search  
Human Rights in Ukraine. Website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
print

Human rights in Ukraine – 2006. The Environmental and Human Ramifications of the Chernobyl Disaster

   

[1]

2006 marked the twentieth anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant[2]  The disaster has been called one of the greatest tragedies of the Ukrainian people in the XX century, together with the Terror of the Civil War and of Stalinism, Holodomor [the Famine of 1932-1933], two World Wars and the War in Afghanistan. At the same time, it would be impossible not to note the difference between this disaster and any other tragic event. Both the causes and the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster are complex and varied, touching on all aspects of human life.  The danger of Chernobyl is imperceptible, its manifestations and risks virtually unbounded, and these linger and will remain with us. The British writer Mario Petrucci, author of “Hard Water: a poem for Chernobyl” commented that “Chernobyl introduced the concept of a disaster of the future”.

Despite a fairly large flow of different types of information about the Disaster, it has still not been entirely grasped. One feels that neither society and those in authority in Ukraine, nor those beyond it, have drawn definite conclusions as to what exactly happened on 26 April 1986 at the power station, how these events influenced the life of the present generation, the fate of the former USSR and what impact it will have on the right of future generations to live in a responsible, safe and truly harmonious society. It is precisely conclusions which could lead to changes in the behaviour of both the authorities and of society that have yet to be drawn, despite all the dramatic experience, and the large number of seminal publications, academic works and studies on Chernobyl.

It is generally recognized that the Chernobyl Disaster presents a multi-faceted, complex and long-lasting phenomenon which demands and will long continue to demand constant and long-term government, scientific and public efforts, sustainable strategic approaches and active public dialogue. As with any event of such a scale, there was no single cause for the Chernobyl Disaster. It was made possible through a series of mistakes and miscalculations of a political, managerial and technical nature. First and foremost, the danger of nuclear energy was underestimated. This led to decisions to build nuclear power stations in densely populated areas. We now know that in designing reactors of the Chernobyl type there were a number of miscalculations. There was, finally, the human factor with employees of the plant breaching instructions which were to have fatal consequences. In addition, the failure to inform people about the accident early on and the disregard for prophylactic measures led to a significant increase in the number of victims.

Many authors have pointed to the undoubted influence of the Chernobyl Disaster on the course of social and political processes in the former Soviet Union. The Chernobyl explosion was to a large extent the logical consequence to the unthinking pursuit of chimerical world ideological, military and technological domination, in the process of which human beings and nature were viewed as simply an unlimited resource and nuclear technology was seen as a means of shift victory.

The disaster which unfolded in an atmosphere of criminal secrecy, and soon directly affected millions of people, provoked long-term socio-psychological tension in society and a powerful desire for freedom of information and freedom of speech. This fully-fledged freedom of expression differed from that ersatz glasnost (openness) bestowed in doses from the offices of the Kremlin. From freedom of speech it was only a short step to motivated civic activity and the beginnings of spontaneous democratization in virtually all forms of public life. Here it’s worth recalling that the first civic organizations which emerged in post-Chernobyl Ukraine were precisely those with an environmental focus (the Ukrainian environmental association “Zeleny svit” [Green World”), and after them humanitarian and cultural (“Memorial” and the Ukrainian Language Society). Perhaps the most immediate focus in all these organizations’ activities was the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster.

Despite the truly colossal administrative, technological, financial and human resources poured by the then super-power into overcoming the catastrophe, no well-thought-out, rational and systematic use of these resources was in fact developed. For several years therefore there was no success in significantly minimizing the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster. For many people then it became clear that such a tragedy could have happened and had such tragic consequences only in an extremely closed, uninformed and strictly regulated society which was therefore ineffective, unnatural and doomed to disarray.

It would however be incorrect to see the Chernobyl Disaster as a separate Ukrainian, or Soviet accident. Chernobyl brought to the surface a mass of unresolved issues in the world nuclear arena.

Chernobyl has a much wider dimension, at the level of civilization itself. The disaster gave stark focus to the contradictions inherent in the technocratic model of development with its typical primitive materialist view of progress, prosperity, development, the meaning of existence, with its artificial distancing of humanity from its natural roots, with all the disproportion at the level of human opportunities and responsibility, and with its vast imbalance between the recognition of spiritual and material values.

The Chernobyl Disaster sharply highlighted the contradictions between the human right to life and safety and the elemental realm in which all was allowed in the name of an ideological phantom, technological power and maximum profit. Chernobyl as it were brought us into a new history where the previously established concepts of “progress” and “decline”, “far” and “near”, “might” and “impotence” were shattered. It also placed in question the traditional models of production and consumption, the existing system of values and world view, and in the final analysis the civilization path of humanity.

Time, it would seem, removes us from the disaster, distance brings security. Yet nonetheless the still insufficiently understood paradox of Chernobyl lies in the fact that this distance is deception. Today the question is no less immediate than in 1986: “How are we to live after Chernobyl?”

 

The scale of the radioactive fallout

As a result of the explosion, fire and exposure of the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, an unprecedented number of radioactive isotopes were released into the environment. In scale and consequences for nature the accident surpassed all accidents at nuclear installations both before 1986 and since: the explosion, ensuing contamination of the territory and numerous victims at the “Mayak” plant in the Chelyabinsk region of the Soviet Union in 1957; the 1957 fire at a nuclear power plant [NPP] reactor at Windscale [now Sellafield – translator] in Britain; the 1979 meltdown of the active zone of the NPP reactor at Three Mile Island in the USA..

The Chernobyl radiation cloud spread over a considerable part of the northern hemisphere. If there really was a release of only 3% of the fuel (approximately 5 tonnes), then the world faces contamination by around twenty kilograms of plutonium.  This amount is sufficient to cause the permanent and dangerous contamination of 20 thousand square metres of territory. If however 40% was expelled into the atmosphere, then the contaminated area could prove to be 10-13 times greater.

The consequences of Chernobyl are on a planetary scale in terms of space, and in time - on the scale of eternity. They are truly global since the radioactive substances from the destroyed reactor were dispersed through the entire planet. However divergent may be the assessment of the amount of radioactivity fallout from Chernobyl, the overall extent of the fallout was at least a hundred times greater than the force of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The consequences of Chernobyl are everlasting since the genetic modifications caused by the radiation may be passed on from generation to generation. And finally, the half-life of some of the radionuclides [isotopes] released into the atmosphere during the accident are between several dozen to several thousand years. For example, the half-life of plutonium is 24 thousand years, while caesium-137 and strontium-90 have a half-life of around 30 years.

  The greater part of Belarus, 7% of Ukraine and the soil of 19 regions in Russia were severely contaminated with radioactive elements. The overall number of those affected in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation is close on 9 million.  We know that as a result of radioactive material from the Fourth Reactor being released, more than 50 thousand square metres of Ukraine’s territory was contaminated. A huge and constant source of isotopes to neighbouring territory comes from the Chernobyl [exclusion] zone, with an area of 2,598 square metres.

According to estimates from Ukraine’s State Committee for Nuclear Regulation[3] the total amount of radioactive waste in the exclusion zone (without the “Sarcophagus” and waste from removing the Chernobyl NPP from exploitation) is around 2.3 million м3.

A huge amount of radioactive substances are concentrated on the Sarcophagus – the enclosure for the destroyed Fourth Reactor where the most urgent measures were taken to minimize the effects of the accident. According to recent estimates from the Ministry of Emergencies[4], the structure holds 200 tonnes of irradiated and fresh nuclear fuel mixed with other materials. The total activity of long-lasting isotopes is around 740x1015 Becquerel’s. The sarcophagus has served as a protective enclosure for nineteen years and according to the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation assessment for 2005; its continued stability cannot be guaranteed. “a particular feature of the sarcophagus is its potential danger which is much higher that is permitted by the norms and regulations for constructions which house nuclear and radioactive materials. Sources of radiological risk are to be found in the radiation-contaminated water, material containing fuel inside the construction, contaminated soil and the stage of the buildings. From the point of view of radiation safety, it is effectively an open source of ionizing radiation which in its radiological characteristics is unique in the world and can be considered a temporary barrier for the protection of personnel, the population and the environment from potential danger.

There is an urgent need for maximum speed in transforming this structure into an environmentally safe system. According to conclusions reached by Ukrainian scientists as mentioned by member of the National Academy of Sciences I. Yukhnovsky[5], danger from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant today is no less than at the moment of the explosion.

With activation of the flushing regime in the Kyiv reservoir there is a real danger that isotopes will be carried out into the Dnipro riverbed (approximate estimates suggest that there may be 90 million cubic metres of radioactive silt built up in the reservoir). The most contaminated territory of the basin of the Prypyat river need to be protected from flood and spillage of isotopes into water objects.

2,295 populated areas of Ukraine, located on the territory of 77 districts of 12 regions have been officially recognized as contaminated with radiation as the result of the Chernobyl Disaster. More than 2.3 million people remain in officially recognized zones of radiation contamination, almost 500 thousand of whom are children. With the exception of the first three years after the accident at the Chernobyl NPP, for a long time the main active isotope has been and in the next few years will remain caesium-137 which constitutes 90% of the additional radiation exposure of the population living in contaminated regions. In total 441 thousand square metres were contaminated with contamination density from 4-10к Becquerel per metre2 to 1480 Becquerel per metre2[6] and more.

Through eating local food products, most of the people living on the contaminated area of Ukraine’s Polissya have an additional dose reaching 90% of dangerous internal radiation.  Statistics from Ukrainian medical institutions able to measure internal radiation show that the majority of residents of the contaminated area, including children, still have high levels of the radioactive elements caesium-137 and Strontium-90.  This build up in the organism comes from regular consumption of local products like milk, potatoes, forest berries and mushrooms, as well as duck or geese, etc.

Member of the Academy of Agrarian Sciences B. Prister[7] produced contemporary statistics showing that 20 years after the initial contamination, 265 populated areas of Ukraine still have a level of caesium-137 in milk which is considerably higher than the State sanitary norm. Moreover in fifteen places this level has reached around 600-900 Becquerel (Bq) per litre (nine times higher than the norm!), while in another 45 places – 200-500 Bq. per limit. In 200 places there were levels of caesium which were higher than the sanitary norm. Maximum levels of food contamination presenting the highest dose of extra radiation are two or three, sometimes more, times higher than State sanitary norms. This is observed mainly in those areas where hayfields or grazing land for cattle are used despite having dangerously high radiological indicators.

Children in the most contaminated villages of Polissya where people are still eating local produce are receiving individual doses of radiation of 5-6 milizivert (for comparison, the maximum dose of radiation for professional personnel of nuclear power plants in Ukraine is 20 milizivert, with the actual individual dose being considerably lower, and with each occasion when the dose is exceeded being investigated by a specially authorized body). Forests, meadows and grazing land especially in the Polissya region where the level of radionuclides from the soil reaching foliage is much higher than in grazing lands and soil of other regions are the most dangerous areas from the point of view of radiation of all those which were contaminated as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster.

 

The state of health of those affected by the Chernobyl Disaster

In the Law “On the State programme for overcoming the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster in 2006-2010”, the Verkhovna Rada provides the following statistics about the present medical effects of radioactive contamination of Ukraine’s territory.

As of 1.01.2006 there were 2,646,106 people who suffered as a result of Chernobyl in Ukraine. Of these 105,251 were in category 1; 276,072 – category 2; category 3 – 537,504; category  4 – 1,081,469; category G – 2,780:  643 030 children, including 4,520 orphans and 2,869 children with disability status.  2,054,685 people, including 472,191 children below 14 are living on territory contaminated by radiation. However a “State Register of people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster” has still not been drawn up.

Assessments of the dangers from radiation are unclear in a number of areas. Most importantly, the effects of small doses are still not understood. According to the present theory, there is a linear relationship, without any threshold, between doses received and harmful impact. In other words, there is no safe level of radiation. However this risk from small doses can be hyper-linear, leading to relatively greater risk, or sub-linear, leading to relatively lower risk. Another area remaining unclear is in evaluating doses of internal radiation, that is, the effect on the organism of radionuclides which are ingested from food and the air.

According to figures from the Ministry of Health Medical Statistics[8], medical examinations of people affected by the Chernobyl Disaster found 83 percent were ill. The largest percentage of people in ill health were among the liquidators of the accident (91.5%); those evacuated from the exclusion zone – 87.7%; those living permanently on contaminated areas – 83.7%.  Among children up to the age of 14 suffering as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster 83.7 were ill, while this figure was 76.6 percent for children living in contaminated areas.

The Ministry for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster[9] states that over the 20 years that have passed since the accident, 504,117 of those affected have died, 106,824 have received invalid status and suffer from illnesses linked with Chernobyl, while 2 million 23 thousand people are forced to live in areas contaminated with radiation.

The results of annual medical checks are finding that the number of people affected receiving clean bills of health is diminishing. Over the last four years the number of those still found to be in good health among the liquidators of the accident had fallen by two percent and came to 5.3 percent. Among children affected, 20.6 percent were in good health. The prevalence of illness among adults and adolescents had risen by 69.8 percent (from 12,354.3 in 1993 to 20,978.4 in 2004 per 10 thousand people affected, while actual illnesses had increased by 7.9 percent (from 5,306 to 5,731.6 per 10 thousand people affected).

Among those who took part in the liquidation of the accident a likely increase has been recorded in general illnesses, blood circulation disease and in malignant tumours. The highest figures are for liquidators who received doses exceeding 250 milizivert.

Since 2001 there has been the increase predicted by experts in cases of thyroid cancer among liquidators, as well as those evacuated and among the adult population of the contaminated territory.  The number of cases of thyroid cancer among the adult population is expected to rise in the coming years. Over the first 15 years following the accident there was a trend towards an increase in the number of cases of leukaemia among liquidators. According to the Head of the National Commission on Radiation Protection of the Ukrainian Population Academician D. Hrodzynsky the accumulated doses of ionizing radiation have in recent times been spreading and varying their manifestations.[10].  As well as thyroid cancer among both children and adults, other cancers are appearing, for example, breast cancer. There has also been an increase in non-cancer illnesses. This has been particularly noted over the last six or seven years. Some diseases affecting different parts of the human organism have seen a 6 – 14 times increase over recent years.  Liquidators who later had families had children born ill who in the second generation are having an even greater number of unhealthy children[11].

The level of disease and its incidence among children affected by Chernobyl living in the zone of heightened radiological control are significantly higher than among other children. The level of disease has increased by 27.0 percent, reaching 1,383.5 per 10 thousand children in 2004 against 1,089.3 in 1993. There has also been an increase in the prevalence of disease by 59.0 percent – from 1,494 in 1993 to 2,375.4 in 2004. There are high levels of disease affecting the digestive organs, the nervous and bone marrow systems as well as connective tissue, skin and subcutaneous cells and genetic defects.

Another tragic consequence of the contamination from Chernobyl has been the sharp increase in the number of spontaneous abortions and stillbirths among women who were subjected to radiation. For some reason, which is still not fully understood, the organism of pregnant women rejects a foetus even after small doses of radiation. In the first five years after the Chernobyl Disaster in Belarus and the contaminated areas of Ukraine a four – five times increase was recorded in infertility and the number of stillbirths.

The most common reasons for chronic illness [invalidnist] among victims of Chernobyl include blood circulation diseases and malignant tumours. In 2004 figures for those first receiving invalid status were 2,614 per ten thousand of those affected by the disaster. In that same year 252 children first received such status. The main reasons among children are congenital abnormalities (160), tumours (47) and breathing disorders (10). These figures are rising relentlessly.

Increase in disease is accompanied by a fall in life expectancy. People who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster have been dying 20-30 years earlier than might have been expected. Mortality among liquidators of the accident in 1995 had begun to exceed the mortality rate among able-bodied members of the public overall, and from 1998 among able-bodied men in the population as a whole. During the period from 1999-2004, the overall mortality rate for liquidators of the accident from malignant tumours and blood circulation disease is likely to have exceeded the mortality rate for the population as a whole. The main causes of death among adults and adolescents were: blood circulation disease, cancers, and breathing or digestive organ disorders. Compared with previous years a particular feature in 2004 was the continuing increase in deaths from blood circulation disease (in 2000 – 2004 this was between 116.5 and 131.3 per 10 thousand people affected by the accident with the mortality rate for the entire population standing at 68.0 – 71.0), while the ratio among causes of death had reached 67.9 percent. This means that the number of deaths from blood circulation disease among victims of the disaster is almost double the death rate from this cause among the population as a whole. The number of deaths from diseases of the digestive tract has risen by 46.8 percent. The number of deaths from malignant tumours during that period remained virtually unchanged.

In view of this it is entirely logical to conclude that problems caused by the Chernobyl Disaster have not and indeed will not lose their immediacy. The rights of those who suffered as a result of the disaster, first and foremost, the right to health care must therefore remain the subject of constant monitoring by health and social protection agencies.

At the same time, the joint press release issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency and WHO[12] states the following: “About 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents at the time of the accident, have resulted from the accident’s contamination and at least nine children died of thyroid cancer”. The IAEA and WHO experts maintain that “Poverty, "lifestyle" diseases now rampant in the former Soviet Union and mental health problems pose a far greater threat to local communities than does radiation exposure”.[13]. They believe that an increase in illness among the population is linked to the transitional period for the economy, with changes in the demographic situation and the socio-psychological state. They give an analysis of the ineffectiveness of measures for overcoming the early and further-removed negative factors of the Chernobyl Disaster, the low level of medical care, insufficient knowledge in the area of radiation medicine by bodies of local self-government, medical and educational personnel working on areas contaminated by radiation. They claim that changes in the state of health are caused not so much by radiation, as by the influence of unfavourable factors not linked with radiation: a deterioration in conditions and food, long-standing emotional and psychological stress and other negative factors of the contaminated environment.

Despite this, most Ukrainian doctors and scientists are convinced that the leading negative factor influencing the state of health of groups of the population living in contaminated areas is specifically radiation of the thyroid and the yearlong internal effect of small doses of radiation.

 

Social and economic consequences of the disaster

The Chernobyl Disaster brought major change to the lives of millions of people. More than 162 thousand people were evacuated and moved from their homes. The resettlement created a whole range of serious problems linked with difficulties in adapting to new conditions. it led to a breakdown in support structures, restrictions in agricultural activities, the loss of jobs, a rise in unemployment and an escalation of other social problems. Demographic indicators for the area contaminated by radiation have worsened: the number of births is falling while the mortality rate is on the increase. The able-bodied members of the population are moving to areas less contaminated. . In addition, the attitude of people living in uncontaminated areas to produce from the areas affected by the accident makes it difficult to sell it which first of all leads to a reduction in local income. As a result the economic position and welfare level of those regions have deteriorated. The poorer quality of nourishment, conditions of work and relaxation have adversely affected people’s state of health.

Restrictions in the types of activities which are traditional for those areas create problems in everyday life. A part of the population doesn’t trust the information regarding effective measures for overcoming the consequences of the accident, the safety of the present radiation situation and concentration of radionuclides in food products, and is full of anxiety about their health and that of their close ones. Protection of the population via resettlement in uncontaminated areas proved less effective than expected due to its having been carried out too late. Planned back for 1991-1992, it has still not been fully implemented.

According to experts from Greenpeace International[14], “The Chernobyl Disaster destroyed the lives of whole groups of the population in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. A combination of such factors as weak health, rising prices for medical care, resettlement, the loss of agricultural land, contamination of food products, economic crisis, spending on restoration measures, political problems and a lot more are creating the conditions for a major crisis”.

 

Access to information regarding the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster and the safety of the nuclear industry

Research carried out by analysts from the UN Development Programme (UNDP)[15] and the authors of the above-cited Alternative Report on Chernobyl (TORCH) shows that those affected by the Chernobyl Disaster are not being provided with clear information about the accident’s impact on health and the environment. This has been and remains one of the main causes of social and psychological stress. This is hampering the development of the areas affected.

There is a tangible need for the following types of information:

·  Constructive information about various aspects of the consequences of Chernobyl (radiological, medical, environmental, socio-economic,) which need to be systematically and widely circulated among the public;

·  Information which will help people to rationally set about building their lives;

·  Practical information about the radiological consequences of Chernobyl, the level of contamination of arable land, water, forests and food items. This information must be available to all members of the community so that each person can know the real level of food contamination, which grazing land can be used in order to get uncontaminated milk, where it’s safe to gather the harvest;

·  Information about ways of reducing the level of contamination of the environment and agricultural products which people produce and consume.

There is no system functioning in the contaminated areas, all of which are largely agricultural regions, providing information about the present risks and about safe behaviour. The local administration, specialists and the population as a whole are not informed about the present radionuclide and environmental situation in these regions, or about the health of the population.  

There are traditionally problems with access to official information held by the central authorities with respect to the consequences of Chernobyl and nuclear safety. Almost all national reports from the Ministry are prepared and made public 1-3 years later.

For example, the last report available on the official website of the Ministry for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster is its “National Report on Manmade and Nature Safety in Ukraine for 2005”.  ".

The State Committee for Nuclear Regulation has published its own “National Report on Nuclear and Radiation Safety in Ukraine” also for 2005. We would note that the State Committee’s report both in its structure and style, is aimed more at specialists of the nuclear industry than at members of the public. It states that: “In Ukraine policy on ensuring a proper level of nuclear safety is being carried out quite actively and efficiently.” As far as the safety of presently functioning nuclear power plants are concerned, the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation points to failings in the behaviour of the Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom with regard to monitoring the state of the buildings of VVER – 1000 reactors.

The authors of this material do not have information from alternative sources regarding the safety of nuclear technology in Ukraine. From cases occurring over the last few years in CIS countries, only the cases of Sergei Kharitonov, a dissident and nuclear engineer from the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant is unique, of public importance and well-known[16]. Kharitonov was essentially the only employee of Russia’s civil nuclear industry who not only openly cooperated with environmental and human rights organizations – Zeleny Svit, Bellona, Greenpeace, but also dared informed the public about breaches of safety regulations at the station. From 1995 to 2004 both the Russian public and the international community had the chance to receive from source independent and professional information about the situation at the dangerous Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant. For the first time problems which had been kept concealed from the public regarding physical protection, behaviour with nuclear fuel safety standards, as well as the human rights situation, criminality and corruption at the plant, were made public.  This gave the public the chance to have an impact on how these issues were resolved, and forced the authorities and the supervisory bodies to take measures to eliminate the shortcomings. Thus the activities of the “ethical informer” or whistle blower Kharitonov created additional opportunities for reducing the risk of accidents and other incidents at the nuclear power plant. In 2004 Sergei Kharitonov was fired and forced to seek political asylum in Finland. Unfortunately, lawyers from Belloni lost the suit in defence of Kharitonov’s civil and labour rights in the Russian courts and in the European Court of Human Rights..

One can find on the website of Ukraine’s Ministry for Environmental Protection the “National Report on the State of the Environment in Ukraine in 2004”. This, in contrast to previous reports, does not have a separate section on nuclear safety and the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster. As of the end of February 2007 there had been no sign of Ministry for Environmental Protection Reports for 2005 and 2006. Here it is worth noting that Article 251 of the Law “On protection of the environment” stipulates that there should be an annual report on the state of the environment.

Of all sources thus far mentioned, the official website of the Ministry of Health is the least developed and most impoverished from the point of view of information. The available information regarding the state of health of the population has not been updated for the last 3-4 years. There is no separate section devoted to the state of health of victims of the Chernobyl Disaster. Nonetheless, on 13.03.2007 a “Report on activities of the branch in 2006” was placed on this site. However neither the separate section on “Medical and sanitary professions for the population who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster and those working on constructions with a special work regime” nor any other section of the report contains an analysis of the state of health of victims.

It is far from always possible to obtain statistical information on public health via formal information requests (to the authorities).

Example 1. The Ministry of Health treated the information request from “Zeleny Svit” №04-03 from 02.03.2006 concerning the medical consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster as a formality, and effectively avoided providing the information requested. The Department of Radiation Safety and Medical Problems from the accident at the Chernobyl NPP within the Ministry of Health, in its response from 22.03.2006 instead suggested looking for the information requested in popular science publications from 1996, as well as in the Ministry of Health’s collections of statistics. Among the latter, it mentions the reference book “The state of health of people who suffered as a result of the accident at the Chernobyl NPP”, material from the Automated system of control of databases on the medical and demographic consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster, the National Cancer Register and the Register of Oncological Diseases, as well as the press release for the Parliamentary Hearings on issues around the anniversaries of the accident at the Chernobyl NPP. In fact, it proved impossible to read any of these statistical documents since not one was published on the Ministry of Health’s official website.

The collections of statistical data “Basic indicators of the state of health of the population and health care resources” which is prepared on an annual basis by regional departments of health according to method guidelines from the Ministry of Health at present do not contain a separate analysis of the state of health of people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster nor demographic indicators for people living in contaminated areas.


Example 2. Lviv human rights defender Volodymyr Prystula (Earth’s Legions) sent information requests to the Department of Health of the Volyn Regional Administration. He asked for information about the state of health of those victims which the Law “On a National Programme for Overcoming the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster in 2006-2010” designates as in the group of those for top-priority medical supervision for the period up till 2010. This is, for example, people:

who have suffered severe radiation illness and liquidators of the accident who received a dose of more than 250 miligrey;

who are suffering from oncological disease, autoimmune thyroiditis, leukaemia, and others, connected with radiation;

participants in the liquidation of the consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl NPP in 1986-1987;

those evacuated from the exclusion zone;

children irradiated in the early iodine period (up to September 1985) who are living on territory contaminated by radiation;

The information request asked for answers to the following questions:

what number of people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster are presently living in the Volyn region?

what number of people from the above-mentioned groups have been designated as requiring top-priority medical supervision for the period up till 2010 (separately for each category)?’

what indicators define the state of health of people assigned to the above-mentioned groups of top-priority medical supervision for the period up till 2010 (separately for each category)?

What are the figures from 1986-2006 for illness according to the main groups of illnesses suffered by victims of the Chernobyl Disaster living at the present time in the Volyn region (in the first instance, children and compared with other categories of the population)?

The response from the Head of the Department I. Vashchenyuk deserves to be made public. “Your information request has been considered by the Department of Health of the Volyn Regional Administration. The information request contains formal questions which pertain to statistical reporting of the relevant government bodies and bodies of the Department. You can find the answer to your questions in official publications which are published by the corresponding departments. We are not obliged to prepare you from official publications information which is not secret or confidential. In accordance with Article 10 of the Law “On information” the government has created a mechanism for ensuring the right to information via the mass media, official publications issued by the authorities and the Department, as well as sites on the Internet.”

The manner described here of responding to information requests from civic groups may be considered a violation of Article 34 of the Constitution, Articles 5,  9, 28, 29, 32, 33 of the Law “On information”, Articles 2 – 5 of the Aarhus Convention: Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, Articles 4, 6 and 7 of the Law “On the Fundamental Principles of health care legislation in Ukraine”, according to which the government guarantees all citizens their rights in the area of health care, including by means of organizing a State system of gathering, processing and analyzing social, environmental and special medical statistical information.

Finally, the annual Report of the Human Rights Ombudsperson with its section 6.2: “Protection of the rights of those who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster” is too general and non-specific, concerns events from 2003-2004 and was published in 2005. Over the last two years there have been no annual reports at all from the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

 

Implementation of government programmes for minimizing the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster

Programmes to minimize the effect of the disaster have over many years placed considerable burden on Ukraine’s State budget.

The fact that over these years it has been the taxpayers who have entirely paid for the consequences of the accident on a plant within the energy industry, and not the owner of the plant – Energoatom – is yet more proof of the dishonesty of the energy lobby when they claim that nuclear energy is “economical” and “safe”. We would note that at the same time the Special State Budget Fund is financing the construction of new energy complexes of nuclear power plants and other measures envisaged by the Comprehensive Programme for the creation of a nuclear –fuel cycle in Ukraine.

In his address to the Parliamentary Hearings on 26 April 2006, the Deputy Minister for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster V. Kholosha[17] stated that just in the years since independence, 7.5 billion US dollars had been spent on overcoming the consequences of the disaster, on measures at the Chernobyl NPP and protection of the victims of the accident. However, even with this amount the available financial possibilities were only funding the basic Chernobyl programmes on average by 20%. At the same time, one was forced to note that over the last 14 years since Ukraine had been independently paying for liquidating the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster, the percentage of State expenditure spent on this had been steadily diminishing and in 2005 had come to less than 3% of State spending.

As a result, patients needing operations or other complex forms of treatment were waiting in the queue for years. Yet at the same time unwarranted concessions were being enjoyed by thousands of other people who had never lived on contaminated territory, had not directly taken part in liquidating the disaster, did not have illnesses caused through receiving doses of radiation, but had received them by virtue of their official position.

Over the 20 years since the disaster the government has not been able to set priorities in carrying out Chernobyl programmes and ensure an effective and transparent mechanism for their financing. The absolute majority of programme funds are directed at paying out concessions and compensation which are not always warranted. At the same time the percentage of funding for environmental rehabilitation projects for the contaminated areas stands at only around 3% of the overall expenditure.

An unjustifiably meagre part of the State budget is spent on health care programmes for the most vulnerable category of victims – children living in contaminated areas. Criminal money-pinching on people’s health can be traced back to the first days of the Chernobyl Disaster. It is generally known also that the medical and government bodies in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia did not manage to organize the most vital, elementary and not in the slightest expensive measures for urgent iodine prophylactic treatment among the population of the contaminated areas.  If the information about the release of radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere had not been kept secret for several weeks after the disaster, and if at least children had received iodine treatment during those first days, at least 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer could have been avoided. Adequate prophylactic measures against iodine deficiency among children living in Ukraine’s Polissya and Podillya have still not been organized.

It would seem that Ukrainian high ranking officials have still not understood that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantee children inalienable rights in all circumstances. Therefore even in disaster conditions, children must have the same needs and rights as children in a safe environment. Despite repeated suggestions from the scientific and medical communities, a target programme “Children of Chernobyl” has yet to be developed.  The need to recognize specifically this priority has been stressed on many occasions by the Ministry of Health, the representative office of UNICEF in Ukraine, the Rescue Fund for Children from Chernobyl, the International Association “Doctors of Chernobyl” and its President Member of the Academy of Sciences A. Nyahu.

Financial and organizational provisions and control over implementation of most government target programmes for minimizing the medical consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster are from year to year becoming less satisfactory.

For example, as responses to an information request from “Zeleny Svit” to departments of health in regional administrations show, according to the government programme “Comprehensive medical and sanitary provisions and treatment of oncological disease using high-quality medical technology”, virtually all regions over recent years have been financed at a level 30% - 40% of that planned by the Ministry for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster.  The percentage of financing from the region’s application, that is, from more or less real needs is even smaller. As a result, the amount calculated for the “use of high-quality medical technology” per victim is on average 4.0 – 10.0 UAH per year and, taking into account rises in prices is showing a downward trend. Clearly, in such circumstances one is not speaking of quality medical checks, diagnosis and medical care for the above-mentioned category of patients.

Not enough is being done to attract money from private business and charities to support such steps. In this sense activity like the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund of Nadiya and Zenon Matkivsky, Oleksandr Kuzma and others who have for over 13 years been helping to provide clinics with equipment and medicine are rather the exception than the rule.

Nor indeed are any charitable missions able to significantly improve the efficiency of the healthcare system in the country which the government has over many years failed to find an integrated vision of reform and development for, and the problems which it lacks the political will to overcome. Reform of the health care system requires a responsible evolutionary approach taking into consideration a social situation that is fundamentally new from the legal, socio-economic, information and environmental point of view. Here it is worth beginning from a new vision of the role of the government and bodies of local self-government, the business milieu and civic society. Equally unacceptable are methods of strict administration and hopes that “sooner or later free economic mechanisms will sort it all out”.

The next underestimated priority for implementing Chernobyl programmes is the issue of radiation safety in view of the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster. The level of attention to this from the government can be seen in the state of implementation of projects to turn the Sarcophagus into an environmentally safe system and to withdraw the Chernobyl NPP from exploitation.

As reported by the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation [18], through the joint efforts of governments of the G8 countries, the European Commission and Ukraine back in 1997 the relevant plan for measures was drawn up. Financing of the project is from the country donors to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund and Ukraine. The Fund’s administrator is the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. According to the Law “On general principles for the further exploitation and withdrawal from exploitation of the Chernobyl NPP and the transformation of the destroyed fourth reactor into an environmentally safe system”, the action plan envisages the construction of so-called “confinement”, a protective structure containing equipment for removal from the reactor of material which contains nuclear fuel, and other systems aimed to carry out actions to ensure the safety of the personal, the population and the environment. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons the construction of this confinement is being dragged out. Urgent stabilization measures which the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation  is insisting on are being implemented later than scheduled. Should there be a delay in building the confinement, the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation  will insist on an additional 15 stabilizing measures which ensure reduction in the risk of the destruction of the building constructions of the Sarcophagus at any acceptable level.

Back at the beginning of 2004 the Cabinet of Ministers passed a decision on the need to seek opportunities for placing long-life radioactive waste created at the Chernobyl NPP into a temporary container. The time period for completing the construction of such a container – 22 October 2005 – was missed.  Nor have changes in the design been agreed, and the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation  has still not received a report analyzing the safety aspects of the temporary container. Delay in the implementation of the project and procrastination by the administration of the Chernobyl NPP on resolving issues concerning the safety of the container could lead to delays in carrying out preconstruction work on building the confinement. Looking for other options for storing the relevant types of radioactive waste will lead to additional radiation and financial risks.

Swift resolution is vital on issues regarding the safety for storage of hard radioactive waste. The situation has emerged where the construction of the container is already underway, yet the results of its inspection suggest that it does not meet safety requirements. It is entirely clear that the activities of the management at the Chernobyl NPP need to be appropriately coordinated and rationally supplied with the necessary funding from the State Budget or through international aid.  This requires efficient relevant programme documents, approved by law, at all levels from the National and Comprehensive Programmes for withdrawing the Chernobyl NPP from exploitation and turning the Sarcophagus into an environmentally safe system to programmes for carrying out the stages of withdrawal from exploitation.

At the present time virtually all current programme documents at the Chernobyl NPP have ceased to be relevant with the time frame indicated hopelessly missed. All levels of such documents, therefore, need to be drawn up or reviewed in order to bring them into line with the real state of affairs and ensure effective further functioning of the enterprise. In the view of the management of the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation[19] the main priority must be to conclude drawing up, approving and bringing into force the basic programme documents of the “On general principles for the further exploitation and withdrawal from exploitation of the Chernobyl NPP and the transformation of the destroyed fourth reactor into an environmentally safe system” and the “Comprehensive Programme for withdrawing the Chernobyl NPP from exploitation”.

 

Actions of the highest-level authorities in Ukraine in the context of the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster

With the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster, certain efforts were to be observed to give priority to the question of its consequences and the development of the nuclear industry. These came from the government, scientists and civic, especially environmental, organizations. The assessment of the disaster’s effect differs according to the position taken by their authors.

At the end of 2005 the President issued Decree № 1726/2005 “On measures marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster”, which instructs the Cabinet of Ministers to analyze the situation with regard to overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster in Ukraine, as well as to draw up and approve a plan of measures with regard to the twentieth anniversary.  The Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea and the local State administrations are instructed to heighten attention to the everyday needs of those who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster, in particular improving their social and everyday provisions, seeking options for providing them with social support and material assistance. The Decree suggests that religious organizations in Ukraine hold memorial services for the victims of the Chernobyl Disaster.

In September 2005 the Law “On the procedure for taking decisions on the location, planning, and construction of nuclear installations and constructions designed for dealing with radioactive waste of State significance”.

 In our view, this law narrows the rights of citizens as far as decision-taking is concerned. For example, Article 2  of the Law states that decisions on the location, planning, and construction of nuclear installations and constructions designed for dealing with radioactive waste of State significance are taken by the Verkhovna Rada only after agreeing its location on their territory with the local authorities and bodies of local self-government. Article 3 reads: “decisions on agreeing the location on their territory of nuclear installations and constructions designed for dealing with radioactive waste of State significance shall be taken by the local authorities and bodies of local self-government after carrying out a local advisory survey of Ukrainian citizens (consultative referendum) on this issue”. Thus the Law envisages participation in the decision-making process of only members of those communities on whose territory the nuclear object is to be located. The consequences of an accident at any nuclear plant, as Chernobyl demonstrated, can extend far beyond the borders of local communities or countries. Therefore decisions about such construction should be taken by all citizens who could suffer from a potential accident. Clearly the decision of a local community on whose territory nuclear reactors may be located can be significantly influenced by social and economic factors (money coming in from the State budget, and highly-paid jobs in the nuclear industry).

We would note that the previous Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers from 18 July 1998 №1122 “On approving Rules of Procedure fro carrying out public hearings on the use of nuclear energy and radiation safety” ensured the exercising of the right to take part in decision-making of all Ukrainian citizens via public hearings. In our view, the change in the format of participation to advisory surveys does not have much significance. After all neither the decisions of consultative referendums or advisory surveys, nor those of public hearings, have to be followed by the authorities.

As already mentioned, at the UN Chernobyl Forum in Vienna on 5 September 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released their new report: "Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts". At the sixtieth session of the UN General Assembly on 24 October 2005б, where representatives of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine signed a collective resolution with the following content: Noting the consensus reached among members of the Chernobyl Forum1 on the findings of the reports entitled “Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and their Remediation: Twenty Years of Experience” and “Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programmes”, and recognizing the important contribution made by the Forum to the overall assessment of the environmental, health, and socio-economic effects of the Chernobyl disaster,[20]»  The UN Secretary General found reassurance in the findings of the Chernobyl Forum: “the Forum found no profound negative health impacts on the exposed population as a whole and also no widespread contamination that would continue to pose a substantial threat to human health”[21]”..

The first IAEA report (1990) on the consequences of the disaster at the Chernobyl NPP met with sharp criticism from the then Minister on Issues involving the Chernobyl Disaster H. Hotovchyts and representative of the Ministry of Health O. Vobylyova. Then following the publications of the next reports from UN structures, n particular, IAEA and WHO, Ukraine’s authorities could already not manage to formulate their own well-argued assessment of the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster. With the Report from IAEA/WHO in 2005, there was again silence from the Government, the Ministry of Health and the Ukrainian Academy of Medical Sciences.

Instead the IAEA/ WHO reports aroused criticism each time from the Ukrainian and international civic community for underestimating the real consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster.  Serious arguments to suggest that the conclusions of the IAEA/ WHO experts on the medical and environmental consequences of Chernobyl do not reflect the true situation and could in fact be considered deliberate disinformation of the public were presented during the year in their publications and public speeches by such well-known and authoritative figures as Members of the Academy of Sciences O. Yablokov, V. Prisnyakov, D. Hrodensky, V. Komisarenko and A. Hyahu, as well as the experts M. Karpay, V. Uratenko and others.[22].

Here we should point out that in Ukraine statistical reports officially registered the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster as including the following:

•  Illnesses among those officially recognized as having suffered from the accident have risen by 28.3%; figures for overall mortality among victims has increased from 13.3 to 14.3, and among liquidators of the accident from 5.5 to 12.6 people (per thousand head of population);

• According to figures from the Ministry of Employment and Social Policy, 17,448 families received unemployment benefits due to the loss of a breadwinner as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster.

These indicators are objective since they refer to events which have already taken place and which are linked with the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster.  The question remains of analyzing the connection between the cause of death and those factors which contributed to it. The analysis of the state of health of the population living in areas contaminated by radionuclides, as well as of those who took part in the liquidation of the accident at the Chernobyl NPP, based on material from various medical institutions in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia unequivocally proved the adverse effect on health of the Chernobyl NPP. Up till 1990 in all cases an overall increase in illness could be observed, together with a decrease in the number of people in good health, a change in the range of symptoms, an increase in the severity of illnesses, and a decrease in the body’s response to medication, etc. However it was only in a very small number of cases /that one could observe dependence between dose and effect. The reason for this was the low quality of information about doses and the specific features of internal radiation of victims’ organisms which are of decisive important in the appearance of illnesses, yet are exceptionally difficult to provide quantitative assessment for.

.On the other hand the IAEA/ WHO experts directly linked the medical prognoses with the average estimated individual and collective doses of external ionizing radiation.  Using such methods it is intrinsically impossible to receive any other information than purely hypothetical figures for external radiation which are identical for all residents of a given district. This is because only figures of measurements of the force of a one-off and exclusive dose of gamma rays served as the basis for calculations. Yet to make medical prognoses on the basis of a virtual “dose meter” is about the same as using figures for “the average temperature of patients around the hospital”..

According to Volodymyr Usatenko, expert from the Ukrainian National Commission for Radiation Protection[23], in recent years the system of monitoring radiometric surveillance and laboratory control in Ukraine has been systematically destroyed and replaced by an analytical system for dose measurement certification for populated areas which is less representative and even less linked with people’s individual doses. If one adds to this that demographic and epidemiological research in Ukraine has been carried out in total isolation from dose measures, one is forced to note that the basis for the freest interpretations of the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster is now entirely in place.

In response to the above-mentioned IAEA/ WHO 2005 report, a group of independent British experts carried out new research on the medical and environmental consequences of Chernobyl[24]. The latter was presented from 23-25 April 2006 at the Kyiv conference “Chernobyl + 20: Remembrance for the Future”, organized with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation (Germany, the European Greens / the European Free Alliance, the Nuclear Energy Information Centre (USA), International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Union 90 / Green Party (Germany).  The international environmental organization Greenpeace also presented their assessment of the medical and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster at the conference”[25]. The theme running through virtually all the papers at the conference “Chernobyl + 20: Remembrance for the Future” was their rejection of the biased conclusions of the IAEA/ WHO "Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts". It was rather telling that the conference was ignored by the higher leadership of the country.

It is interesting that on 24 April, in the worst spirit of political correctness, another international conference was held in Kyiv: “20 years of the Chernobyl Disaster: conclusions and prospects”, organized by the Government of Ukraine with the support of the European Commission, IAEA, WHO, the UN Development Programme, and with the participation of Ukraine’s entire government and scientific beau monde, led by the President and the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada.

It was hard to see as anything but hypocritical ritualized rhetoric the words spoken at the Parliamentary Hearings on 26 April 2006[26] of the outgoing Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada V. Lytvyn regarding the Verkhovna Rada’s duty “to protect its people, its society from manipulation which is being exercised by certain international structures under the pressure of the global nuclear lobby, those who on the eve of an increasing energy crisis plan to build hundreds of new nuclear reactors, to break free of the memory of Chernobyl, to arouse a kind of amnesia about the most massive technological catastrophe of the twentieth century. The Verkhovna Rada, together with the scientific and medical community, must put in their competent word regarding the inadmissibility of experts’ speculations which were heard in 2005 at the UN Chernobyl Legacy Forum and aroused outrage in Ukraine. Experts at the Forum cited considerably exaggerated figures for human losses and stated that as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster around 4 thousand people have died or may die. At the same time more than 17 thousand families in Ukraine officially receive benefits due to the Chernobyl-linked death of the breadwinner of the family. Who should we believe? The highly qualified Ukrainian doctors who have seen the full depth of the people’s tragedy, or some indifferent international bureaucrats and representatives of the nuclear and medical lobbies who want at any cost to downplay the medical and psychological consequences of the accident?”

The Parliamentary Hearings on 26 April 2006 demonstrated the indifference of most Ukrainian parliamentarians to issues concerning the consequences of Chernobyl, with only a third of all National Deputies attending. The degree to which Chernobyl issues are a priority fro the Ministry for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster was illustrated already by the fact that the Minister V. Baloha did not turn up to the Parliamentary Hearings. The Chair in one part of the Hearings, Vice-Speaker A. Martynyuk demonstratively interrupted the addresses given by the top authorities in the medical field D. Hrodzynsky, V. Bebeshko, A. Nyahu. Not therefore surprising that over the year that has passed since the Parliamentary Hearings, none of the numerous fundamental proposals aimed at establishing priorities for a permanent regime for overcoming the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster has been implemented.

In 2006, for example, no decision was taken on reinstating a single specially empowered central authority on overcoming the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster (the State Committee on Overcoming the Effects of the Chernobyl Disaster, created in 2004, was again disbanded by Presidential Decree in May 2005).

There was no summarizing and integrating document presenting scientifically founded data regarding the damage to health of various categories of the population caused by Chernobyl. Such a document should be presented at the international and national level as Ukraine’s official position and as an alternative to the conclusions presented by those international institutions which deliberately downplay the consequences of the disaster. 13 years after the moratorium was removed from the development of nuclear energy, there is not only no single, Programme for the development of nuclear energy drawn up on a scientific basis, presented for public discussion and passed by the Verkhovna Rada, but no systematic and responsible national nuclear policy at all.

However, compared with spending in 2005 on social programmes for those who suffered as a result of Chernobyl, as well as on overcoming the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster, there was an increase in 2006 of 800 million UAH, with such spending from the State Budget amounting to 4 billion UAH.  From 1 January 2006 sickness benefits for people who took part in the liquidation of the accident in 1086 were increased three and a half times, and two and a half days for liquidators of the consequences of the accident in 1987-1990.  There was also a four and a half times increase in the size of the annual benefit to those who suffered from the accident. However the increase in prices for housing, medicines, and medical care means that the financing for the majority of social and medical programmes just on priority areas is only 10-20% of the amount needed. According to information from the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Environmental Policy, Use of Nature and Liquidation of the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster, the spending envisaged in the State Budget for 2006 for implementing the base Law “On the status and social protection of people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster” is only 14% of what is needed.   The Cabinet of Ministers and Verkhovna Rada are seeking a way out only by reducing the scope of the Law by withdrawing 1,551 populated areas in the fourth zone from the list of areas which suffered radioactive contamination.

Resolution of the problems linked with transforming the Sarcophagus into an environmentally safe system, as well as with managing radioactive waste, is being dragged out without any justification.

The notorious practice is continued year in, year out where the Law “On Ukraine’s State Budget” suspends for that year the force of particular articles of other laws, including those which stipulate the procedure for exercising citizens’ rights and having their interests considered. Such suspension is systematically carried out with regard to articles of the base Law “On the status and social protection of people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster” and is manifestly unlawful. The practice runs counter to the Constitution where Article 22 states: “The content and scope of existing rights and freedoms shall not be diminished in the adoption of new laws or in the amendment of laws that are in force”.

Yet the Cabinet of Ministers and Verkhovna Rada could not even depart from this truly extraordinary and legally questionable practice in the year marking the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster, or in 2007. The Laws “On the State Budget for 2006” (Item 37 of Article 77) and “On the State Budget for 2007” (Item 30 of Article 71 and Article 97) suspended the force of a whole range of the Law “On the status and social protection of people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster”". These among other things define the scope of benefits and compensation for people in categories 1 – IV who suffered as a result of the accident, as well as the payment of pensions to victims. These restrictions relate, for example, to the provision of interest-free or concessionary loans – items 21 and 29 of Article 20 § 1; items 1 and 7 of Article 21 § 1; items 5 and 12 of Article 22 § 1; item 1 of Article 23 § 1;  item 5 of Article 36 § 1; with regard to payment of compensation and assistance in amounts meeting the minimum wage  - items 6 and 8 of Article 30 § 1, item 1 of Article 36 § 1; paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 of part 1 of Article 37; paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 of parts 1 and 2 of Article 39; Articles 40, 41, 44, paragraphs  2-7 of parts 1 and 3, paragraphs .2-7 of part 4 and part.7 of Article 48 of the Law “On the status and social protection of people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster”"

On 14 March 2006 the Law “On the State programme for overcoming the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster in 2006-2010” was adopted. One would note, however, the curious fact that this Law, and consequently the Programme itself, only came into force in 2007.

Animated public interest in issues related to the Chernobyl Disaster and the development of the nuclear industry, spurred by the events marking the twentieth anniversary, was short-lived. The political events of 2006, linked with the parliamentary elections, the creation of a ruling coalition and the ensuing battle between branches of power for domination in the highest echelons of power, as well as the discussions about two State languages, entry to NATO, etc artificially imposed on society, swiftly attracted public attention. We would note that neither in the programmes of the parties which were victorious at the elections, nor in the coalition agreements or the Memorandum of National Unity, was there any mention of priorities of environmental policy, environmental safety or of minimizing the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster  

At the same time, in many Ukrainian printed publications and on television, commentaries appear regarding the UN report whose authors had “not noticed” the staggering discrepancies between the conclusions drawn by IAEA and WHO on the one hand, and official domestic statistics regarding the consequences, first and foremost bio-medical, of the Chernobyl Disaster, on the other. There was a particular rise in activity of the pro-nuclear lobby after the clash between Russia and Ukraine over the “gas war” in winter 2005-2006.  Since then the mass media has been dominated by assessments and features which boil down to the conclusions that the scale of the Chernobyl Disaster has been exaggerated, and that in the twenty first century there is no alternative to nuclear energy.

Legal and ethnic aspects of the Chernobyl Disaster and the development of nuclear energy

In 1990 the Ukrainian environmental association “Zeleny svit” [“Green World”], using a group of lawyers led by Viktor Vovchenko, launched an independent civic investigation into the causes, circumstances and consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster.[27]. The results of the study were made public in 2004. Unfortunately, this was not made use of by the Verkhovna Rada Commission.

So that disasters like that of Chernobyl are not repeated, Ukrainian society and indeed humankind as a whole need to come to an ethical and legal assessment of the causes, circumstances and effects of the disaster. We need to understand how it was possible, what decisions, actions or omissions, led to it or increase its adverse effects. Conclusions are needed as to whether changes are needed in social relations, in the technical sphere, in the work of the public authorities and public officials, in safeguarding human rights. This assessment must be from all sides and objective. Neither the investigation carried out by the Soviet Prosecutor in 1986-1987, nor the subsequent court case examined by the Supreme Court of the USSR meet the demands for such objectivity and all-sidedness.

The independent civic investigation uncovered a number of important facts and circumstances with enormous importance for a legal assessment. The investigation begun in 1991 by the Prosecutor General after criminal proceedings were instituted against Shcherbytsky, Lyashko, Shevchenko and Romanchenko was terminated as being time-banned (under Article 49 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code). According to the results of the investigation, the accident was the result of an early termination of theoretical studies on the reactor’s safety, on the basis of which the RBMK (a power plant with a graphite moderator and water coolant - translator) could have been deemed “a potentially dangerous reactor”. The blame for this mainly lay with the heads of the country, the Academy of Sciences and the Ministry for medium-sized machine construction.

It is known that at closed meetings of the Soviet Politburo headed by Mikhail Gorbachev, starting from 29 April 1986, the consequences of the accident were discussed, and decisions taken regarding various levels of restricted information for the mass media, the Party, governments of countries in the West and those in the Socialist bloc. The first conclusions on the causes of the disaster were presented to the Politburo on 3 July 1986 already.[28].  Thus, important conclusions regarding the reasons for the accident and those responsible were drawn at the very beginning and added to the official records of meetings. However these conclusions were designated for the highest leadership of the USSR alone, and therefore the protocols were produced with one copy only and this was given the stamp “Top secret”.

The concept emerges at the same time of the moral liability of a huge number of people for the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster. This applies in the first instance to high-ranking government officials in the USSR who had taken or agreed the decision to build a nuclear power plant in a densely populated area with not much water.  A considerable part of the moral blame lies with the nuclear scientists and designers who convinced politicians that the nuclear power plants were totally safe and economical (we would note that even at that time there were alternative scientific conclusions available which argued that the development of number energy in Ukraine was dangerous and without prospects for the future). A great part of moral liability lies with those who in the first days after the explosion at the Fourth Reactor concealed the truth about the extent of the danger. Guilt must also be borne by officials of medical agencies who disregarded the need to carry out preventive and prophylactic measures to protect people’s health.

The unique nature and seriously of the Chernobyl Disaster makes it impossible to rest without finally establishing the truth. The dispute remains unresolved between the constructors and the users of the plant on the direct causes of the accident. The actions of the highest-ranking officials have yet to be fully assessed – both during and after the accident. Only a public trial with full equality of arms, proper defence of the rights of the participants, as well as scrupulous observance of all procedure, can establish the truth. The ability to hold such a trial will prove to the international community Ukraine’s sincerity with regard to its wish to be a law-based society.

In our view, an impartial and unbiased study uncovering the reasons and conditions for the Chernobyl Disaster is a matter of national importance, a test of national dignity and memory for our country. Those responsible for this tragedy will already not bear legal liability as envisaged by the law however Ukrainian society should provide a moral and ethical assessment of their actions on the basis of trustworthy information about what really happened in Chernobyl 21 years ago and who was to blame.  Only the organization of a special investigative commission made up of scientists, politicians and leaders of civic society, provision of free access to information and the legitimization of their conclusions are the prerequisite for establishing the objective truth and reinstating historical justice.

The first arguments for nuclear energy being unacceptable from an ethical position were expressed at beginning of the “nuclear age” in the 1960s and 1970s by classic representatives of an environmental worldview.

For example, the British environmentalist E. Schumacher spoke of the natural environment which had evolved over million years needing to be recognized as the definitive value. He asserted that a planet with more than 1.5 million species of plants and animals living in equilibrium could not be improved by unthinking and senseless human behaviour.  He warned of the dangers of changing a complex mechanism without thorough investigation of all available facts. He recommended introducing changes in small doses to ensure that we understand the likely consequences of wide scale application. Where there was insufficient information, changes should be made on the basis of the laws and mechanisms of natural processes given that these have already demonstrated their ability to support life over a length period.[29].

  One of the founders of the organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Helen Caldicott[30] believes that the dangers inherent in nuclear energy are unprecedented. She says that it is not just that nuclear energy is in itself dangerous, but that those working in the industry ignore the fact that highly radioactive waste is not destroyed. Some of its by-products will remain in the biosphere for thousands of years which will do irreparable harm to plants, animals and human beings. She believes that we have no moral right to leave such a legacy for future generations.

A number of cases are known where physicists or nuclear engineers have left the nuclear industry on ethical grounds. For example, in 1976 the nuclear scientists D. Bridenbau, R. Hubbard and H. Mainor explained their reasons for refusing to continue their work to the US Committee on Nuclear Energy: “We can no longer find any sensible justification for the fact that our everyday work will contribute to the accumulation of a radioactive burden for our children and future generations for hundreds of thousands of years”. In their addresses to the Committee the specialists stated also that “just in themselves the defects and miscalculations in the plans for nuclear reactors present serious danger, and together with the shortcomings in the construction and exploitation of nuclear power plants, they make accidents inevitable. The question is only when and where”. It seems appropriate here to quote also some leading Soviet nuclear physicists. Member of the Academy of Sciences I Kurchatov called a nuclear reactor a “smouldering bomb”, while the Nobel Laureate L. Kapitsa described a nuclear power plant as “bombs which produce electricity”.

The prominent Russian ecologist and correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Scientists A.V. Yablokov sees two levels of ethical problems in the context of the Chernobyl Disaster and the consequences for the development of nuclear energy in general.[31].  He includes at the first level arguments of a general nature linked with the unethical aspect of scientific research in areas which are complicated by the difficulties of assessment, the inability to foresee results and the irreversibility of adverse effects. The second level involves arguments over practical application, the effects of the nuclear power plants’ functioning and this also generates ethical problems.

The first ethical problem lies in the fact that nuclear energy is built on incomplete research and insufficiently tried out technologies, solely focused on economic comforts from the use of electricity. The nuclear energy lobby at the same time consciously endeavours to divert people’s attention away from the numerous problems of nuclear technologies, the essence of which lie in the inability at any future point of neutralizing adverse consequences. These include the impossibility of controlling the formation of unstable isotopes in used nuclear fuel, the lack of economically acceptable ways of dismantling nuclear power stations and restoring the territory to its natural state, as well as the irreversible consequences of accidents with the release of radioactive substances into the environment. Finally, the risk of introducing nuclear experiments into practice cannot be fully estimated since it cannot be achieved within the span of one generation, or even several. Radiobiology and radiation medicine which have more or less been able to study the adverse effects of extreme ionizing radiation are still unable to give an answer as to what the later consequences will be of the radioactive contamination of the environment for humans and other living beings.  However, without having ascertained these consequences, military and energy authorities have begun testing nuclear weapons and building nuclear power stations. In so doing they are violating the rights of the present and future generations by creating the threat of disease and genetic aberrations.

Through their very existence therefore, nuclear power stations breach the basic principles of environmental ethics encapsulated in “don’t do harm” and “observe the rights of nature”.

The next problem is that scientific elaborations in the area of nuclear energy are usually linked with those for nuclear weapons and are therefore extremely removed from scrutiny. The wall of secrecy over the sphere of nuclear technologies remains impenetrable. The limits of classified information here also extend not only to technological subtleties of the use of nuclear energy for military purposes, but also to issues of security of nuclear energy. This state of affairs significantly narrows the options for the public to be fully information, to take part in open public debate and to take responsible decisions on the development of nuclear technologies.

A difficult ethical clash is inherent in the fact that both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are at the present time only available to a limited circle of countries in the “nuclear club” who gain real profit at both the economic and geopolitical levels. At the same time, the interests and risks to the people from other countries are not taken into consideration. Yet people in non-nuclear countries also share to a large extent the danger from the use of nuclear technologies. The Chernobyl Disaster equally convincingly demonstrated that accidents at nuclear plants are threats to all of humanity and all living nature, and it is impossible to overcome the global dangers of these threats through the efforts of one people or country eve if that country happens to be super-power.  Full awareness of this situation gives rise to an ethical imperative: people who take strategic political decisions must rid themselves of a selfish perception of the world in satisfying government or private interests. They must take into consideration the rights and needs of people, of humanity as a whole and of future generations. Civic society in its turn must support equality of forces and interests in a democratic society and exercise control over the activities of financial –political groups who stand for the development of nuclear technology.

In A.V. Yablokov’s view[32], “the Chernobyl Disaster demonstrated that the development of the nuclear industry violates fundamental human rights and freedoms. Since Chernobyl nobody can feel safe either within the four walls of their own home or in the most far-off corner of the Earth”. In issues regarding the safety of complex modern technologies, including nuclear energy, the “human factor” becomes particularly immediate. Therefore however perfect plans for nuclear power plants are, they are constructed and used by human beings for whom it is natural to make mistakes. In the nuclear sphere these mistakes can have fatal consequences which many future generations will have to pay for. Over recent years the “human factor” has taken on particular urgency given the surge of international terrorism.

From an ethical and legal point of view there can be no justification for the customary practice in Ukraine whereby projects for the development of nuclear energy and the elimination of its adverse effects are regularly financed from the State Budget or via unjustified extra charges placed on electricity. We have the situation where, on the one hand the construction of new reactors for hydro accumulating energy stations, storage facilities for waste and used fuel, as well as measures to liquidate the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster are paid for by Ukrainian taxpayers. On the other, the taxpayers’ opportunities for taking part in decision making on issues around the development of nuclear energy are reduced to a minimum.

The keys to resolving the entirely understandable “post-Chernobyl complex” with its lack of faith in the safety of the Ukrainian nuclear sphere can only be a politically responsible management, effective public control and active public dialogue. Without this there can be neither the necessary mutual trust, nor effective management. The present relations found in the triangle: “nuclear energy – the authorities – society” is manifestly unacceptable.

The other reality is that no nuclear state can suddenly give up nuclear technologies and that would create exceptional added dangers. Ukraine too will have to bear the heavy burden of the problem of nuclear energy, at least for a fairly long time. However any branch must develop in a natural way and each step along this way must be well-considered and justified. The priorities of safety, caution, minimizing interference to the environment and rejection of the use of knowledge gained for military purposes must be absolute.

The Chernobyl experience teaches us that only a truly open and law-based society, one that is highly-educated and organized, bearing responsibility before its citizens, future generations and all humanity, can afford to develop in the nuclear sphere. Yet are there many countries in the modern world who really meet these standards?

 



[1] By Oleksandr Stepanenko, member of the UHHRU Board and Head of the Chortkiv Environmental Organization “Zeleny svit” [Green World”]

[2]  Чорнобиль should in fact be transliterated as Chornobyl.  The world learned of this place and the tragedy associated with it in Soviet times, through the Russian Chernobyl.  Given the scale of the disaster, this does not seem an appropriate place to argue for the more correct Ukrainian version, and we are staying with the more customary Chernobyl [translator]

[3] “National Report on Nuclear and Radiation Safety in Ukraine in 2005”,. State Committee for Nuclear Regulation.

[4] " National Report on Manmade and Nature Safety in Ukraine for 2005”. The Ministry for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster  (http://mns.gov.ua/annual_report/2006/content_1.ua.php?m=B5&p=1

[5] Transcript of parliamentary hearings: “20 years of the Chernobyl Disaster” from 25 April 2006.

[6] National Report on Manmade and Nature Safety in Ukraine for 2005”. The Ministry for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster  (http://mns.gov.ua/annual_report/2006/content_1.ua.php?m=B5&p=1 (http://mns.gov.ua/annual_report/2006/content_1.ua.php?m=B5&p=1

[7] Transcript of parliamentary hearings: “20 years of the Chernobyl Disaster” from 25 April 2006.

[8]  Ministry of Health Report on the work of the field in 2006.

[9] " National Report on Manmade and Nature Safety in Ukraine for 2005”. The Ministry for Emergencies and the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster  (http://mns.gov.ua/annual_report/2006/content_1.ua.php?m=B5&p=1

[10] Material from the Humanitarian Forum “Regeneration, renewal and human development” 25 April 2006, Kyiv (transcript of the plenary and concluding sessions).

[11] The Other Report on Chernobyl (TORCH) An independent scientific evaluation of the health and environmental effects of the

Chernobyl nuclear disaster., Berlin – Brussels.

[12] Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and Their Remediation: :Twenty Years of Experience Report of the UN Chernobyl Forum Expert Group “Environment” (EGE);  Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Healthcare Programmes: Report of the UN Chernobyl Forum Expert Group “Health”

[13] Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programmes http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/a_e/chernobyl.pdf

[14] “For whom the bell of Chernobyl tolls”, Greenpeace International Press Release on 18 April 2006, presenting the findings of their report “The Chernobyl Catastrophe. Consequences on Human Health” marking the twentieth anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Kyiv.

[15] Assessment and analysis of the population’s need for information about the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster. Research in Ukraine, UNDP. 2004

 

[16] “ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS” Bulletin of the Union “For chemical safety” (in Russian) (http://www.seu.ru/members/ucs) . Editor and publisher Lev A. Fyodorov. Report ECO-HR, 2392

[17] Transcript of parliamentary hearings: “20 years of the Chernobyl Disaster” from 25 April 2006

[18] “National Report on Nuclear and Radiation Safety in Ukraine in 2005”,. State Committee for Nuclear Regulation.

[19] “National Report on Nuclear and Radiation Safety in Ukraine in 2005”,. State Committee for Nuclear Regulation.

[20] 60th Session of the UN General Assembly Strengthening of international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster

[21] 60th Session of the UN General Assembly , Report of the Secretary-General: Optimizing the international effort to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster:

[22]  Mykola Karpan “Atomic energy can’t wash itself clean from Chernobyl”, “Dzerkalo tyzhnya”, № 13 (592) Saturday, 8-4 April 2006 . http://www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/592/53063/

Mykola Karpan “Revenge of the peaceful atom” http://www.zn.ua/3000/3320/56433/

Member of the Ukrainian Academic of Sciences Volodymyr Prisnyakov: “In vain Prometheus stole flame from the Gods”  http://www.zn.kiev.ua/nn/show/598/53396/

[23] Commentary from Volodymyr Usatenko, expert from the Ukrainian National Commission for Radiation Protection on the Report of the UN Chernobyl Forum. “Chernobyl Project, 2005”: Kyiv, 2005р.

[24] The Other Report on Chernobyl (TORCH) An independent scientific evaluation of the health and environmental effects of the

Chernobyl nuclear disaster,  Berlin – Brussels 2006.

[25]  Material from the international conference “Chernobyl + 20: Remembrance for the Future”, Kyiv, 23-25 April 2006

[26] Transcript of parliamentary hearings: “20 years of the Chernobyl Disaster” from 25 April 2006.

[27]  Press release from “Zeleny svit” to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster “From an independent Chernobyl investigation to an official Chernobyl court”

[28] Alla Yaroshinskaya: “The Philosophy of nuclear safety” // http://www.zn.ua/3000/3320/56433/

  Alla Yaroshinskaya:  “The Dirty past not overcome (How the Politburo taught the press to lie about Chernobyl” http://www.rosbalt.ru/2007/05/10/295770.html

 

[29]  E.F. Schumacher: Both this and the next excerpt have travelled somewhat, being taken from translations into Russian and then translated into Ukrainian. Balking at the risk of the return to the English language being far removed from where they set out, the above texts are, we hope, fair summaries of what the authors actually wrote. (translator).

[30] Helen Caldicott: “Nuclear Madness” – see the above footnote

[31] Alexei Yablokov: The Myth that the consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster were minor – Moscow: Russian Centre for Environmental Policy 2001.

[32]Алексей Яблоков. Миф о незначительности последствий Чернобыльской катастрофы. – М.: Центр экологической политики России, 2001.

Recommend this post
X




forgot the password

registration

X

X

send me a new password