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26.04.2013

Chornobyl: Lessons Unlearned

   

Not only have the real numbers of victims of the Chornobyl Disaster never been acknowledged, but the authorities have over the last year demonstrated the same will to conceal the truth and disregard for people’s safety as back in the days and months following 26 April 1986

On 26 April 1986 the fourth reactor at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded releasing vast amounts of radioactive waste and contaminating huge areas of Ukraine and Belarus, in the first instance, and to a lesser degree all of Europe. 

The Soviet authorities tried to conceal the disaster, on 1 May communist party officials, having sent their children as far away as possible, sent other children out onto the streets for May Day “celebrations”.

To this day, tragically, the figures and details given about the Disaster and its consequences, about the lives destroyed, depend who you talk to.  Nor are the untruths now confined to Ukraine.

The last two years have seen measures aimed at reducing payments to the Chornobyl clean-up workers whose health was permanently damaged by the vital work they carried out in those first months and, often, at penalizing those who try to protest (See, for example, Chornobyl’s Ongoing Victims and Former Chornobyl clean-up workers outraged over trick with new law

There are also signs that the authorities have learned little if anything from that terrible disaster.

Chemical Time-Bomb and the murder of Volodymyr Honcharenko

One month ago, on 23 March, environmental activists were prevented from holding a protest outside the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office.  The activists were calling for proper investigation of the murder of well-known Dnipropetrovsk environmentalist Volodymyr Honcharenko who died after a brutal attack on 1 August 2012. The attack came four days after a press conference at which Mr Honcharenko warned of a “chemical time bomb” from 180 tons of chemically contaminated scrap metal in the form of three heat exchangers contaminated with one of the world’s most toxic chemicals – hexachlorbenzol.  He showed evidence that the load was illegally being transported around Kryvy Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast.  He also informed of attempts to alert the authorities to the danger and the latter’s total failure to respond. 

Despite considerable protest and public attention, the authorities resorted to subterfuge and lies  (see, for example, Committees and Compliance)  While the heat exchangers have now vanished from Dnipropetrovsk, there is absolutely no information as to where this extraordinarily dangerous load may have gone. 

Khmelnytski Nuclear Plant Reactors

In September 2012 President Yanukovych ignored calls from Ukrainian environmentalists, Greenpeace and Bankwatch urging him to veto a law allowing the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Khmelnytski Nuclear Power Plant. The two international NGOs pointed out that consultation with neighbouring countries in accordance with Espoo procedure had not ended when the Verkhovna Rada on 6 September adopted Law No. 11088 on Reactors 3 and 4

No less concern in the European community was aroused by the fact that the draft law, in infringement of Ukraine’s legislation, had not undergone a State environmental impact assessment of the risks and impact of the planned construction.

They stressed that such a negligent attitude to the planning and risk assessment of nuclear energy plans was  unacceptable in the world which is still bearing the consequences of the disasters at the Chornobyl and Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants.

If denial and muffling of the real consequences of the Chornobyl Disaster betrays the memory of its victims, so to do demonstrations of the same callous disregard for human lives in the present day. 

Halya Coynash

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