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  • 7/29/2019 Chernobyl. Reuters

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    in chernobyl, adisaster Persists

    REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

    Twenty ve years ater the worst nuclear accident in history, Ukraine and itsneighbours are still dealing with the problems

    By OLZHAS AUyEZOV ANd RICHARd

    BALMFORTH

    PRYPYAT, UKRAINE, MARCH 15

    Any Ukrainian over 35 can tell you wherethey were when they heard about the

    accident at the Chernobyl plant.I remember calling my husband. There

    had been rumours or days about a nuclear

    accident. We had even hung blankets on thewindows to stop radiation because we didntknow what to do, said Natalya, a 46-year-old nancial analyst in Kiev, whose husbandwas a journalist on a daily newspaper.

    He told me there had been a re at theatomic plant in Chernobyl. That was or methe rst conrmation that the reactor hadcollapsed, she said this week, seated at her

    desk in her central Kiev oce.We had no idea what to expect. It was

    awul.As Japan battles to prevent a meltdown at

    its earthquake-hit Fukushima Daini nuclearplant, the people o Ukraine are preparingto mark the 25th anniversary o the worldsworst nuclear accident.

    The physical and nancial legacies o that

    MARCH 2011

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    CHERNOByL MARCH 201

    disaster are obvious: a 30-km uninhabitedring around the Chernobyl plant, billions odollars spent cleaning the region and a majornew eort to drum up 600 million euros ($840million) in resh unds that Kiev says is neededto build a more durable casement over thestricken reactor.

    Just as powerul are the scars that are less

    easily seen: ear and an abiding suspicion thatdespite the reassuring reports by authoritiesand scientic bodies people may still be dyingrom radiation ater-eects.

    While debate about the health impactcontinues, there is little doubt people inUkraine and neighbouring Belarus carry apsychological burden. Repeated studies haveound that exposed populations had anxietylevels that were twice as high as peopleunaected by the accident, according to a2006 United Nations report. Those exposedto radiation were also 3-4 times more likely

    to report multiple unexplained physicalsymptoms and subjective poor health thanwere unaected control groups.

    There are, o course, crucial dierencesbetween Chernobyl and the disaster unoldingin Japan.

    The Chernobyl accident was the product ohuman error when a test was poorly executed,while the Japanese ailure was triggered by anearthquake and tsunami.

    Chernobyl occurred in a secretive Sovietsociety which reormer Mikhail Gorbachevwas only just opening up. The authoritiesembarked on an attempted cover-up andonly partly admitted the truth three dayslater, denying themselves the chance o rapidinternational aid.

    Despite criticisms that Tokyo could be alot more transparent, Japans disaster hastaken place in a relatively open society andinternational help has been quick to come.

    Most importantly, thick containment wallsat the Fukushima Daini plant shield thereactor cores so that even i there was a

    meltdown o the nuclear uel its unlikelyto lead to a major escape o dangerousradioactive clouds into the atmosphere.

    At Chernobyl, there was no containmentstructure. When it blew, it blew everythingstraight out into the atmosphere, said MurrayJennex o San Diego State University.

    Despite those dierences, though, theChernobyl experience still contains lessonsor Japan and other countries, says VolodymyrHolosha, the top Ukrainian EmergencyMinistry ocial in charge o the areasurrounding the Chernobyl plant.

    We were not ready or it -- neithertechnologically nor nancially, Holosha told

    ENTOMBEd:Thesarcophagus around

    the damaged ourth

    reactor at the

    Chernobyl nuclear

    plant. REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

    reporters in Kiev

    last month. Thisis a pricelessexperience orother countries.

    E X P E R I M E N TGONE WRONGIN THE early hourso April 26, 1986,in the modelSoviet town oPrypyat, a satelliteo the much

    bigger Chernobyl,workers at anuclear powerplant demobilisedthe saety systemson the numberour reactor, whichhad come on lineonly three yearspreviously.

    It was a riskyexperiment tosee whether thecooling system could still unction usingpower generated rom the reactor alone inthe event o a ailure in the auxiliary electricitysupply.

    It could not. There was a massive powersurge that blew o the reactors heavyconcrete and metal lid and sent smoulderingnuclear material into the atmosphere. Dozenso plant sta died on the spot or immediatelyaterwards in hospital. Hundreds o thousandso rescue workers, including Soviet Armyconscripts, were rushed to the site to put outthe res, decontaminate it and seal o thedamaged reactor by building a concrete shell

    around it.At rst, authorities denied there was a

    problem. When they nally admitted thetruth more than a day later, many thousandso inhabitants simply picked up a ew o theirbelongings and headed o -- many o themto the capital Kiev 80 km (50 miles) to thesouth, never to return. Iryna Lobanova, 44, acivil servant, was due to get married in Prypyaton the day o the explosion but assumed allceremonies would be cancelled.

    I thought that war had started, she told

    Reuters this week.But the local authorities told us go on with planned ceremonies. Nobody was allowed leave the town until the ocial evacuation wannounced on the Sunday -- 36 hours laterollowing an order rom Moscow, she said.

    Lobanova went ahead with her wedding and let the next day with her husband by trai

    A LEGACY OF BAD HEALTHTHE MAKE-SHIFT concrete shelter hastthrown up in the months ater the explosionoten reerred to as a sarcophagus, a uneterm made even more tting by the act thahouses the body o at least one plant workwho rescuers were unable to recover.

    The ocial short-term death toll rom taccident was 31 but many more people dio radiation-related sicknesses such as cancThe total death toll and long-term healeects remain a subject o intense debaeven 25 years ater the disaster.

    (The disaster) brought suering on millioo people, said the Emergency MinistrHolosha.

    About 600,000 people were involved

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    CHERNOByL MARCH 201

    mitigating the consequences o the accident.About 300,000 o them were Ukrainians. Outo those, 100,000 are disabled now.

    A 2008 United Nations study citeda dramatic increase in thyroid cancerincidence in the Ukraine and just across theborder in Belarus. Children seemed to beespecially vulnerable because they drank milk

    with high levels o radioactive iodine.One arrives at between 12,000 and 83,000

    children born with congenital deormations inthe region o Chernobyl, and around 30,000to 207,000 genetically damaged childrenworldwide, German physicians organisation

    IPPNW said in a report in 2006.Those gures are actually ar lower than

    health ocials had predicted. Indeed, theUN says that overall health eects were lesssevere than initially expected and that only aew thousand people had died as a result othe accident.

    But a 2009 book by a group o Russian

    and Belarussian scientists published by theNew York Academy o Sciences argued thatprevious studies were misled by rigged Sovietstatistics.

    The ocial position o the ChernobylForum (a group o UN agencies) is that about

    9,000 related deaths have occurred and som200,000 people have illnesses caused by tcatastrophe, authors Alexei Yablokov, VasNesterenko and Alexei Nesterenko wrote Chernobyl: Consequences o the catastropor people and the Environment.

    A more accurate number estimates nea400 million human beings have been expos

    to Chernobyls radioactive allout and, many generations, they and their descendanwill suer the devastating consequences.

    The authors argued that the global death tby 2004 was closer to 1 million and said heaeects included birth deects, pregnan

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    SOMETHING LOST: In the town o Prypyat, wheremost o the workers at the Chernobyl plant lived,empty houses and abandoned buildings are poignareminders o the nuclear disaster. One room contaiSoviet placards, while a room where local gymnastonce practiced now stands empty. Outside, a erriswheel is slowly rusting away.REUTERS/GLEBGARANICH (3)

    losses, accelerated aging, brain damag

    heart, endocrine, kidney, gastrointestinal alung diseases.

    It is clear that tens o millions o peopnot only in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, bworldwide, will live under measurable chronradioactive contamination or many decadethey wrote.

    SEALED-OFF ZONETHE MOST SEVERE contamination occurrwithin the so-called Exclusion Zone, a circuarea around the power plant with a radio 30 kilometres (19 miles) that has be

    deemed unsuitable or living and is closed unsanctioned visitors.

    Several villages and a whole pine orest the zone were bulldozed and buried shorater the disaster. Other small settlements aovergrown with trees and bushes that hamade the red and white brick houses barevisible.

    Prypyat, built to house Chernobyl powplant workers and their amilies and wa bright uture ahead o it as a modSoviet atomgrad town, had a pre-disastpopulation o about 50,000.

    Now it is a ghost town that greets its ravisitors with eerie silence.A shop building in the centre is ull

    rubble and broken urniture -- remnants years o looting which the government counot prevent and which spread hazardosubstances across the country.

    A portrait o Soviet state ounder VladimLenin lies on the foor, covered by a thick layo dust.

    At a childrens amusement park, a Ferwheel due to be launched less than a weater the disaster is rusting away.

    Prypyats residents, mostly young amiliewere evacuated in a six-hour operation whibegan more than 36 hours ater the acciden

    In the days that ollowed, as the allowas driven by a south-east wind acroneighbouring Belarus, the Soviet governmeevacuated thousands o people rom othareas under threat.

    We were evacuated on May 4, said MakKrasovsky, 73, who lived in the Belarussivillage o Pogonnoye 27 km (17 miles) rom tplant. Children had been evacuated earli

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    ON THE EdGE: One othe worst aected areaswas in neighbouringBelarus, just acrossthe border. Last montha woman carried herpurchases rom a mobileshop in the almostabandoned village oNovosiolki near the 30km (19 mile) exclusionzone around the plant,while Makar Krosovski,73, (below let) visitedthe house he abandonedshortly ater the blast.REUTERS/VASILyFEdOSENkO (2)

    Connement -- a massive convex structurewhich will be assembled away rom thedamaged reactor and then slid into placeover the existing sarcophagus. The originalconcrete tomb was built hastily, is supportedin part by the damaged walls o the reactor

    building, and has already had to be reinorced.The new structure is designed to last

    100 years and should allow the reactorto be dismantled without the risk o newcontamination.

    The project requires 600 million euros($840 million) in additional nancing and islikely to miss the 2012 completion target by aew years due to problems such as radioactivedebris encountered during excavation works.

    Ukraine hopes to raise most o the unds atan international donors conerence set to takeplace in Kiev next month on the eve o the

    25th anniversary o the grim event.Ocials say Ukraine is likely to spend billions

    o euros on connement upkeep costs beoreit nds a way to bury the reactor components,

    perhaps under layers o underground granrocks. Even then the area around the plawill remain unsuitable or thousands o yeaAsked how long beore people can settle dowand grow crops at the site, Chernobyl powplant director Ihor Gramotkin said: At lea

    20,000 years.Yury Andreyev, shit chie at the plan

    number two reactor on the night o texplosions and now head o a non-governmebody representing the interests o those wought to control the disaster, sees no dango the Japan drama taking on the seriousneo Chernobyl.

    The scale o the destruction (in Japan), bonuclear and radiation, is 10,000 times lowthat what happened to us in Chernobyl. Abo30 tonnes o nuclear uel were discharged Chernobyl). Here (in Japan) there was not t

    same discharge, he told journalists on Tuesd

    POLITICAL FALLOUTDESPITE THE SCALE o the Chernobyl disastboth Ukraine and Belarus still rely heavon nuclear energy, having no develophydrocarbon resources. In the coming monthboth plan to borrow billion o dollars roRussia to nance the construction o nereactors o Russian design.

    But that doesnt mean people haorgotten. Locals in Kiev, 80 km (50 milerom Chernobyl, will still tell you that th

    heard no birdsong in the Spring o 1986 athat the leaves o the elegant chestnut trethat line the capitals boulevards turned yelloa month early.

    The disaster and the governments handlio it highlighted the shortcomings o the Sovsystem with its unaccountable bureaucraand entrenched culture o secrecy. Journalis

    subsequently uncovered evidence that tchildren o Communist apparatchiks had beevacuated well beore others and some stdied at the plant because they had not begiven orders to leave.

    on May 1. Nobody knew anything. Nobody toldus anything.

    We were told to take with us clothes orthe next three days but nothing else becauseeverything was contaminated. They promisedus the reactor would be shut down andwe would return in three days, he said bytelephone rom the town o Khoyniki.

    Pogonnoye is still sealed o and visits areonly allowed once a year -- on a day whenlocal Orthodox Christians attend the graves otheir ancestors.

    FINANCIAL BURDENTHE ACCIDENT prompted ormer Socialistbloc nations to shut down reactors o thesame design. But the Chernobyl plant itselkept running until 2000 when Ukraine agreedto shut it down ater Kiev was promisedEuropean aid.

    The European Commission and international

    donors have since committed about 2 billioneuros to projects aimed at cleaning up the areaand securing the plant. Another 740 millioneuros remains to be raised : 600 million or thenew casement and 140 million waste storageacilities.

    Holosha says Ukraine itsel has spent muchmore.

    Since Ukraine gained independence(ater the collapse o the Soviet Union), $12billion has been spent on dealing with theconsequences (o the accident), he said.Most o the expenditures were linked tomaintaining the exclusion zone and providinghealthcare and social assistance to those whohad lived in the aected area.

    The key new project at the plant is theconstruction o the so-called New Sae

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    CHERNOByL MARCH 201

    Unlike the nuclear saety alert in Japanwhich ollowed tsunami devastation,

    the explosion and re at the Chernobyl powerplant on April 26, 1986 -- the worlds worstnuclear accident -- was caused by human error.

    Facility operators, in violation o saetyregulations, had switched o importantcontrol systems at the Ukrainian plantsreactor number our and allowed it to reachunstable, low-power conditions, according toa United Nations report.

    A power surge led to a series o blasts, at1.24 a.m., which blew o the reactors heavysteel and concrete lid and sent a cloud oradioactive dust billowing across northernand western Europe, reaching as ar as theeastern United States.

    Key acts:

    * The cloud o radioactive strontium,caesium andplutonium aectedmainly Ukraine andneighbouring Belarus,as well as parts oRussia and Europe.

    * Estimates or thenumbers o direct andindirect deaths romthe disaster vary.

    * The ChernobylForum, a group oeight U.N. agencies,and the governmentso Ukraine, Belarus andRussia, have estimatedthe death toll at onlya ew thousand as aresult o the explosion.U.N. agencies havesaid some 4,000people will die in totalbecause o radiation

    exposure.

    * The environmental group Greenpeaceputs the eventual death toll ar higher thanocial estimates, with up to 93,000 extracancer deaths worldwide.

    * The Chernobyl Union o Ukraine, a non-government body, estimates the presentdeath toll rom the disaster at almost 734,000.

    * The disaster was the object o a cover-up

    by secretive Soviet authorities who waitedthree days beore admitting to the explosion.

    * The accident dented the image o reormistSoviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who had

    earlier launched his glasnost policies orgreater openness in Soviet society.

    * Chernobyl engineers shut down thelast unctioning reactor, Number Three, inDecember 2000. Radioactive nuclear uel isstill being removed rom the plant.

    * A make-shit cover -- the Sarcophagus-- was built in six months ater the explosion.It covers the stricken reactor to protect theenvironment rom radiation or at least30 years. This has now developed cracks,triggering an international eort to und anew encasement.

    * Ukraine is seeking a urther 600 millioneuros ($840 million) to help nance thenew convex structure which will slip over theageing Sarcophagus and allow the oldreactor to be dismantled.

    * International donors are expected toagree to the unding at a conerence in Kievin April on the eve o the 25th anniversary othe disaster.

    * Ocials say it could be up to 100years beore the station is completelydecommissioned.

    * A 30-km (19-mile) exclusion zone is in

    place round the disaster site.* Wildlie has made a comeback in this areaand there are said to be more than 60 dierenttypes o mammals living there including wildboar and elk.

    * Although research continues, the rstreports about long-term radiation damagehave been published, and the results are thatthe radiation did less damage than initiallyeared. There is a tendency to attributeincreases in the rates o all cancers over timeto the Chernobyl accident, but it should benoted that increases were also observedbeore the accident in the aected areas,

    the United NationsScientic Committeeon the Eects o AtomicRadiation (UNSCEAR)said in its summer2010 assessments othe radiation eects inChernobyl.

    Moreover, a generalincrease in mortalityhas been reported inrecent years in most

    areas o the ormerSoviet Union, andthis must be takeninto account wheninterpreting the resultso Chernobyl-relatedstudies, the reportsaid.

    * In its conclusion,the U.N. report saidthat the vast majorityo the population

    need not live in earo serious health consequences due to theradiation rom the Chernobyl accident.

    * The report also said that the majority o theaected population in the region was exposedto radiation levels comparable to or a ewtimes higher than the natural backgroundlevels, and uture exposures continue toslowly diminish as the radionuclides decay.

    (By Richard Balmorth)

    twenty five years of Pain

    MEMORIAL: Relatives hold portraits o liquidators -- workers who ought the blaze at Chernobyl in1986 -- during a commemorative ceremony in Kiev, December 2010. REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

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    CHERNOByL MARCH 201

    NO ENTRy: A Belarussian guard opens thegate at the entrance to the state radiationecology reserve inside the 30 km (18 mile)exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclearreactor in neighbouring Ukraine, February

    2011. REUTERS/VASILy FEdOSENkO

    Mikhail Gorbachev has since said heconsidered the disaster one o the mainnails in the con o the Soviet Union whicheventually collapsed in 1991. The nucleardisaster in Japan is unlikely to break thecountrys political system.

    But Tokyo should not underestimate theproound power o a nuclear meltdown --

    physical and political.

    (Olzhas Auyezov reported rom Prypyat,Richard Balmorth rom Kiev; additionalreporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk,Natalya Zinets and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev,and Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Editing by SimonRobinson)

    COVER PHOTO: A visitor in the control centre o the damaged ourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, February 2011 . REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

    Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved. 47001073 0310

    Republication or redistribution o Thomson Reuters content, including by raming or similar means, is

    prohibited without the prior written consent o Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters and the Thomson

    Reuters logo are registered trademarks and trademarks o Thomson Reuters and its afliated companies.

    FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

    SIMON ROBINSON,

    ENtERpRISE EdItOR, EUROpE, MIddLE EASt

    ANd AFRICA

    [email protected]

    SARA LEdwIth,

    tOp NEwS

    [email protected]

    RIChARd BALMFORth, ChIEF

    CORRESpONdENt, UkRAINE

    [email protected]

    Designed by Alison Vic