AUR#688 Chornobyl Rescue Ark Stalled; Chernobyl Hero, Men Who Saved Europe; Lingering Fallout; Long Chernobyl Shadow

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      CHORNOBYL +20 – PART III  
 April 26, 2006, 20th Anniversary of the Chornobyl Nuclear Disaster
              (Chornobyl +20 – Part  I, AUR#685, Friday,    April 07, 2006)
              (Chornobyl +20 – Part II, AUR#687, Monday, April 24, 2006)
Mr. E. Morgan Williams, Publisher and Editor  
             –——-  INDEX OF ARTICLES  ——–
           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
“New shelter is going to be the eighth wonder of the world – it’s an amazing
   piece of engineering on the scale of the Egyptians building the pyramids.”
Askold Krushelnycky from Chernobyl, Ukraine
The Sunday Times, London, UK, Sunday, April 23, 2006


COMMENTARY: Academician Yevgeny Velikhov for RIA Novosti
NIA Novosti, Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 17, 2006

By Galina Stolyarova,  Staff Writer, St. Petersburg Times
St Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Jeremy Page from Moscow, The Times (UK)
London, United Kingdom, Saturday, April 22, 2006


Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Chernobyl, Ukraine, Saturday, April 22, 2006,

    Former leader Mikhail Gorbachev admits some mistakes were made
BBC NEWS, UK,  Saturday, April 22, 2006

 Phasing out atomic energy is the best course of action, according to Hirsch
INTERVIEW: With Helmut Hirsch by Christine Harjes
Deutsche Welle, DW.WORLD.DE, Bonn, Germany, Thu, Mar 20, 2006

INTERVIEW: With Johann Schneider-Ammann & Rudolf Rechsteiner
Swissinfo Interview by: Urs Maurer and Rita Emch
Swissinfo/Swiss Radio International, Bern, Switzerland, Sunday 23.04.2006

          Children were particularly hit by the high levels of radioactivity, Deutsche Welle, Bonn Germany, Tuesday, April 18, 2006

EDITORIAL: The Manila Times, Manila, Philippines, Mon, Apr 24, 2006

By Maria Danilova, Associated Press Writer, AP
Bartolomeyevka, Belarus, Sunday, April 23, 2006

Twenty years ago Chernobyl power plant exploded. Now a tourist attraction. 

  Joins a group for what must be the most unusual day-trip in the world.
By Bernice Davison,
Telegraph, London, United Kingdom, Saturday, April 22, 2006

Andrew McLeod, Ottawa Sun, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Sat, Apr 22, 2006

14.                    THE LONG SHADOW OF CHERNOBYL                                                 
Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Sun, Apr 23, 2006

     20 years after the world’s worst nuclear accident, millions have sunk
       into an apathy that lets them eat yields of land they know is tainted
By Alex Rodriguez, Tribune foreign correspondent
Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Sunday, April 23, 2006

16.                     SURVIVORS REMEMBER CHERNOBYL
By Jonathan Gorvett in Pripyat, Ukraine, Doha, Qatar, Saturday 22 April 2006

Juliette Jowit, Reporting for The Observer
Observer, Guardian Unlimited, London, UK, Sunday, April 23 2006
         “The new shelter is going to be the eighth wonder of the world –

         it’s an amazing piece of engineering which is on the scale of the
                                Egyptians building the pyramids.”

Askold Krushelnycky from Chernobyl, Ukraine
The Sunday Times, London, UK, Sunday, April 23, 2006

CHERNOBYL – PLANS to build an engineering wonder of the world – a

gigantic lbs300m hangar to prevent a second disaster at Chernobyl – have
been stalled by a series of rows between western donors and the
Ukrainian government.

Known to its designers as “the Ark”, the arch-shaped tubular structure,
360ft high and 900ft across, will make safe the site of the world’s worst
nuclear accident when it is finally given the go-ahead.

Scientists and international aid donors who will meet in Kiev, the Ukrainian
capital, this week on the 20th anniversary of the accident were hoping to
announce approval for work to begin on the Ark. But the project has become
embroiled in wrangling between the donors, the French-led engineering
consortium and the Ukrainian authorities over the tendering procedure.

The massive structure, officially called the New Safe Confinement, is
designed to cover the hastily constructed “sarcophagus” that encases the
highly radioactive remains of Number Four reactor. The sarcophagus was built
within months of the disaster, with helicopters lifting slabs of concrete
into place to cover the devastated reactor building. An estimated 200 tons
of radioactive matter lies within the temporary structure but the
sarcophagus and everything within it are contaminated.

The European Union and other international donors have spent tens of
millions of pounds on stabilising the structure, which many had feared would
collapse, releasing its deadly contents in another calamity.

The new shield has been designed to contain the radioactive remains for the
next 100 years. The Ark is intended not only to enclose the site but to
permit work by remote- controlled devices or specially trained teams to
dismantle and store the lethal material safely.

Large prefabricated portions of the arches will be brought to Chernobyl and
assembled in two halves at a distance from the sarcophagus to minimise
workers’ exposure to radiation. The final operation to lock the two parts
together will be performed within 24 hours by sliding them into place on a
specially constructed railway line.

To enable the ruined reactor to be dismantled, the Ark has been designed to
carry four bridge cranes which will be suspended from the arches. Each crane
will be capable of lifting 100 tons. Railway carriages shielded against the
radiation will transport workers deep into the bowels of the new structure.

Ukraine’s political instability since the Orange revolution 15 months ago –
three ministers have been responsible for the scheme in that time – has
added to the air of uncertainty surrounding the Ark project.

The funds for the programme, to total ?600m, are being administered by the
London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Vince

Novak, the director of the bank’s nuclear safety department, said: “It is
disappointing we won’t be able to declare on the 20th anniversary that work
on the new shelter is to commence.” But he predicted the dispute would be
resolved soon. “Hopefully a new government will be in place which will
realise there is no alternative to proceed.”

David Sycamore, a Briton who works for the EU’s delegation in Kiev, said:
“If a similar disaster had happened in Britain the sarcophagus couldn’t have
been built in such a short time because in a democracy you couldn’t have
ordered people into a fatally dangerous zone.

“The new shelter is going to be the eighth wonder of the world – it’s an
amazing piece of engineering which is on the scale of the Egyptians building
the pyramids.”

Ukrainians maintain that tens of thousands of people have died of
radiation-related illnesses. After the disaster the city of Pripyat, which
housed Chernobyl’s workers and their families, was emptied of inhabitants.
Today it has a chilling, post-apocalyptic look to it.

Ragged curtains blow through the broken windows of apartments in deserted
and crumbling high-rise blocks. The streets with their Lenin statues and
fading posters exhorting a march towards a communist paradise are being
reclaimed by vegetation.

The 47 villages in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl were also evacuated,
but scores of mainly elderly people who could not adapt to the cramped city
apartments they were offered, have returned surreptitiously. Eventually the
authorities were forced tacitly to accept their presence. The zone’s
inhabitants can collect their pensions and once every two weeks each village
is visited by a policeman to check that everyone is still alive.

Adam Lahovskiy, an 82-year-old war veteran who lives in a small,
single-storey timber cottage, said: “I was not going to allow the Chernobyl
disaster to drive me out.” His wife Nina said that a van selling bread and
other staples visited once a week and they spent their pension on food and
medicine. They keep chickens and supplement their diet with berries and wild
mushrooms – some of the food most contaminated by radiation. Their son
visits regularly to help out.

Herds of boars are among the wildlife now thriving in the exclusion zone
despite the radiation. Mostly free of human predators, the area provides
sanctuary for moose, rare Przewalski horses and even wolves.

Although most Ukrainians wanted to close down their nuclear industry for
years after the accident, four other power stations – including Europe’s
largest at Zaporizhya – have continued to operate.

Ukraine is dependent for much of its energy, especially gas, on Russia,
which quadrupled prices earlier this year as punishment for Ukraine straying
away from Moscow’s orbit and cultivating closer ties with the EU and Nato.

Developing the country’s nuclear industry has become a priority: Ukraine
wants to build up to 13 more reactors for its own needs and to export
electricity to western Europe. David Corbett from Lancashire, who works for
a private company hired by the EU, said: “We are here to ensure another
Chernobyl can never happen.”                        -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

COMMENTARY: Academician Yevgeny Velikhov for RIA Novosti
NIA Novosti, Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 17, 2006

MOSCOW – Now that 20 years have passed since the Chernobyl tragedy I

would like to express my opinion on certain things. It is very important to assess
Chernobyl correctly through the prism of real facts and risks.
In many cases, its aftermath was exaggerated hundreds and even thousands of
times, and not without a contribution of the press. This had adverse effects
because words are a factor, which seriously affects people’s health. The damage
done to the economy and social life in a whole number of areas was also
associated with the wrong information and misjudgment.

The medical records of the exposed people do not confirm that Chernobyl had
a disastrous effect on their health. Here is an example from the statistics
of the Kurchatov Institute Medical Service: all of its 600 research fellows
who have regularly visited Chernobyl during these twenty years (and some of
whom are still there) have good health records and continue working.

Or take a different aspect: Chernobyl showed that the nation was not ready
for a disaster, although a similar case took place before. An explosion
followed by radioactive emission occurred at the Chelyabinsk Mayak Chemical
Plant in the Urals in 1957. The Soviet authorities instructed to classify
all information concerning the accident, including the analysis and
conclusions made by the best scientists and experts who had been studying
the causes and consequences of the accident at Mayak.

There is one more sad lesson: the priceless Chernobyl experience, which was
not classified, proved to be useless anyway. Nobody in the whole world has
asked for it, or tried to study. This is very bad because this experience
is extremely valuable. It can be used for modeling human conduct in an
emergency, or for special training.

Regrettably, it is impossible to completely rule out the risk of technological
accidents at nuclear power plants, although very much has been done to enhance
the safety of atomic power engineering in the years since Chernobyl. Nor can we
ignore today’s political situation with its real threat of terrorism.

Even in Russia we do not keep the Chernobyl experience at hand, which would
be a reasonable thing to do. Only atomic scientists have learnt the
Chernobyl lessons really well. The RBMK reactors (the first type of the
Soviet reactor at nuclear power plants) were immediately upgraded and made
safe. They continue working successfully.

Hence, it was possible to make them reliable even before the tragedy, but a
mistake was made. This was the problem rather than the fault of the then
young nuclear power engineering. For lack of experience accidents at the
first nuclear facilities took place in other countries as well, not just here.

Although nothing is completely failsafe, today we guarantee the safety of
reactors. We also guarantee that even if an accident happens by virtue of
some incredible reason, it will not lead to evacuation or have any other
negative effects on the health and prosperity of the people involved.

In the last 10 years Russia has not built a single new nuclear power plant
but the generation of nuclear energy grew from 12% to 17% for this period.
This growth has been achieved by better control, modernization of nuclear
power plants, and a whole number of other factors. Natural resources – oil,
gas and coal — are non-renewable, and the world’s energy requirements are
growing. In this context nuclear power engineering has very good prospects
and no real competitors today. Further progress is simply impossible
without it.

Since the tragic day 20 years ago the physicists have been trying hard to
defeat radio phobia, and prove to the people that atomic power engineering
brings light and heat to their homes. Have they done all they could? The
drawbacks which this industry had, and some of which were revealed by
Chernobyl have been largely overcome. Nuclear power engineering has evolved
incredible safety measures. I’d call some of them even somewhat excessive.

In general, the experience amassed today by the physicists and designers,
and the high safety standards of nuclear power engineering guarantee that
accidents similar to Chernobyl will never repeat.

The likelihood of serious accidents at nuclear power plants is very low; it
is much lower than in mining or the chemical industry, or on regular
transport. Our phobia of nuclear power engineering is largely a prejudice.
Academician Yevgeny Velikhov, Russian Academy of Sciences, President

of the Kurchatov Institute Russian Research Center.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

By Galina Stolyarova,  Staff Writer, St. Petersburg Times
St Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, April 18, 2006

As the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster approaches on
April 26, a group of Russian environmentalists has published a school
textbook about the accident and begun nationwide distribution.

Titled “Chernobyl Lessons”, the book, put together by experts from
Ecodefense, Greenpeace Russia and Bellona, describes the disaster and its
consequences in great detail, explaining the dangers of radiation,
analyzing the mistakes that were made and suggesting protection strategies
for similar situations.

The lectures give a critical assessment of nuclear industry in general, and
offer a comparative study of the risks and benefits of nuclear industry
versus renewable energy, such as, for instance, wind energy. The book is
intended to be used during lessons on biology, physics, sociology and
personal safety.

One of the sections contains the testimonies of Chernobyl survivors.

Local teachers have been keen to acquire the book, Rashid Alimov, editor of
environmental portal, told The St. Petersburg Times on Friday.

“We received orders for over two hundred copies after just the first two
presentations, and the interest is growing,” Alimov said.

In Alimov’s opinion, the book should be of special use in St. Petersburg.
“The Leningrad Nuclear Power Station still exploits the Chernobyl-type
reactors, and the plant is close to the city,” he said. “People need to
read it, if only for safety awareness, and because nobody else seems to be
willing to educate them about it.”

Andrei Ozharovsky, one of the book’s authors and a leading expert with
Moscow-based environmental organization “Ecodefence”, said the general
syllabus in high schools in Russia gives a light-weight superficial
coverage of the world’s largest-ever nuclear catastrophe.

“The teachers, if they touch on the topic at all, tend to present the
Chernobyl disaster as some kind of technical malfunction, without putting
the accident in context with the risks that nuclear industry presents as
such,” Ozharovsky said during the book’s presentation at the Regional Press
Institute on Friday.

The book quotes Lyudmila Ignatenko, the widow of a man who survived

the initial blast. As a firefighter, he was sent to the scene of the accident
without any special protective gear. “He was wearing a shirt, and all his
colleagues were too,” Ignatenko said. “They hadn’t been warned about the
 radiation, they were told it was an ordinary fire.”

The book quotes Belorussian citizen Sergei Gurin, whose child was exposed
to radiation when the radioactive cloud reached their town.

“My little son Yurik and I spent a day in the forest, without any knowledge
of the danger,” he said. “God, could they not have warned us.”

But Vladimir Lebedev of the local information center of the Russian Atomic
Agency (ROSATOM), branded the textbook biased.

“This book is blatant anti-nuclear propaganda, but nuclear energy is the
world’s only future,” Lebedev said. “There is no alternative on a par with
it and there is nothing its critics can do. The authors could have done
better than scaring ordinary people.”

The book says over 600,000 people have been exposed to large doses of
radiation resulting from Chernobyl’s deadly blast.

In Lebedev’s opinion, the textbook’s authors have exaggerated the damage. A
report prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005 claims
that, to date, “fewer than 50 deaths have been directly attributed to
radiation from the disaster.” The IAEA study was limited to those sent in
to liquidate the results of the explosion and didn’t include those who
suffered from the Chernobyl fallout.

A number of Russian and international ecological organizations, including
Greenpeace, have criticized the IAEA report, suggesting the agency
deliberately understated the number of victims and downplayed the negative
consequences of the disaster.

“It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of one of the
most serious industrial accidents in human history. It is a deliberate
attempt to minimize the risks of nuclear power in order to free the way for
new reactor construction,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International
nuclear campaigner, after the presentation of the IAEA report in 2005.

Collecting statistics for such research is tricky.

A number of respondents in the new textbook recalled numerous cases of
state experts refusing or being extremely reluctant to connect their or
their relatives’ illnesses with the accident.

“My daughter will never be able to have children; she is disabled, she is a
Chernobyl survivor,” said Larisa Z., quoted in the book. “It took me four
years to finally obtain a medical certificate confirming the connection
between my daughter’s condition and her exposure to radiation.”

The textbook is available in electronic form at:

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

Jeremy Page from Moscow, The Times (UK)
London, United Kingdom, Saturday, April 22, 2006

20 years on, the first firefighter at the scene says the human cost is
being whitewashed, writes Jeremy Page from Moscow

It was 1.40am when Viktor Birkun woke to the sound of his doorbell ringing.

He knew that something serious had happened as soon as he opened the door
and saw one of his colleagues from the fire station. But it was only as
they drove out of his home town of Pripyat, Ukraine, that he realised the
scale of what is still considered the worst man-made disaster in history.

Fourteen minutes earlier, at 1.26am on April 26, 1986 -20 years to the day
on Wednesday -Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant had exploded,
releasing 100 times the radiation of the atomic bomb that had exploded over

“There was only the light from the fire -black and red flames and lumps of
molten material everywhere,” Mr Birkun said.

“The reactor’s roof had blown off, throwing asphalt, concrete and graphite
upwards and outwards. Where the graphite landed it turned everything to lava.”

As the plant managers and technicians fled or frantically tried to contact
Moscow, the firefighters rushed straight into the inferno. With only a
cotton uniform to protect him, Mr Birkun drove his fire truck over the
reactor’s metal roof, now lying on the ground, and up to 15m (50ft) from
Reactor 4.

Using his bare hands he lowered the engine’s siphon into the nearest
cooling pool to suck up water for his colleagues as they battled 300 fires
around the complex.

Within seconds he began to feel the effects of the gamma rays that were
bombarding his internal organs.

He started vomiting about every 30 seconds. He grew dizzy and weak. After
two hours he could not stand.

Doctors later gave him a certificate indicating that he had received 260
ber (biological equivalents of roentgen), equivalent to 1,000 years of
background radiation.

But experts estimate that the radiation that he absorbed was even higher,
and enough to cause acute radiation sickness (ARS).

“I’m amazed he survived,” Michael Repacholi, the top radiation expert at
the World Health Organisation, said.

“It was a hugely heroic effort, and I suspect anyone who understood how
much radiation was there would never have gone in.”

Twenty years on Mr Birkun knows he is lucky to be alive and living in
Moscow with his wife, Nadezhda, and his daughters, Lyudmila and Valentina.

Of the 134 “liquidators” with a diagnosis of ARS, 28 died in 1986,
including at least six firefighters. Mr Birkun, now 56, is proud of the
sacrifice that his team made to reduce the cloud of smoke that spread
radioactive particles across Europe and even as far as Japan.

“These were the people who saved Europe,” he said, fingering a
black-and-white photograph of his former colleagues. “If they had not done
what they did, the fire would have spread to Reactors 1, 2 and 3.”

But he and many others among the 600,000 liquidators who cleaned up
Chernobyl are infuriated by what they see as official attempts to whitewash
the human cost of the disaster.

Last year the United Nations issued a report saying that the number of
deaths caused by Chernobyl was fewer than 50 -far lower than previous
estimates. The report by the UN’s Chernobyl Forum said that the eventual
number of radiation- related deaths among the 600,000 liquidators would be
about 4,000.

In the West the report has restarted a bitter debate over the dangers of
the nuclear industry. Greenpeace, the environmental group, accused the UN
this week of whitewashing the disaster.

It issued its own report, based on statistics from Belarus, predicting that
the number of terminal cancer cases caused directly by Chernobyl would be

And it extrapolated from demographic statistics that 200,000 people had
already died of radiation-related illnesses in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Nuclear power is now far less controversial in those countries; Russia is
planning to build 40 reactors by 2030.

But the UN report has stimulated debate about how the governments of
Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are compensating the victims of Chernobyl.

Liquidators say they were promised cash rewards, free medical care, new
flats and other perks when they finished clearing up the site and encasing
the smouldering reactor core in a concrete “sarcophagus”. But many say that
they lost benefits after the Soviet Union’s disintegration.

Others, like Mr Birkun, were granted some compensation but lost out last
year when the Russian Government replaced free medical care and other
benefits with cash payments.

President Vladimir Putin has paid tribute to the liquidators. This month he
awarded medals to 18 of them. Russian officials, however, argue that the
health problems caused by Chernobyl have been exaggerated.

Igor Lingue, director of Russia’s Institute of Nuclear Problems, said:
“Compared with the radiation caused by Chernobyl, the other factors
triggered by the accident such as psychological stress, the disruption of
their lives and financial losses proved to be greater problems for the

Leonid Ostapenko, a radiologist who heads the Centre of Medical
Rehabilitation of Chernobyl Invalids, said that it was impossible to tell
if Chernobyl veterans’ illnesses stemmed from the accident. “It’s possible
only to count people who died of ARS. There are many others who had a

small dose of radiation, and their problems are like ordinary illnesses. How
do you tell if someone died from natural illness or radiation?”

Mr Birkun is a case in point. He was rescued by colleagues, taken to a
clinic in Pripyat and flown to Clinical Hospital No 6 in Moscow. He was
released after five months but has checks there twice a year. He has
diabetes, cataracts, heart problems, nervous disorders and dozens of other

Now retired, he is entitled to a pension and other state benefits totalling
5,500 roubles (£ 110) a month. He is claiming an extra 10,000 roubles a
month in compensation from his former employer, the Interior Ministry. But
the ministry is disputing his claim.

For Mr Birkun, the consequences of Chernobyl are far from over. “Back then
nobody was thinking about rewards,” he said. “All I could think about was
that my daughters were at home and the town asleep.”
                                  DISASTER BY NUMBERS
300,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding area An initial
containment effort used helicopters to drop bags of sand, boron and lead on
to the reactor. These were then covered in a concrete sarcophagus

20 days after the accident the temperature of the core was 270C (518F) Some
Welsh sheep farms are still subjected to meat radiation inspections,
because of the fallout

100,000 Number of years for which the reactor core will remain dangerous.

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
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Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Chernobyl, Ukraine, Saturday, April 22, 2006,

Chernobyl – A Geiger counter crackles beneath the sign to the Lenin atomic
power station at Chernobyl. Two decades after the reactor explosion the
grassy spot emits 500 times the normal urban radiation level.

While visitors are alarmed, veterans working here shrug off the
rays as an inconvenience as they maintain one of the world’s most infamous

“Radiation is a serious matter, but for me its effects are like water of a
duck’s back,” says Russian scientist Eduard Pazukhin, deputy head of the
radiation safety department of the Ukrittya centre which monitors the
devastated site for the Ukrainian government.

The seventy-year-old insists he is in good health despite half a century of
tackling Soviet nuclear disasters, including 20 years in Chernobyl where he
works mainly on the destroyed fourth reactor, which he says he knows “as
well as my own apartment”.

But on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the disaster on April 26, he and
others with experience of this landmark event in history are far from blase
about claims by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the
damage has been exaggerated.

“This is an outrageous point of view. The Chernobyl accident was a huge
tragedy for human life and for civilization as a whole,” Pazukhin adds, his
ready smile vanishing over what many see as a bid to downplay Chernobyl’s
legacy as global demand for nuclear power grows.

The UN forecasts 4,000 eventual deaths from the accident compared with
independent estimates of up to 200,000 deaths in Ukraine, Belarus and
Russia between 1990 and 2004.

Many people are thought to have died prematurely because of the accident,
from cancers but also many illnesses related to reduced immunity and damage
to internal organs and bodily systems.

While the row continues it is business as usual inside the 30-
kilometre-wide dead zone around the now decommissioned plant, which
paradoxically hums with activity. Today some 7,000 people work here, many
engaged in the key task of maintaining the concrete sarcophagus on the
shattered reactor.

Spending only half of each month in the zone to reduce health risks, almost
half are based in Chornobyl, the Ukrainian name for the town located 13
kilometres away from the station.

But its shops, neatly tended flower beds and swept roads can’t hide rows of
crumbling houses abandoned during the evacuation of the 12,000 inhabitants
nine days after the explosion.

More than two million people were displaced in total, 200,000 of them
permanently, as the Soviet government acknowledged the extent of the
disaster. Many were given only a few hours to pack their things.

Lost and often unwelcome in the towns they were moved to, a few thousand
mainly elderly people later returned to their villages in the second zone
outside the inner, 10 kilometre-wide, total exclusion zone. Around 320
remain today.

“I was born here, where else could I go? ” said Maria Shulan, a sprightly
76-year-old from the village of Parishiv, located 17 kilometres southeast
of the plant. She is one of 18 people left from the original 1,000 and
lives on home-grown produce. Convinced the accident was divine punishment
for blighting the land with the station, she dismisses health concerns.

Here the Geiger counter shows the radiation level to be slightly above
normal, reflecting the chequered nature of the contamination. In some
places people are strongly advised to stay off the grass, which absorbs
radioactivity, elsewhere it is clear because changing winds spared the area
20 years ago.

Other returnees include Father Nikolai, the Orthodox priest in Chornobyl
who ministers to the locals and the workers. “During a visit here five
years ago he made a snap decision to come back and restore the church,” his
wife Lyubov Yakushina said. The priest also conducts funerals of former
residents of the zone whose remains are brought here for burial.

A short drive northeast reveals the chimneys of the plant on the horizon.
After another police checkpoint, visitors pass the fifth and six reactor
blocks that were left uncompleted in 1986.

At the fourth block, workers in protective suits hang on ropes and trestles
on the 59-metre-high sarcophagus wall. They perform maintenance that
Pazukhin says could safely extend the shroud’s life for at least 10 years,
ample time for the construction of a planned replacement around 2010.

Technicians constantly monitor the state of the sarcophagus, a giant
construction of girders and concrete that was built in six months after the
accident. They use remote-control robots to gauge conditions inside and to
probe the main mystery, the location of 20 tons missing from the reactor’s
original 200 tons of fuel.

Most set hard in a glassy mass beneath the reactor and the rest flowed
deeper into its foundations or was emitted into the atmosphere. But
Pazukhin’s team believes no more than 4 per cent of the fuel was spewed
from the exploding block and vehemently rejects claims that all 200 tons
were lost.

Such disputes mean little for the town of Pripyat, located three kilometres
from the plant, once home to 46,000 workers and their families before it
was evacuated for ever on day two of the crisis.

It is now a ghost town, looted and decayed, still carrying a giant hammer
and sickle on a central building and painted Communist slogans on house
walls promising a bright future under the party of Lenin.         -30-


[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
       Former leader Mikhail Gorbachev admits some mistakes were made

BBC NEWS, United Kingdom, Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mikhail Gorbachev had been Soviet leader for only 13 months when the
Chernobyl nuclear accident happened. He describes how the authorities
responded and reflects on the lessons from the disaster.

 I received a call at 0500 on 26 April 1986, informing me that a major
accident, followed by a fire, had just occurred in the fourth block of the
Chernobyl nuclear power station, but that the reactor was still intact.

In those early hours, until the evening of 26 April, we had not yet realised
that the reactor had actually exploded and that there had been a huge
discharge of radioactive materials into the atmosphere.

Nobody had any idea that we were facing a major nuclear disaster. Naturally,
we can regret, today, after the fact, that we did not grasp everything more

[At the time], I was astounded: how was such a thing possible? Nuclear
scientists had always assured the country’s leadership that our nuclear
reactors were completely safe.
                                    ‘NOT PANICKING’
Immediately after the accident, the management of the station gave the order
to flood the reactor with water, because they were not aware that the
reactor had exploded and there was nothing left to extinguish. Finally, the
pool under the reactor and some underground locations were filled up with

Scientists were afraid that if the hot mass of nuclear fuel and graphite
were to rupture the bottom of the reactor’s tank and fall into radioactive
water, this would create the conditions for a further nuclear explosion.

We were not panicking… but we urgently needed to pump out this water. This
was completed at the beginning of May. In this way, such an explosion,
however slight its probability, was effectively prevented. There were other
threats that needed to be eliminated with the utmost urgency.

Firstly, there remained the danger that the mass at the heart of the reactor
would rupture its tank and even blast through the foundations of the
building housing the reactor, so coming into contact with the soil and
leading to a major contamination of groundwater.

We also had to prevent the radioactive waste and debris from around the
plant from contaminating the waters of the Dnieper and Desna rivers. This
required operations on a massive scale…

But, of course, our main concern was to evacuate the population from the
most contaminated areas.

On 27 April we performed an exemplary operation: in just three hours the
entire population of Pripyat, located very close to the power station, was

And in the early days of May, we evacuated everybody living within a 30km
radius of the power station, in dozens of localities: a total of 116,000

                                    TOLD THE TRUTH?
Quite simply, in the beginning even the top experts did not realise the
gravity of the situation.

We needed several weeks to obtain precise evaluations and to draw up maps
of the contamination. Certainly, I will not exclude the possibility that
certain functionaries, who were afraid of being accused of not having taken
the correct measures, had a tendency to embellish their reports.

But, for the most part, I believe that I was kept informed in good faith by
my representatives. We did not cancel the May Day parades [in Kiev and
Minsk] because we still did not have information on the full extent of the

I confess that we were afraid of panic – you can imagine for yourselves the
consequences of a terrible panic in a town of several million inhabitants. I
admit that it was a grave mistake.

We published the first information on the accident on 28 April, in Pravda,
but to speak to the people, I needed a more substantial and precise
analysis. That is why I waited almost three weeks before speaking on
                                   CORRECT RESPONSE?
Nowadays, experts think that our fears over the possible contamination of
groundwater were exaggerated, and that it was not worth the trouble of
installing a “cushion” [concrete slab] underneath the reactor.

The construction of the sarcophagus, all the measures for aquatic
protection, most of the measures aimed at decontamination – these were good
decisions, even though some of the deactivation did ultimately prove to be

We decontaminated areas which were later evacuated. Nobody knew, for
instance, that Pripyat, that beautiful modern city, would find itself
forever uninhabitable.At first, scientists thought that the population of
Pripyat would be able to return to the city around the end of May or

beginning of June. People left leaving their fridges full of food, without
even unplugging them, since they expected to return quickly.
                                   ENVIRONMENTAL COST
The explosion at Chernobyl showed that we are capable of contaminating the
planet for the long term, and of leaving a terrible legacy for future

Today, mankind faces a challenge so huge that, by comparison, the Cold

War appears like an incongruous vestige from the past.

Chernobyl clearly demonstrated that each disaster is unique and that no
country can be prepared for every eventuality. That is why we must deploy
the maximum amount of effort to prevent disasters. One must not compromise
on nuclear safety. The social, ecological and economic consequences of these
kind of disasters are much too heavy in every sense of the word.

We can therefore see what enormous responsibility is placed not only on
politicians, but on scientists, engineers and designers – their mistakes
could cost the life and health of millions of people.

The victims of Chernobyl continue to suffer both physically and mentally. It
is our moral duty to help them while continuing to limit the ecological
consequences of this disaster.
Mikhail Gorbachev was interviewed by Green Cross International, a
non-governmental organisation he founded in the wake of Chernobyl. A

fuller version is appearing in the latest issue of the Optimist magazine.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
 Phasing out atomic energy is the best course of action, according to Hirsch

INTERVIEW: With Helmut Hirsch by Christine Harjes
Deutsche Welle, DW.WORLD.DE, Bonn, Germany, Thu, Mar 20, 2006

The remaining Soviet-era Chernobyl-type nuclear reactors are especially
dangerous but aren’t the only risk when it comes to atomic power plants,
Helmut Hirsch, physicist and consultant on nuclear safety told DW-


DW-WORLD.DE: Since the accident 20 years ago, it seems clear that the
Chernobyl-type RBMK reactors are especially dangerous. Why is that?

Helmut Hirsch: A strengthening of any chain reaction that has begun forms a
build-up in these reactors that cannot be automatically lowered as it can in
most Western reactors. The chain reaction gets stronger and stronger — this
is the so-called bubble co-efficient — and in Chernobyl’s case, led to the
accident. This is a weakness that has been worked on since the accident and
while there have been some improvements, the problem hasn’t completely been
solved. The RBMK also has other disadvantages. The pressure pipes that hold
the fuel elements and containment weaknesses can become brittle.

Bildunterschrift: Technical failures can also affect modern reactors. Would

you say that RBMK reactors are the most dangerous reactors active today?

I think that is correct. There is also a very wide consensus that these
reactors cannot be retrofitted to meet western standards and that they need
to be shut down.

The VVER 440/230 reactors also do not meet Western standards. What

are the problems with these?

This is a different type of reactor that is seen as practically impossible
to retrofit. A major problem is that these reactors have practically no
containment capability. If there were an accident where radioactive steam
inside such a reactor were released, it would simply escape. There have been
a few retrofittings, but this is really just tinkering and doesn’t really
control the problem.

Another problem is that these reactors’ emergency cooling systems are very
weak. There have also been efforts to improve this, but the problem is so
serious that retrofitting is practically impossible.

Can you see a difference with improvements to another type of reactor, the
VVER 440/213?

Definitely. The 213’s are the second generation of VVER reactors and there
were a series of improvements made. The emergency cooling system is
stronger, and they have a better containment structure, although it is still
below Western standards.

The VVER 440/213 does not have so-called full-pressure containment, but a
containment system dependent on pressure release. It’s very complicated and
prone to breaking down. There are also reports of material problems in these
reactors, and there are problems with safety systems. In the case of
external hazards, for example, the danger that several safety systems fail
is especially large. You could say this type of reactor is clearly better
than the first generation, but still has serious weaknesses.

Bildunterschrift: After 20 years, the long-term effects of Chernobyl remain

unknown. The VVER 1000 is comparable with Western reactors from the
1970s. Does that mean they are safe?

No. This reactor has full-pressure containment and its layout is comparable
with Western reactors, so you’d have to say it is an improvement on the 213
series. But the VVER 1000 also has different problems. Protection from
external hazards is considerably worse than modern systems. There are also
reports of material problems in the VVER 1000, especially when looking at
the brittleness of the reactor’s pressure container, which is a key

One specific problem with the VVER 1000 is a construction flaw in the
reactor building, where containment should be able to take place for some
time in the event of an accident. It is especially prone to melting down
from below. This means that if there is an accident in this type of reactor,
the chances of a relatively quick containment malfunction are higher and the
release would be larger than you’d find in a German pressurized-water

What role does age play in an atomic reactor’s safety?

The aging process plays a large role and we have to assume that safety will
decrease continually after 15 to 25 years of operation due to aging. This
can be partially counteracted when operators make the necessary efforts and
replace parts that have aged. But this doesn’t apply in every case. The
reactor pressure container, for example, cannot be replaced. This kind of
aging management system is also complicated and expensive and there are some
doubts as to whether the necessary measures are being taken, especially in
Eastern Europe.

After how many years do you think a reactor should be closed?

A running time of about 30 years is the maximum, after that there is a clear
deterioration in the level of safety. The risks also increase. I’d say
between 25 and 30 years would be a general guide.

Bildunterschrift: Hirsch said nuclear power plants should be closed after

30 years. What other risks have to be considered when evaluating nuclear

Every type of reactor operating today poses a threat of a catastrophic
accident with a major release of radioactivity. The likelihood is especially
high in Eastern Europe’s old reactors, but technical failure or external
influences — like natural earthquakes and floods or malicious acts by
humans — pose a danger to even the most modern reactors.

What should be done to increase security?

I think there are a lot of reasons for the long-term phasing out of atomic
energy. On the one hand nuclear power plants are vulnerable, and they can
cause serious problems should a radioactive release occur. On the other
hand, nuclear technology is of military importance, which does not
necessarily help achieve peaceful development on an international political
level. I think for those reasons, phasing out of nuclear energy is the best
course of action.

In the long-term, the only energy policy that actually meets the standards
required for the survival of humanity will be based on renewable energy
sources and a more rational use of energy.
Dr. Helmut Hirsch is a physicist and scientific consultant for nuclear
safety for a number of organizations including the Austrian federal
government and the environment ministry.,2144,1974231,00.html

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INTERVIEW: With Johann Schneider-Ammann & Rudolf Rechsteiner
Swissinfo Interview by: Urs Maurer and Rita Emch
Swissinfo/Swiss Radio International, Bern, Switzerland, Sunday 23.04.2006

Twenty years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the political fallout is
still reverberating in Switzerland. Two experts from opposing sides analyse
the implications for nuclear energy.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe on April 26, 1986, Swiss voters approved
a moratorium on building new nuclear plants, but in 2003 they backed away
from phasing out nuclear energy altogether.

Johann Schneider-Ammann, president of the Swiss mechanical and electrical
engineering industries (Swissmem), warns that energy needs are likely to
outstrip supply by two-thirds in the next three decades.

Energy specialist, Rudolf Rechsteiner, says nuclear power can be replaced by
alternative sources of energy, such as solar power, biogas and wind

SWISSINFO: What did the Chernobyl disaster mean to you at the time?

Johann Schneider-Ammann: Uncertainty, concern. Could something like that
also happen here in Switzerland? But then it led to other, better
technologies. A consequence of Chernobyl was that, worldwide, safety at
nuclear power plants was significantly improved.

Rudolf Rechsteiner: The pressure to build a nuclear power plant near Basel
was lifted. What the Swiss government had always said would not happen –
that a nuclear reactor could explode – had happened. One couldn’t drink milk
anymore and all the vegetable farmers had to destroy their crops. It was the
beginning of the end of nuclear energy.

Those in the energy industry refused to learn any lessons from Chernobyl.

SWISSINFO: What effect did Chernobyl have on a political level in
Switzerland? The Cold War was still a reality then.

J. S-A.: Popular support for the peaceful use of nuclear energy sank to a
very low level. In political terms, it was a big boost for opponents of
nuclear power. At the time of Chernobyl, the Soviet Union was already
starting to crumble, and this had compromised safety in both organisational
and technical terms.

R. R.: The incident was played down, and attributed to “Russian sloppiness”,
and the generation in power at the time, and which is still active in the
electricity industry, stubbornly refused to learn any lessons from it. It’s
only a generation later that new techniques, such as wind power or
cogeneration – combining heat and power, are being considered.

SWISSINFO: What concrete repercussions were there for Swiss energy policy?

J. S-A.: After Chernobyl a moratorium came into force along with pressure to
abandon nuclear energy. Despite the government’s recommendations to reject a
moratorium, the public approved one in a vote on September 23, 1990. Since
then, any talk of building new nuclear power plants in Switzerland has been

R. R.: A new plant near Basel was out of the question, and the industry is
still doing everything possible to play down the consequences. The industry
has also tried to buy influence among politicians in Bern. But the main
argument in favour of nuclear power – that it was so cheap, it wasn’t even
worth writing accounts – has been exploded.

Within 25-30 years we will only be able to produce about two-thirds of the
energy we need.

SWISSINFO: In the 20 years since Chernobyl, some countries have decided to
abandon nuclear energy; others are planning or building new nuclear power
plants. What is Switzerland going to do?

J. S-A.: Switzerland must find a way to guarantee its future energy
requirements. If we do nothing, within 25-30 years we will only be able to
produce domestically about two-thirds of the energy we need. The voters will
decide whether we build more nuclear energy plants.

R. R.: Sources of alternative energy, such as wind turbines and solar power,
are growing by 30 to 40 per cent a year. Then there are other possibilities
such as biogas, geothermic energy or heat pumps. Provided the incentives are
in place, they will play an important role in energy production in the
coming decades. Such moves are alreaday underway in other countries.

SWISSINFO: Studies suggest Switzerland will experience energy shortages in
the coming years. Does this mean new nuclear plants will be back on the

J. S-A.: Voters made clear in a national ballot on May 18, 2003, that they
wanted to keep open the option of building new plants, when two initiatives
calling for its phasing out were decisively rejected. It is therefore time
to discuss how we are going to replace the energy we get from our own
reactors as well as that we import from French nuclear plants.

R. R.: The energy industry in Switzerland is still totally fixated on
nuclear power. If the market was subject to proper competitive pressures
these dangerous “cathedrals” would lose both support and investment. People
would prefer solar energy panels on their roofs.

SWISSINFO: Are we as a society then ready to accept alternative forms of
energy, given that these would require changes in our way of life?

J. S-A.: Nobody appreciates being told what to do, especially if it is
linked to an ultimatum. But given the freedom to choose, we become willing
to accept responsibility and keen to achieve. We need the right conditions
in place to be able to pursue our common interests with regard to energy,
without imposing limits on what we can achieve.

R. R.: I’m convinced that the electricity industry can’t refuse to invest in
renewable energy resources for ever. It will have to give up its opposition
to new legal conditions. From an economic point of view alternative forms of
energy are superior to nuclear power.
                       CONTEXT: SWISS NUCLEAR ENERGY
April 26 1986: Reactor four at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine
explodes, releasing a cloud of radiation.
May 3 1986: The Swiss authorities publish precautionary measures against
radioactive fallout, advising pregnant women not to drink fresh milk, and to
wash thoroughly all fresh produce.
21 June 1986: Over 20,000 protest against nuclear energy outside a power
plant in Gösgen.
1988: The government shelves plans to build two new reactors, in the face of
growing public opposition.
23 September 1990: Voters approve a ten-year moratorium on the building of
new reactors.
22 October 1998: The government signals it is in favour of a phasing out of
nuclear energy.
18 May 2003: Voters reject a proposal for a new moratorium on building new
plants, as well as an initiative calling for a phasing out of nuclear
1 February 2005: A revised nuclear energy law comes into force. A referendum
on building new plants is planned.
Switzerland has five nuclear power plants, capable of producing 3.2
Gigawatts of electricity, including: Beznau I und II (operational from

1969, 1972) Mühleberg (1972) Gösgen (1978) Leibstadt (1984) Nuclear
power supplies 38% of Switzerland’s energy (this can rise to 45% in
winter), compared with a European average of 33%.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
          Children were particularly hit by the high levels of radioactivity, Deutsche Welle, Bonn Germany, Tuesday, April 18, 2006

BERLIN – In a report released Tuesday, environmental organization Greenpeace
said the consequences of the Chernobyl reactor disaster are being played
down. The number of victims will far surpass official figures, it said.  The
health consequences of the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe 20 years ago are
much more extensive than initially assumed, according to environmental group

“No can say for certain how many people will die as a result of Chernobyl,”
said Greenpeace’s nuclear expert Thomas Breuer. “The effects of the
radioactivity are too manifold and the data is insufficient.”

The Chernobyl Forum — a group of specialists, including representatives of
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health
Organization (WHO) — last September presented a report on the health
effects of the Chernobyl accident which concluded that 4,000 – 9,000 people
died, or will die, from radiogenic cancer.

“Whoever claims that there were 4,000 victims is denying the gravity of this
disaster and ignoring the suffering of countless people,” Breuer said.
In a report Greenpeace released in Berlin, Kiev and Amsterdam on Tuesday,
the organization did not disclose casualty figures, which it said was not
possible, as the health consequences would not be able to be assessed for a
long time yet. However, Greenpeace said the figures cited by the Chernobyl
Forum painted too harmless a picture.

The Greenpeace report integrates many studies not considered in the West,
including ones from the Russian-speaking world. The report shows that the
radiation exposure from the catastrophe on April 26, 1986 caused a very wide
spectrum of illnesses.

According to Greenpeace, there is a lot of information on the frequency of
illnesses, in particular cancer. The IAEA figures represented the lower end
of these estimations, the group said.

The latest studies by the Russian Academy of Sciences on the countries
Belarus, Ukraine and Russia estimate 270,000 additional cases of cancer, of
which 93,000 are likely to end in death. Other studies assumed even worse
                       THE FIGURES “DON’T ADD UP”
Greenpeace is not alone in doubting the official figures. Radiobiologist
Edmund Lengfelder from the University of Munich estimated the number of

dead “liquidators” — technicians and rescue workers, who cleaned up and
safeguarded the area after the explosion — at 50,000 to 100,000.

“The figures declared by world authorities don’t add up from start to
finish,” Lengfelder said. The organization International Physicians for the
Prevention of Nuclear War also estimates casualty figures of this magnitude.

“Even the IAEA assumes in its estimates more deaths than it publicly
states,” said Greenpeace’s Breuer. “You just have to read the fine print in
its study. What the authority does there is consciously playing down the
worst nuclear accident ever.”

This provided the nuclear industry with figures more suited to their sector
and the over 440 nuclear power plants worldwide, Breuer said.
For illnesses besides cancer, the Greenpeace study showed a rise in cases in
affected areas in comparison to other regions. It was assumed the
radioactivity attacked people’s immune systems and also changed their
genetic make-up, the group said. The connection to radiation in individual
cases could not be proven, but the figures suggested this suspicion.

Greenpeace called for a worldwide phasing out of nuclear energy.
ENTIRE REPORT: The Chernobyl Catastrophe: Consequences on Human Health
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

: The Manila Times, Manila, Philippines, Mon, Apr 24, 2006

IT has been two decades since several explosions ripped through a nuclear
plant in Ukraine, at that time still a part of the Soviet Union, instantly
killing at least 60 people and releasing a huge radioactive cloud that
spread through most of Europe and reached even North America.

The meltdown at the Chernobyl plant on April 26, 1986, is the world’s worst
civilian nuclear disaster. Its fallout has been more than just radioactive;
the tragedy hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union and triggered
debates over just how safe nuclear energy is.

Up until now, blame for the disaster has not been pinned down. What is known
is that power in one of the plant’s reactors had surged 100 times after the
water coolant vaporized.

The death toll is also a source of fierce debate. A 600-page report by seven
United Nations agencies released in September said fewer than 50 deaths can
be directly attributable to radiation during the first months after the
accident, much lower than previously believed. Nine of the 4,000 children
who developed thyroid cancer had died, a survival rate of 99 percent, the
report added.

The Greenpeace environmental group disputed the UN’s findings and accused
the organization of covering up the disaster. In its own report, Greenpeace
estimated that 93,000 more people could die of cancer because of radiation
from Chernobyl.

The cost of preventing radiation from further leaking from the devastated
facility has been high. Ukrainian authorities have encased the reactor in a
concrete sarcophagus, but the covering is showing signs of wear. A new

steel sarcophagus would cost nearly $2 billion, an expense Ukraine cannot
shoulder on its own.
The farms and forests around the facility have been declared an exclusion
zone. No one except scientists and authorized personnel is allowed to
venture into the “hot” areas.

The consequences of the Chernobyl accident resonate even louder today, when
the price of oil in the world market has soared to record heights. Nuclear
energy has long been touted as an efficient and clean alternative power
source to oil and coal. The question is: is it safe?

Here in the Philippines there is a plan to revive the idle nuclear plant in
Morong, Bataan. The facility was built in 1976 after oil-producing Arab
countries imposed an embargo, plunging the world into an oil crisis. The
plant, which was supposed to produce 621 megawatts of electricity, was
finished in 1984 but never went online. Then President Corazon Aquino
refused to open the plant, citing safety issues.

Reopening the plant is a tempting proposition, but authorities should not
rush to judgment. It is true that nuclear plants do not emit greenhouse
gases and the volume of waste produced is small. But there is always the
risk of a major accident.

We cannot afford another Chernobyl.                       -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

By Maria Danilova, Associated Press Writer, AP
Bartolomeyevka, Belarus, Sunday, April 23, 2006

BARTOLOMEYEVKA, BELARUS –  The map says Bartolomeyevka is off-limits.

A sign at the outskirts displays the international radiation symbol and says “Do
Not Enter.” But smoke rises from the chimneys of wooden houses, dogs bark
and villagers go about their business.

Bartolomeyevka is one of scores of contaminated villages in Belarus that are
being revived 20 years after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion, nudged
back to life by a government that says the farmland is badly needed, that
the radiation threat is overblown, and that people claiming
radiation-related diseases may simply be seeking a government handout.

Bartolomeyevka suffered such high radiation levels that its several dozen
inhabitants were evacuated. However, over the past decade 10 villagers have
moved back, disregarding the radiation warnings. In neighboring villages –
labeled contaminated but still suitable for living – many others are
returning, along with job-seeking migrants from impoverished ex-Soviet

On Bartolomeyevka’s surface, it looks like renewal – but resignation is at
the core. “You cannot escape your death,” said 70-year-old Ivan Muzychenko.
“It’s better to die of radiation than of hunger.” As evacuees, he and his
wife, Yelena, lived hand-to-mouth. Here, along with a combined monthly
pension worth about $200, their vegetable garden, 10 geese, a cow and a pig
add desperately needed nutrition.

Muzychenko dismisses warnings that the vegetables and animals are probably
contaminated, and gathers berries and mushrooms in the nearby woods.

A fifth of Belarus’ area was evacuated after the April 26, 1986, explosion
in neighboring Ukraine, and health officials say about 20 percent of the
country’s 10 million people suffer from radiation-linked ailments including
thyroid and circulation problems. Official figures say 1,100 square miles,
less than 1.5 percent of Belarus’ territory, remains too irradiated for
human habitation.

The government of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko – the same
government that put up the warning signs at Bartolomeyevka – is encouraging
resettlement. Activists and doctors complain that it is ignoring radiation
dangers, cheating on illness statistics and refusing to care for ailing
children and adults.

Bartolomeyevka’s neighboring village, Belyayevka, was recently taken off the
list of highly contaminated population centers, stripping its villagers of a
$20 monthly supplement for living there. Mothers say the payment is still
justified because most of the village’s 58 children have health problems and
need healthy food and vitamins.

Belarusian workers who participated in the cleanup at Chernobyl have also
seen their benefits sharply reduced.

Nineteen collective farms in the region have been revived to grow crops
which officials say can be rendered safe with special fertilizers; another
39 farms are awaiting their turn.

Vladimir Tsalko, head of the State Chernobyl Committee, the official agency
for dealing with Chernobyl’s consequences, says the goal is “to teach people
to earn money and invest it into the region.” When asked if economics are
more important than health, he is frank: “Yes. We need those lands. … Who
will feed them?”

Activists say their independent studies find people in contaminated areas
still displaying high radiation doses from locally made food. They say more
should be done to warn returnees of the dangers.

“To take advantage of people’s lack of information and lull them into
believing that it is safe there is the biggest crime there can be,” said
Valentina Smolnikova, of the Children of Chernobyl group.

Smolnikova said the radiation effects have been devastating. She said her
group’s study of one district in the contamination zone showed cases of
congenital anomalies have increased fourfold, the number of cancers have
doubled and the number of heart attacks is seven times higher than before
the accident.

She said she is struggling to get foreign funding to monitor and treat
children’s contamination levels because the state shows little interest and
minimizes the numbers. The government denies it.

Victims also complain the government is reluctant to link radiation to
health problems such as heart disease, cancerous growths and diabetes. Yakov
Kenigsberg, the Chernobyl State Committee’s top medical expert, says only
thyroid cancer is internationally recognized as directly caused by radiation
contamination and calls attempts to link other diseases with the Chernobyl
accident “stupidity,” suggesting the motive often is monetary compensation.

But, Tamara Kurbatova, a 40-year-old unemployed mother of three in the town
of Buda-Koshelevo, sharply disagrees. Her 4-year-old son, Pavel, is being
treated for eye cancer, and after years of struggle, she has won official
recognition that it’s the result of his mother’s radiation levels while he
was in the womb. That entitles the boy to financial aid.

“It is a miracle he is still alive,” Kurbatova said. “But what awaits him I
don’t know.”                                     -30-
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Twenty years ago Chernobyl power plant exploded. Now a tourist attraction. 
    Joins a group for what must be the most unusual day-trip in the world.

By Bernice Davison,
Telegraph, London, United Kingdom, Saturday, April 22, 2006

The soldier in his padded blue-and-grey winter jacket and traditional
sheepskin ushanka hat read my passport very slowly, struggling to identify
the Western-alphabet surname so he could check it against the Cyrillic list
on his clipboard. He finally found me and lifted the road barrier to let us
through, with just the hint of a smile of amused curiosity for these mad
foreigners arriving in the depths of the Ukrainian winter.

I was taking what must be one of the strangest day trips in the world. The
minibus – old, battered and with a tidemark of salt-rimmed dirt – had picked
us up from our upmarket Kiev hotel and joined the traffic, heavy with
Hummers and black-windowed Mercs, on the multi-lane highway out of town.

The endless apartment blocks gave way on the outskirts of the Ukrainian
capital to small scatterings of low-rise homes, some of them detached, with

gardens and parking spaces.

For two hours we drove north-east towards the Belarus border, through flat
open fields – the famed Ukrainian “black earth”, from which the collective
farms produced wheat for Mother Russia. Snow muffled sound and added

to a sense of the unreal as we approached our destination, the place the
Ukrainians call Chornobyl.

We know it as Chernobyl, the power plant where, on April 26, 1986, the
world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred. A red-and-white striped barrier
across the road marked the beginning of the 18-mile exclusion zone around
the nuclear reactors.

For the last few miles before we reached it, small settlements of
single-storey dachas and concrete beet-processing plants lay deserted and

derelict by the roadside. You need permission to enter both the exclusion
zone and the three-mile inner “dead zone” at the heart of the area.

Twenty years on from the accident that changed the world’s attitudes towards
nuclear power, permission does not seem to be hard to get; companies
offering day trips from Kiev are becoming as widespread as the city’s
Ukrainian brides’ agencies.

I wonder just how much regret the men of the reactor crew at Chernobyl-4
had to live with (if, indeed, they survived), following their decision to
test how long the turbines would continue to supply power after the main
electrical supply failed. These older-style reactors were known to be
unstable at low power settings.

The resulting disaster – the explosion, fire and release into the atmosphere
of tons of radioactive material and gases – became infamous. But on April
26, 1986, no one was aware of the unfolding catastrophe, not even the
45,000 workers and their families living in Pripyat, the so-called “workers’
paradise” city with its new apartments, schools and hospitals.

We drove through Pripyat’s almost completely deserted streets after a
briefing at the Chernobyl City Visitor’s Centre, where explanations of
roentgens (units of exposure to radiation) and statistics about radiation
and pollution were sobering. But they did not have the same impact as
standing in the disintegrating remains of a Pripyat school, staring at
photographs of children proudly smiling for the camera at a gymnastics

The fading pictures were still pinned to the noticeboard outside that very
gym. Birch saplings were growing through the ruptured block flooring; snow
was falling through the gaping roof. I wondered how many of the children
were still alive and well. The town was not evacuated until days after the

The Mary Celeste theme is repeated throughout Pripyat. Apartments still
contain the families’ possessions: they could take nothing except some
photographs and money. Everything was, and remains, contaminated. But this
hasn’t deterred scavengers. A rusting Ferris wheel and dodgems stood in the
playground, ready for the 1986 May Day holiday, which was never observed.
Every dodgem car’s electric motor has been removed.

Like the fields full of disintegrating “hot” vehicles – helicopters, tanks,
trucks, concrete mixers, bicycles and wheelbarrows – the zone is a surreal
picture of abandonment. It is said to be safe to visit for a few hours (even
hotspots have roentgen counts of only about 22), as long as you touch
nothing, especially metal, and take care where you walk, as the buildings
and even the drains beneath your feet are beginning to collapse.

It’s hard to tease apart fact and fiction about the consequences of the
Chernobyl disaster. Millions of people were probably irradiated. Leukemia
and thyroid cancer rates (especially in children) in countries across
eastern and northern Europe increased, yet official figures put the
accident’s death toll merely in double figures.

The tens of thousands of Soviet citizens conscripted to help the clean-up,
and who must have been badly affected, do not seem to be counted among
the official victims. International furore over the incident – and
especially the secrecy surrounding it – accelerated the disintegration of the

Soviet Union.

At the No 4 reactor, we stood across the roadway in the double-glazed
observation room, watching the roentgen counter clock tick happily away
between 12 and 14 (a perfectly normal count for most cities, we were
assured). I stared at the intimidating bulk of the huge reactor, with its
surrounding “sarcophagus” of concrete, built to shield the lethal contents,
and listened to an explanation of why 28 countries are donating billions of
dollars and limitless expertise to building a further new overcoat for this
troublesome building.

I had expected the reactor to be cordoned off and abandoned, but workers
were being disgorged from buses outside, preparing to cross the road for
their next shift. Hundreds of people – electricians, carpenters, doctors,
hydrologists, miners, meteorologists, scientists, cooks and cleaners – work
each day in the heart of the dead zone, still trying to contain and clean up
the reactor. “We can work in Chernobyl city for 15 days at a stretch,” Oleg
Maxim, our guide, explained. “But then we have to leave the exclusion zone
completely and go back to the city for at least 15 days.”

Those working inside the reactor, even protectively clothed and with
respirators, can stay for only five minutes. The earlier jokes about
returning from this day trip glowing in the dark started to sound more than
a little trite.

We checked our radiation levels by gripping the bars of an ancient dosimeter
(it looks like a Soviet-style speak-your-weight machine), before being
served the lunch provided on the all-inclusive tour. Our rad levels were all
fine, but none of us had any appetite.

It could have been the brassica-heavy menu (cabbage salad, cabbage borscht,
chicken with cabbage dumplings) or perhaps it was wariness, despite the
assurances that the food, like everything else consumed in Chernobyl city,
is brought in from outside the zone.

But how far outside the zone is far enough? After two decades, British farms
are still deemed to be contaminated. The Department of Health last month
admitted that more than 200,000 sheep are grazing on land contaminated by
fallout from the explosion.

Appetite loss lasts only so long in the Ukrainian winter. By the time we had
made the return journey to Kiev, our six-strong group was ready for dinner
at a traditional restaurant, where over Russian beer and Ukrainian vodka we
talked over the day’s outing. It was, we agreed, the most sobering and
bizarrely memorable day out we had ever taken.            -30-
                          UKRAINE AND BELARUS BASICS
The ‘Winter Belarus and Ukraine’ seven-day adventure break with Explore
costs lbs749, including Austrian Airlines fights (via Vienna) to Minsk,
returning from Kiev, five nights’ hotel b&b, and overnight sleeper train
from Minsk to Kiev. A further local payment of US$150 must be made,

in cash, on arrival. The Chernobyl day trip costs between lbs20 and lbs50,
depending on group size.
Explore’s adventure breaks include wolf tracking in Poland, whale spotting
off Norway and joining the Silk Road in Armenia. For availability and online
booking see breaks or call 0870 333 4001.

When travelling in eastern Europe in winter, dress in layers of thermal
clothing, winter walking boots and well-insulated hats and gloves. January
average temperatures are -8C to -10 C, but this year dropped to -28C. The
high humidity level chills to the bone.

You will need a visa for Belarus; to apply you need an invitation to visit,
or confirmation of your accommodation bookings. Explore uses the visa
specialist Travcour UK (

Take mint-condition US dollars or euros. Change all local money back before
you leave; its worthless elsewhere. The cities have some ATM machines. Be
sure you have inside pockets big enough to keep your camera warm; it could
freeze if carried outside. Take plenty of batteries. Always carry your
passport: you may be asked for ID anywhere, especially in Minsk, if you take
photographs. Keep well away from political demonstrations, which can quickly

become violent. [This may be true for Belarus but certainly not for Ukraine.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
             Send in a letter-to-the-editor today. Let us hear from you.

Andrew McLeod, Ottawa Sun, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Sat, Apr 22, 2006

OTTAWA – TWENTY years ago, while a 19-year-old soldier in the Soviet Red
Army, Mychailo Ryndzak thought he would be sent to fight in the war in
Afghanistan where, according to him, troops from the Ukraine often ended up.
“Most Soviet troops in Afghanistan were from the Ukraine,” Ryndzak said.
“Russia feared Ukrainian nationalism.”

Instead, he ended up being assigned to a war zone of a different kind, one
equally as life-threatening and which would eventually be remembered as the
worst nuclear accident in history.  Deployed to the Chornobyl nuclear
reactor disaster in 1986, Ryndzak was placed in a dangerous situation and
the effects still impact his life today.

“I was still in college and can remember the panic,” he said. “We only found
out (about the accident) three days (after it occurred). I was told that I
was going to Chornobyl to serve my country. I didn’t know what radiation
meant.” Ryndzak arrived in the Chornobyl area around the middle of June
1986, about two months after the April 26 disaster.
“I was based near the nuclear plant, not exactly on it,” he said. He was
assigned to work as a projectionist, showing movies to soldiers coming back
from cleanup work at the disaster site to keep their spirits up. Throughout
that year, he witnessed the effects that large amounts of radiation can have
upon nature and human society. “Gradually, I began to notice leaves and pine
needles turning orange in the middle of summer,” he said. “The apples on the
trees turned colour from orange to green to yellow.”

Entire cities were affected by the radiation. “The city of Prypjat once had
a population of 50,000. When I went there it looked like a war zone. It was
completely abandoned,” Ryndzak said. “There used to be collective farms in
the area and they were all abandoned. Cows were walking aimlessly down the

As disturbing as this was for Ryndzak, his personal exposure to the
radiation has had the most devastating impact on him. Due to the local
administrator of the military not allowing him any vacation time, Ryndzak
ended up being exposed to radiation for 36 days, which ended up affecting
his health.

“I went home in the spring of 1987, by which time my clothes were
contaminated with radioactive dust. A doctor told me that I had a 3.1
hemoglobin when I left the Chernobyl plant. He said that if it had been 3.0,
I would have been dead. It still isn’t back to normal, but is improving.”

Ryndzak moved to Canada in 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed. Two
years ago, a tragic incident led to the discovery that his exposure to
radiation has resulted in his being unable to have children.

“After looking through a microscope, it was discovered that my sperm was
deformed and dead and that there was some type of mutation. I’m left with
the question of whether to possibly have a mutant child or no child at all.”

Ryndzak remains angry about what happened 20 years ago saying some of the
most fertile land in Europe was devastated. “What idiot would build a
nuclear station in the middle of a breadbasket? Now the land in that area
can’t be used for 50,000 years. People had to relocate and build new
settlements. There are still people there today who are getting cancer,” he
said. “In a way, it’s a form of genocide as those people (with similar
symptoms to his) can never reproduce.”

Ryndzak believes the Ukraine should sue Russia for the damage caused to its
environment and population. “This (disaster) happened because of the curse
of the politics of the Soviet Union. Safety issues were neglected. They
didn’t care about the environment,” he said.

Ryndzak said he is concerned about the growing popularity of nuclear power.
“I see the advert on the TV about ‘nuclear being clear.’ To me, it isn’t
clear, but dangerous,” he said. “Yes, we need energy, but what if it goes
out of control? Are we prepared?” (
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Sun, Apr 23, 2006

For her daughter Zoya’s 12th birthday, Raissa Galechko was hosting a picnic
in the woods of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.  The infamous date was April
26, 1986. “It was a beautiful day,” recalls Galechko, 60, as she pores over
old photos in her Mississauga home. “We were in bikinis taking suntans. The
mothers were picking sorrel and the kids were playing ball and climbing

She shakes her head at all they did not know then, and all that still lay
ahead. “And at the same time the reactor was on fire and we didn’t know
anything. Heavy radiation was spreading over the sorrel we were picking and
over the trees our kids were playing in and nobody knew.”

That just 90 km away, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor had exploded and their
lives would never be the same. For 10 days the fire raged, expelling 172
tonnes of toxic materials into the atmosphere, clouds of which drifted
across northern Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and more than 14 European
countries. It wasn’t until alarm bells went off at a Swedish power station
that the world learned of the disaster the Soviets had tried to hide.

The USSR waited almost three long days before it confirmed the “minor
accident” with a terse statement read by a Moscow broadcaster. Still, they
gave no warning of the poison that had been unleashed.

Galechko was a well-known journalist at the state-run Ukraine magazine when
she heard rumours that all communist party officials had suddenly moved
their families out of Kiev. “Even if I’d seen the fire at Chernobyl I
wouldn’t have known what it meant,” she explains.

“But when you’re a mother you have this security trigger inside. You know
nothing, but you have the intuition that something is very wrong and my
first thought was my daughter, my daughter.” The single mother hastily made
plans for them to spend the next few months by the Azov Sea thousands of
kilometres away. But for her daughter Zoya, it may have already been too

Those living within 30 km of the power plant were evacuated within days. But
there was nowhere to hide from the cloud of radiation that drifted over the
former USSR.

Nadia Zastavna remembers it as the most glorious spring. On May Day, the
biggest Soviet holiday, she and her children joined thousands in her
Ukrainian town of Ternopil to celebrate with a traditional parade.
“Everybody was outside, my oldest son and my youngest — he had just been
born that January,” recalls Zastavna, now the senior administrator of the
Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund. “The weather was gorgeous. Your skin
got red but we thought it was from the sun. But it wasn’t.”

Just a few days later came the terrifying edicts: Wash your clothes, stay
indoors, close your windows, don’t drink the water. “Everybody was furious
and scared to death,” she says. “Mentally, it was very difficult.”

Her baby would grow to become such a sickly child that doctors feared it
might have leukemia. “You can’t say it was from radiation 100%, but he was
born a very healthy child and after he was constantly sick.”

High incidences of childhood thyroid cancer, sudden premature deaths. Two
decades have passed and the great debate still rages: To what degree is
Chernobyl responsible for the health problems that seemed to follow in its

“There’s no real consensus on the effects yet,” notes Dr. David Marples, a
professor of history at the University of Alberta who has written
extensively on Chernobyl. “There’s so much controversy over the health
effects, the number of casualties, the number of long-term illnesses and
what we might expect in the future.”
                                  JUST 50 DIRECT VICTIMS
The answers tend to depend on a group’s views on the nuclear debate. At one
end of the spectrum is the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy
Agency report last fall, which suggested health effects had been largely
exaggerated and that most of the problems were actually psychological. The
IAEA report argued there were only 50 direct victims of the Chernobyl
disaster and no more than 4,000 will eventually die because of radiation

Countering that view is a recent Greenpeace study that claims the atomic
agency grossly underestimated the effects. “The IAEA has a vested interest
in minimizing the impact of Chernobyl,” argues Shawn-Patrick Stensil, of
Greenpeace Canada, which launched a haunting photo exhibit of Chernobyl
victims commissioned for the anniversary.

The Greenpeace report predicts 93,000 will die of fatal cancers linked to
Chernobyl radiation and more than 200,000 in all will eventually die from
the disaster. But then, they are hardly objective themselves — the
environmental group has a decidedly anti-nuclear agenda.

“There’s no middle ground on Chernobyl,” says Marples, who tends to lean
more towards the Greenpeace version. “The secrecy that occurred in the
Soviet period was really one of the biggest problems because that’s why
we’re in such doubt today about what really happened. All that data was
officially classified.”

Ruslana Wrzesnewskyj doesn’t care about warring statistics; she knows what
she has seen. When she adopted her daughter from Ukraine in 1993, the
orphanages were crowded with children who had been born with deformities or
left by parents who had suddenly died young.

The Toronto realtor was so shaken by what she saw that she founded Help us
Help the Children, a project of the Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund that
has assisted thousands of orphan victims with summer camps, medicines and
                               ‘CALLED THE SILENT KILLER’
“All you have to do is travel through Ukraine,” she says. “It’s called the
silent killer. It’s a horrible thing to come into a town and see that half
of the people in their 40s are dead.”

To this day, Raissa Galechko doesn’t know if her daughter’s brush with
cancer was caused by the nuclear disaster. No one can prove that it was. No
one can prove that it wasn’t. All she does know is that it opened her eyes
to seeking a new life.

Zoya had always had moles, but they suddenly began to change during the year
after the Chernobyl explosion. When one turned bloody, her mother rushed her
to the local cancer hospital. She will never forget the doctor’s advice
after he diagnosed melanoma and said her daughter needed immediate surgery:
“After the operation, leave for a clean zone.”

Escape suddenly became her goal. “When this happened to Zoya, I knew where
my clean zone was — Canada,” she says. “Chernobyl was the turning point. It
pushed me to leave.” When she arrived here in 1989, penniless and unknown,
the journalist refused advice to seek charity as a victim of Chernobyl.

“I couldn’t show my daughter like a bear in a circus — look at her scars,
give me money,” says the publisher of the satirical Ukrainian monthly
Bcecmix (Laughter). “So many abuse the term ‘victim.’ We are survivors.”

Unlike Galechko, Mychailo “Mike” Ryndzak has no doubt that Chernobyl is
directly responsible for his suffering. It was just two months after the
explosion when the 19-year-old military conscript was ordered to report to
the nuclear plant and run evening films and other propoganda for the
“liquidators” who spent their days cleaning the disaster zone.

“To me, radiation and death were synonyms. I was preparing myself to die,”
he recalls from his home in Ottawa. “According to the officials, everything
was calm, under control and beautiful. But as you know and we learned from
western media sources, obviously it was not under control.”

He could see the mutated plants that surrounded Chernobyl and how all the
surrounding grass and leaves had turned the colour of metal. “I didn’t have
any protection at all. I didn’t have any training at all,” he says bitterly.
“What was happening inside us? Radiation is something invisible but it has
such severe power to change who you are.”
                                            5 WEEKS ‘HOT’
Yet the only time he was issued a respirator was when Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev arrived for a few hours to survey the damage. “And after that, it
was taken away.” Due to the high levels of radiation, crews were replaced
every 10 days. But there was a scarcity of projectionists, so Ryndzak was
left in the hot zone for five weeks.

His body would never be the same. In 1989, after his arrival in Canada, his
teeth suddenly began to crumble. Blood tests revealed an almost fatally low
red cell count. But he believes his time in the radioactive zone left him
with a far more crushing legacy.  “It affected my fertility,” the
39-year-old says softly. “I will never have children.”

So he cannot forget Chernobyl on its 20th anniversary, not when its shadow
haunts him to this day. “This is a tragedy that is ongoing,” Ryndzak warns.
“God knows what consequences are waiting in the future.”     -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
        20 years after the world’s worst nuclear accident, millions have sunk
         into an apathy that lets them eat yields of land they know is tainted

By Alex Rodriguez, Tribune foreign correspondent
Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Sunday, April 23, 2006

STRELECHEVO, Belarus – Long ago, this sleepy farm hamlet ringed by

vast stands of birch and pine near the Ukrainian border stopped fighting back.

After the April 26, 1986, explosion that blew the roof off Reactor 4 at
Chernobyl in what now is northern Ukraine, Strelechevo and hundreds of
villages like it dutifully steeled themselves from the fallout of history’s
worst nuclear accident.

Villagers routinely scrubbed outside walls and roofs, and had their milk,
wheat and potatoes checked for radioactive contamination. They skimmed off
contaminated topsoil around schools and relied on radiation maps to discern
where mushroom-picking in nearby woodlands was ill-advised.

But as years passed, their resolve wore away and resignation took root. Many
in the region refer to the small stipends they receive from their respective
governments as “funeral money.” The crops, milk and meat yielded by their
farms is tainted with radioactive cesium, but they still put it on their
dinner tables.

“We know this food is contaminated–we simply have no other choice,” said
Svetlana Gretchenko, 35, a milkmaid at Strelechevo’s collective farm and a
mother of three. “At night when I go to bed, I thank God and ask him to give
me and my children the chance to wake up in the morning.”

The malaise that shrouds Strelechevo reflects what many researchers say is
the biggest challenge facing communities coping with the fallout of
Chernobyl 20 years later: the psychological damage wrought by disaster on 5
million Belarusians, Ukrainians and Russians.

“The psychological impact is now considered to be Chernobyl’s biggest health
consequence,” said Louisa Vinton, a senior project manager for the United
Nations Development Program, which helped produce a comprehensive study
of the accident’s impact. “People have been led to think of themselves as
victims over the years, and are therefore more apt to take a passive
approach toward their future rather than developing a system of

“There’s a sense of waiting for rescue from a rescuer that never comes,”
Vinton said. “It’s a real impediment to people being able to take charge of
their lives again.”

The breadth of Chernobyl’s impact is vast. Radioactive fallout carried by
the wind appeared in reindeer meat in Sweden and in rain in the Pacific
Northwest. Regions in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine can expect to remain
contaminated with cesium-137 for decades. Economically, the disaster cost
the former Soviet Union hundreds of billions of dollars.

The toll on physical health remains a fiercely debated topic. A study by
eight UN organizations, including the UNDP and the International Atomic
Energy Agency, concluded that past estimates of a death toll in the tens of
thousands were grossly exaggerated. Instead, the September 2005 study put
the number of past and future deaths that can be attributed Chernobyl at
                        GREENPEACE: TOLL MUCH HIGHER
That figure have been hotly disputed by Greenpeace and other organizations,
which estimate that as many 93,000 people may die of cancer and other
illnesses associated with Chernobyl. Greenpeace, which opposes nuclear
power, accused the UN study of “whitewashing” Chernobyl’s health impact.

However, even critics of the UN study agree that dealing with the
psychological, social and economic toll Chernobyl took on millions of
Belarusians, Ukrainians and Russians is a priority that until now has gone
largely ignored.

That toll is readily seen in Belarus, which absorbed 70 percent of the
disaster’s fallout and is home to more than 2.5 million people living on
contaminated land. A host of factors–fear of radiation illness, the
production and consumption of contaminated food, government
neglect–combined to embitter many Belarusians and impede recovery.

“Their emotions have deteriorated into an advanced form of apathy,” said
Tamara Belookaya, director of a Belarusian non-governmental organization
called Children of Chernobyl. “They don’t trust their government or each
other, and they don’t consider themselves a community.”

The seed for that distrust was planted within hours after a botched
experiment led to a huge explosion at 1:23 a.m. April 26, 1986, at the
Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet authorities hushed up the accident as
best they could, saying nothing about it on state television and radio and
waiting three days before beginning to evacuate nearby populations.

For 10 days, more than 50 tons of radioactive gases and nuclear fuel
particles spewed from the rubble of the reactor. Thousands of workers known
as “liquidators” were dispatched to the site to join plant employees in
cleanup work. Vilya Prokopov, then a 46-year-old engineer at the plant, had
the task of helping disconnect all of the wiring in the plant’s control
center. He worked without protective gear, wearing only the white jumpsuit
assigned to Chernobyl workers.

By the second day, his throat was raw from radioactive iodine in the air.
“My throat was burned,” said Prokopov, 66, who now lives in Slavutych, a
small city in northern Ukraine built for Chernobyl liquidators. “I couldn’t
speak. I just whispered.”

Radioactive iodine-131 from the explosion was responsible for a sharp rise
in thyroid cancer in the region. The UN study put the number of
Chernobyl-related thyroid cancer cases at 4,000; Greenpeace’s report,
released earlier this month, predicted as many as 60,000 such cases linked
to the disaster. However, iodine-131’s short half-life, eight days, made it
less of a long-term threat than other contaminants released in the
explosion, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90, which have half-lives that
last decades.
                             CREATING DEPENDENCY?
After the accident, Soviet authorities resettled more than 350,000 people
outside the region’s most heavily contaminated areas. They also established
an extensive system of social and medical benefits that included 7 million
people. The UN study argued that the system cast too wide a net, creating a
culture of dependency that hampered the region’s recovery.

“The number of people claiming Chernobyl-related benefits soared over time,
rather than declined,” the report stated. “As the economic crisis of the
1990s deepened, registration as a victim of Chernobyl became for many the
only means of access to an income, and to vital aspects of health provision,
including medicines.”

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, ambitious rehabilitation projects in
contaminated areas, such as the construction of new gas pipelines to farming
communities in Belarus, were abandoned. Younger Belarusians and villagers
with a trade or profession moved away, depleting the labor force in their
communities and skewing the balance between each village’s birth and death

“In many villages, up to 60 percent of the population is made up of
pensioners,” said Vasily Nesterenko, director of the Belrad Radiation Safety
and Protection Institute in Minsk, Belarus’ capital. “In most of these
villages, the number of people able to work is two or three times lower than

Though cesium-137 from the explosion poisoned roughly a fourth of Belarus’
farmland, President Alexander Lukashenko’s administration has pushed hard to
renew farming in contaminated areas.

At some collective farms, the Belarusian government has tried to minimize
the risk of producing tainted crops and fodder, instituting steps such as
soil tilling to bury radioactive particles beyond the reach of crop roots.
However, most farms have yet to adopt such measures, said Children of
Chernobyl’s Belookaya.

Villagers are all too aware that they are tending contaminated crops and
livestock and consuming tainted food. “Where can we buy clean food?
Nowhere,” said Maria Bordak, 70, a field worker at Strelechevo’s collective
farm. “So we have to eat this. What is destined to happen, will happen to

That kind of fatalism worries researchers who have studied Chernobyl’s
impact. “That’s where we think public policy should be directed,” said
UNDP’s Vinton. “Let’s help people get back their own fates and destinies.
You don’t have to sit there and say, `We’re doomed because of radiation.'”
Alex Rodriguez,,1,6770857.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

By Jonathan Gorvett in Pripyat, Ukraine, Doha, Qatar, Saturday 22 April 2006

PRIPYAT, UKRAINE – As the world marks the 20th anniversary of the

world’s worst nuclear disaster in the northern Ukrainian town of Chernobyl,
survivors still grapple with the memories – and fallout – of the radioactive
disaster. “I remember looking back at the plant after the explosion,”
recalls Valentina Prokopivna, then the chief librarian in the nearby town of
Pripyat. “It was like looking into a furnace.”

In the hours and days that followed the explosion on April 26, 1986, the
burning reactor sent clouds of radioactive dust into the atmosphere, which
then scattered across the world. Along this path of radioactivity, many have
since developed cancers and other diseases – although the number of
casualties is still the subject of contention.

Official estimates from the three former Soviet countries affected –
Ukraine, Belarus and Russia – say around 25,000 had died by 2005. But 20
years after the accident, many of the survivor’s descendants are still
suffering the effects of the nuclear fallout.
                                        CHILD VICTIMS
Irradiated parents have also passed on problems to their offspring. Out of
the 3 million people officially recognised as victims of Chernobyl by the
Ukrainian government, 642,000 are children.

“It’s a problem now,” continues Prokopivna, who now runs the Chernobyl
Union’s Children’s Fund, a charity for child victims of the disaster.
“Ukraine has never fully stressed that this is not a problem of the past,
but of the present,” she says.

“That night, you could also see this shining light going up into the sky
from the burning reactor,” Prokopivna told “It was this
strange colour. Later, my 5-year-old son developed spots on his neck that
were the same colour as that light.”
                                         NOT LEAVING
Nevertheless, many families have continued to live in the Chernobyl zone,
despite the fact that the soil and water for 30km around the plant is still
heavily irradiated. They face the likelihood of throat cancer and serious
damage to their neurological systems.

Some families in the zone have taken to selling their apartments to pay for
treatment for their children, but they often succumb to their ailments.
“We try to help the children who live in the zone,” says Prokopivna. “A
partial solution is that we have a programme to send 350-500 of them abroad,
to Italy or Germany, for two months of the year.

“There they can live somewhere healthy and the change in them is dramatic.
We are always thanking God or Allah for this help – as there is only one god
for this. But we need more help. What we can do is such a small drop.”
                                      FATEFUL DECISION
On the night of April 26, Soviet-era plant managers were conducting an
experiment to boost electricity output by heating up Chernobyl’s Reactor
No.4 beyond its normal limits.

Yuri, who was working in the plant control room that night, says he is
haunted with questions of what he personally should – or could – have done.
“We were ordered to do certain things – the plant boss wanted to win a
medal, as these were very popular in those days.

“So he ordered us to do things to the reactor which we knew were dangerous
and which we should have stopped,” he says, unwilling to disclose his

“But how can you disobey orders, how can you do the right thing, when the
consequence of doing the right thing is that nothing happens – there is no
disaster, and there is no reason apparent then for having ignored the

Yuri was lucky to have escaped. Ordered to go upstairs from the main control
room to check water levels, he took the elevator to the 18th floor, took
four steps forward when the doors opened and then “the reactor exploded. I
turned round to see the elevator crushed, smoke everywhere”.

After desperately trying to switch the plant’s computers – shut down by the
explosion – back on, Yuri finally realised the extent of the disaster when
he looked out the window. “There was something hypnotic about it. There was
a light, a neon light glowing around the reactor in the darkness – this was
in the middle of the night. “I remember looking at this light and then deep
down inside me something told me to get out of there, to go – that this
light was going to kill me.”
                                      RADIOACTIVE DUST
By the time he reached his home in Pripyat, 1km away, he was already
suffering severe radiation sickness and fell into a coma. Two days later,
the entire town of 40,000 people was evacuated.

Prokopivna, the former librarian, says: “I first got a glimpse of the scale
of the disaster when I was standing outside the police station in Pripyat,
at about 11pm the night after the explosion.

“I saw a whole lot of young conscript soldiers in these plastic suits come
out of the police station to go up to the reactor and they were so young,
all of them, and looking so scared. A man next to me said ‘they’re not
coming back’.” By this stage, the town had become covered in radioactive
dust, yet the authorities made no official announcement of an explosion.

Meanwhile, hundreds of soldiers, police and firemen had been drafted in to
try and contain the reactor fire by pouring sand and cement over the core,
which was pulsing out massive doses of radiation.

Vladimir Mashenko, at the time an army helicopter pilot, told
“We must have flown hundreds of sorties over the reactor. “In my helicopter,
we had a squad of conscripts who were pouring stuff out the back onto what
was left of the reactor roof. Then there was my crew. I was the only one
still alive five years later.”
                                        RANDOM DEATHS
The radiation claims its victims with an eerie randomness. Like cancers from
smoking, exceptions may live to be a 100, while others die very much

It has also claimed the life of a town – Pripyat, which is still deserted
today and contains pockets of high radiation. Chernobyl plant worker Yuri,
who has been in and out of hospital ever since, recalled how Pripyat
residents were allowed back in September 1986 to collect their belongings.

“It was a terrible situation – to walk through my town and the only things I
could hear were my own footsteps and the wind. It was a feeling I would not
wish on anyone. “You are walking across your native city and it is dead and
it is playing with you and you’re wondering if it will take you with it.”

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

Juliette Jowit, Reporting for The Observer
Observer, Guardian Unlimited, London, UK, Sunday, April 23 2006

“It is 20 years this week since the world’s worst nuclear accident shot huge
amounts of radiation into the Ukraine sky. Now hospital wards there, in
Belarus and in Russia are filled with sick youngsters who are the latest,
but not the last, casualties of the disaster. Juliette Jowit, reporting for
The Observer, visited the victims and the region, where only the wildlife is
still flourishing. Her report follows:

Vitali Prokopenko is cradling his 10-year-old daughter Sasha in his arms as
he opens the door of his flat. He ushers guests into the small living area
so he can sit more comfortably with Sasha in an armchair. As he talks, his
muscular hands are constantly fretting, smoothing the trousers on her
withered legs, shifting her enlarged head to ease the pressure.

Early in the morning of Saturday, April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear
disaster at Chernobyl jettisoned 100 times as much radiation into the
atmosphere as the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. Most fell on the now
independent republics of Belarus, Ukraine, and in western Russia.

In 1996 Sasha was born prematurely at the main hospital in Gomel, Belarus’s
second city. She weighed only 3.7 lbs., but developed well in the first
weeks. Then, at seven months, Vitali and his wife Tanya noticed her head
“becoming bigger and bigger”. The hospital reassured them that children’s
bodies grew at different rates.

Soon afterwards, Sasha developed an infection and was sent to hospital in
the capital Minsk, where doctors found she had hydrocephalus, a condition in
which cerebrospinal fluid builds up, putting pressure on the brain and
swelling the unfixed skulls of small children.

Today Sasha’s head weighs 17.6 lbs., in distorted contrast to her
undeveloped, almost immobile body. The weight gives her pressure sores and
chafing. Vitali does most of the caring, while Tanya, who grew up in the
contamination zone, works as an accountant. Sasha can hear well but cannot
respond easily, says Vitali, but he understands that when she fidgets her
legs she’s hungry, wants a nappy changed or is bored. “I get support from
Sasha,” says Vitali. “I don’t know how I’d live without her.”

A girl of 10 with an enlarged head and small body who loves peach and
passionfruit yoghurt could never be a statistic. Nor is Sasha – nor any of
the other children and families supported by Gomel’s hospice – a certain
victim of Chernobyl, just over the border in Ukraine.

Only two people were killed in the explosion, but the lethal legacy of the
accident could scarcely be grasped at the time. Within a few months 31
emergency workers – the “liquidators” – had died. Two decades later,
Chernobyl is blamed for thousands of deaths and has blighted the health,
economic prosperity and social fabric of millions of people, especially in

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency and seven other United
Nations bodies estimated 4,000 people would die as a result of Chernobyl.
The report was greeted by relief and disbelief. Many studies from the World
Health Organization, independent scientists and campaign groups had
predicted a far more catastrophic impact.

In response, a group of disbelievers, led by the European Green party,
commissioned their own study, “The Other Chernobyl Report”, or Torch, which
estimated a toll of between 30,000 and 60,000 premature deaths. Last week
the international Greenpeace campaign group released another study by 50
scientists claiming 200,000 lives would be lost, nearly half from cancers.

In southern Belarus, the evidence of experts and families supports the
scientists who claim Chernobyl’s impact is much worse than the IAEA
forecast. A senior doctor at Gomel children’s hospital claims that as few as
one in four babies born in the region is healthy. The reasons expert
opinions differ so widely range from data collection problems to corruption
and a tangled web of cause and effect in a society dealing with the
explosion’s legacy – the mass evacuations and the devastation.

Radiation would be found almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere, from
the U.S. to Japan, and on hill farms in Wales, some of which are still too
contaminated to sell their produce. The greatest part of the pollution fell
on the three countries nearest the reactor: more than 150,000 square
kilometers – an area the size of England, Wales and Northern Ireland – in
Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia were contaminated; between five million
and nine million people were affected.

Belarus suffered most: according to the World Bank, 70 per cent of the
radioactive fallout landed there, affecting more than 3,600 towns and
villages, 2.5 million people and a quarter of farmland and forests. A
quarter of Belarus still has some contamination. Most of the problem was and
is in the Gomel region.

In early spring the vast birch and pine forests in the 30 kilometer
“exclusion” zone around Chernobyl are still carpeted with thick snow. But
employees who ignore bans on entering or hunting here report the area is
thick with wild mushrooms and berries, animals such as wild boar, elk, wild
goats, wolves, hares and deer are thriving, and fish in the rivers are
bigger than ever. Scientists from the U.S. and Ukraine found nature has
blossomed in the absence of almost any humans.

“In a way it [the radiation] is good for the wildlife … the Ukrainian
government has to make a decision whether to make it a preserved area,” says
one of the official Chernobyl guides, Sergei. But this quiet, beguiling
beauty belies the evil of the silent, invisible, deadly radiation that is
everywhere, immediately around Chernobyl and far beyond in Belarus.

Travelling around Belarus, it is striking how many people know more than
one, sometimes several, friends and relatives who have health problems:
school friends with cancer, a grandson or sister with thyroid problems.

Luba Tagai, a nurse sponsored by the Irish charity Chernobyl Children’s
Project International at the Vesnovo Children’s Asylum, a few hours’ drive
south of Minsk, was eight and living 50 kilometers from Chernobyl in 1986.
She is one of 4,000 children of the town recorded as having thyroid cancer.

Her sister has had the cancer and she regularly gets news of friends falling
ill. “There are lots of young people with different cancers, lung cancer,
thyroid glands removed, leukemia. When I was leaving the region there was a
new cemetery; now it’s full.”

Luba’s story is supported by health and community workers. Vesnovo’s
director, Vecheslav Klimovich, says that, despite a declining birthrate in
Belarus, as many children as ever need beds at the “orphanage”, suffering
from both physical and mental problems. At the day care center in Yelsk,
Andrei Luzan has seen the same trend. At Gomel children’s hospital, the
story is depressingly familiar.

“Before 1985, the common number of kids being born in Gomel region was
28,000 a year and the hospital had 350 beds,” says Olga Pushchenka, the
hospital’s deputy chief doctor. “Now the number of kids being born is about
14,000 and the number of beds is the same and we don’t have spare beds. The
kids suffer more often, and diseases are more severe.”

The most common illnesses are respiratory and rheumatic diseases, heart and
blood problems. Pushchenka says it’s not right to say all these are caused
by Chernobyl; social and environmental problems are also to blame. But, she
adds, “you can see the numbers”.

Later Iryna Kalmanovich, a senior doctor in the hospital’s intensive care
unit, tours the wards, where she says they have daily evidence of a huge
increase in premature children. In several cots are unmoving babies who,
like Sasha, have hydrocephalus. One two-day-old boy is trembling due to a
problem with his nervous system. Many of the tiny bodies are hooked to
ventilators and drips.

“We can give life, but not quality of life,” says Dr. Kalmanovich, standing
in the drab corridor, echoing with children’s chatter. “The number of
absolutely healthy newborns is around 25 per cent, maybe 30 to 40.”

She says the hospital is full of fallout from Chernobyl: “Young women who
were girls then, now they are becoming mothers and the health of those young
women is not really good.”

In a small flat in another grey apartment block in the border town of Yelsk,
Valentina and Victor Panfilenka live with their children, Anna, 13, Anton,
12, and seven-year-old Zenya, who has cerebral palsy. After Anton and Anna
have played the Beatles’ “Yesterday” on accordion and flute and Zenya has
shown off her exercise books, and tea has been served, the Panfilenkas offer
an insight into why official statistics and local opinions differ.

As everyone whose illness is Chernobyl-related qualifies for extra state
benefits, a bill which already costs 1 per cent of the economy, the
authorities have a reason to play down problems. “A few doctors said ‘give
us $2,000 and we’ll get the papers saying her illness is because of
Chernobyl’,” says Valentina Panfilenka. “But we’re tired of proving [it], we
just don’t want to think about it now.”

Other impacts are indirect. The IAEA’s report talks of a “paralyzing
fatalism … negative self-assessments of health, belief in shortened life
expectancy, lack of initiative and dependency on assistance from the state.”
The post-explosion evacuation of 350,000 people scattered communities

across the region and led to escalating rates of divorce, alcoholism and

Belarus’s incarceration rate is the third highest in the world and nearly
one in five people lives below the poverty line. People survive by growing
small crops and keeping a cow or chickens, all feeding off contaminated

The costs of Chernobyl are in the strain of caring for Sasha on Vitali and
Tanya’s marriage, in the tears of the parents of a girl with a brain tumour
called Ann Pesenko, children with rheumatism spending spring afternoons in

The IAEA concerns itself with deaths among an estimated 600,000 emergency
workers and residents of the contaminated areas at the time; it has no
intention of looking at their children. A report to be published this week
by British scientists picked up on this theme. It repeats the IAEA’s finding
that only thyroid cancer has increased, but adds: “Most radiation-related
solid [tumour] cancers continue to occur decades after exposure.”

The scientists found unexpected increases in thyroid cancer in children born
after the isotopes of iodine believed responsible for it would have ceased
to be a danger. “It is still very early days in terms of evaluating the full
radiological impact.”

In a small room in the almost abandoned town of Chernobyl, filled with the
stench and scratching of hundreds of mice, such uncertainty will not be a
big surprise. Viktor Krasnov, head of this radiobiological lab, also says
research has focused on the relatively misunderstood impacts of long-term
exposure to low radiation levels and found it can cause harm. “The effect is
definitely here,” he says.                                   -30-
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