant just 25 miles from the
contaminated zone, a plan which has attracted surprisingly little comment
from western democracies. Belarus, after all, is “the last dictatorship in
Europe”, according to Condoleezza Rice, a place where independent voices
have systematically been silenced.

If Iran is suspect, why not Belarus? Belarus is simply tapping into what is
being called a “nuclear renaissance”, an apt term given that it is being led
by France, a country with 59 reactors rolling out nearly 80 per cent of its

Its slick marketing and expertise has been given weight by prominent
environmentalists such as Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, and James
Lovelock, who have switched sides in the belief that nuclear plants could
help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while satisfying voracious energy

Finland is building the first new reactor in western Europe since 1991.
Italy and the Netherlands are talking about the option. With memories fading
of the near-catastrophic partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in
Pennsylvania 27 years ago, the Bush administration has also felt able to
make a pitch for nuclear energy.

Across the world, some 25 reactors are under construction according to
Associated Press, adding to the network of 440 commercial nuclear power
plants, spread out over 31 countries, that supply 16 per cent of the world’s
total electricity.

By contrast, Sweden and Germany are choosing to shut down their nuclear
options. But just across the Irish Sea, the handsome 82 billion to be forked
out by the British taxpayer, merely to write off the British nuclear
industry’s liabilities, has failed to dampen official ardour for nuclear
power. With the last of Britain’s nuclear power stations due for closure in
2035, Tony Blair has clearly signalled his wish to build a new generation of

In a scathing piece in this newspaper in February, the Minister for the
Environment, Dick Roche, recalled that Sellafield (aka Windscale) was the
site of the world’s first significant nuclear accident. The 1957 fire
“marked an early example of the nuclear industry’s reluctance to make
information available to the public and to deal with issues in an open and
transparent manner”.

Between 1950 and 1976, there were 177 incidents grave enough to warrant
investigation. In 1980, the UK safety regulator determined that safety at
the site had deteriorated to a level which “should not have been allowed to
develop, nor should it be permitted to occur again”. In 1999, there was the
notorious falsification of data at Sellafield’s MOX Demonstration Facility.

Last year, at the Thorp plant, there was a leak of 83,000 litres of highly
radioactive liquid from a tank into a concrete containment cell. A report on
the incident referred to a failure by staff to act appropriately; a culture
of complacency; failure to act on information; a prioritising of production
over planned inspections; and ambiguous operating instructions.

It is worth remembering that the Soviet authorities only admitted to the
Chernobyl disaster after the radiation was detected in Sweden.

The industry has still to produce a credible, environmentally sustainable
solution to the problem of radioactive waste, which must be nursed for
thousands of years.

MEANWHILE, THERE ARE many who question the current benign thinking
on the effects of low-level radiation. Michael Meacher, the British MP who set
up the Committee Examining Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters, has pointed
out that such thinking is based on “the known effects of external bomb-blast
radiation [ie, Hiroshima], not on the less well- studied effects of
swallowing radionuclides which then discharge radioactivity into key body

As well as its own home-grown problems, Britain is still coping with the
after-shock of Chernobyl. Emergency orders imposed in 1986 still apply to
375 farms in the UK, 355 of them in Wales. The British Department of Health
has admitted that more than 200,000 sheep graze on land still poisoned by
the fallout. No sheep can be moved out of these areas without a special

Those showing higher than permitted levels of radioactive caesium are marked
with a special indelible dye and must spend months grazing on uncontaminated
grass before they are declared fit for market.

David Ellwood, a Cumbrian farmer, told Britain’s Independent that before
taking sheep to auction, they take them off the fells and put them in the
fields for a couple of weeks, “so readings are usually low. But the odd one
gets a high reading if it comes straight in off the fell, and has to be

In the Republic, a spokesman for the Radiological Protection Institute
(RPII) says that no farms are now or were ever restricted here, because our
“management practices” are different from those in the UK. Here, sheep from
the contaminated uplands are brought down to the lowlands for grazing before
being sold and “as caesium-137 has a biological half-life of 10 days, the
sheep excreted all this before going to the mart”. In England, the spokesman
says, “all sheep are sold straight from the uplands”.

He also points out that sheep here are monitored in the marts rather than on
the farms, so there is no need to restrict the farms. Now, Department of
Agriculture vets use in vivo monitors on one sheep in every 10 going to

There have been cases where flocks have failed the test and been returned to
the lowlands “for maybe 10 days, but it would be a long time ago since that
happened,” he adds.

It’s the RPII’s view that the British “made a mistake of bringing in the
restrictions”. Farmers such as David Ellwood in Cumbria were told the
emergency order could last about three weeks, but the agriculture officials
were only guessing. According to the RPII, the UK is now “artificially
stuck” with restriction orders and is unable to release the farms.

DATA FROM THE institute show that the two biggest contaminants in Irish
foodstuffs in 1986 were iodine-131 and C137. While virtually all of the
iodine had disappeared by the end of May that year, the C137 lingered much
longer. During the first two weeks of May, the mean C137 concentration in
milk was 120 becquerels per litre; it was September before this had declined
to two becquerels per litre.

According to the RPII, Ireland, “in line with most other European countries,
adopted an intervention level for foodstuffs of 1,000 becquerels per
kilogram as the level of contamination at which control measures would be

During the six months following the accident, this was only exceeded in one
sample and so it was considered unnecessary to restrict the sale or
consumption of foodstuffs produced within Ireland”.

The institute estimates that Chernobyl resulted in “an approximate 3 per
cent increase in radiation exposure to the average Irish person” in the
following 12 months. It also estimates that in the 70 years following 1986,
“approximately 18 fatal cancers are likely to occur in Ireland as a result
of the accident. These cancer deaths will, however, be indistinguishable
among the 450,000 cancers caused by other agents in the same period”.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
An International Conference in Kyiv (Ukraine), April 23-25, 2006

Sascha Mueller-Kraenner
Leiter Referatsgruppe Europa, Nordamerika
Berlin, Germany, Friday, April 7, 2006

KYIV – On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear
disaster, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (Berlin), Ecoclub (Rivne, Ukraine), The
Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, the Nuclear Information and Resource
Service (Washington, DC), the World Information Service on Energy
(Amsterdam), IPPNW (Germany) and Bündnis 90/DIE GRÜNEN (Germany)
are inviting independent scientists, environmentalists, non- governmental
organizations and sustainable energy experts from all over the world for the
international conference “Chornobyl+20 – Remembrance for the Future”

The international conference will take place on Sunday, April 23 through
Tuesday, April 25 at the Teachers House in Kyiv.

The conference will focus on three areas:
FIRST, the ongoing catastrophe of Chornobyl and its continuing
consequences, including the release of a new study which reviews and
analyzes the recently published report of the IAEA and WHO;
SECOND, the continuing safety, economic, proliferation
and other problems posed by nuclear power generally; and
THIRD, the development of a roadmap to a sustainable energy future.

It is the aim of the conference to bring analysts and activists and a broad
public audience together for a new examination of the 1986 Chornobyl
accident’s continuing health, social and economic consequences and to draw
new attention to the promise and need to implement sustainable energy

Bemerkung Organisers:
Heinrich Böll Stiftung (Berlin, Germany); Heinrich Böll Foundation-Warsaw
(Poland); The European Greens – European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA);
The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) (Washington, DC);
World Information Service on Energy (WISE Amsterdam); Ecoclub (Rivne,
Ukraine); Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Germany); IPPNW Germany

Contact: Tetyana Murza, Ecoclub; E-mail:
Phone: +380 – 362 – 237024; Further Information:

Veranstalter Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Berlin
Veranstaltungsort Budynok Vchytelya (Haus des Lehrers)
Addressee 01009 Kiew, Volodymyrska Str. 57
Dauer (Datum) von Sonntag, 23. 4. 2006, 15:00 Uhr
bis Dienstag, 25. 4. 2006, 18:00 Uhr

Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Leiter Referatsgruppe Europa, Nordamerika
Heinrich Böll Stiftung; Rosenthalerstrasse 40/41
10178 Berlin; tel +49 30 285 34-380; fax +49 30 285 34-308
cellular +49 160 365 77 18;
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

The Washington Group, Washington, D.C., Thu, April 13, 2006

WASHINGTON – The Congressional Ukrainian Caucus is organizing a
series of events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Chornobyl:

[1] April 26, Wed, 10:00 AM, Rayburn House Office Building Foyer:

Members of Congress to open a one-day photo exhibit entitled
“Chornobyl-20”. The exhibition will include photographs by some
prominent artists illuminating the human stories behind the Chornobyl
catastrophe and highlighting the dignity and hope of its survivors.

[2] April 27, Thu, 2:00 – 6:00 PM, U.S. Capitol Building, Room HC6
(Independence Avenue entrance):

A Congressional Briefing will feature expert testimony on Chornobyl issues,
including radiation and health, agriculture and food, environment, economic
development, U.S. assistance and the containment of the 4th unit reactor.

The ambassadors of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia will provide brief remarks
to inform of the current situation with respect to Chornobyl in their

Please RSVP for the briefing by email:
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
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