Ukraine President Wants to Renew Chernobyl Area

KIEV, Ukraine, April 26, 2007 (ENS) - Today, on the 21st anniversary of the explosion and fire at Chernobyl that sent a radioactive cloud across Europe, the president of Ukraine urged the country to support renewal of the uninhabited, contaminated region around the closed reactor.

"As chief of state," said President Viktor Yushchenko, "I insist that all executive bodies make it their priority to develop the contaminated territories, rehabilitate those affected by the accident and create favorable conditions for their activity."

Yushchenko and a group of mourners prayed and lit candles before dawn to mark the precise time of the world's most devastating nuclear catastrophe, which occurred at 1:23 am on April 26, 1986.

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President Yushchenko addresses the nation from a school outside of Kiev. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
Speaking Wednesday at a school outside Kiev, Yushchenko said it is vital to introduce healthcare and economic reforms in that area and attract investment to revitalize it.

"Chernobyl has no past tense in Ukraine. Its revival has been and will be our paramount goal," he said in an address that was broadcast live on Ukrainian television. "Our common obligation is to take care of the people touched by the Chernobyl sorrow."
Twenty-one years ago, Chernobyl reactor No. 4 experienced a catastrophic steam explosion that resulted in a fire, a series of additional explosions, and a nuclear meltdown.

A plume of radioactive fallout drifted over parts of the Western Soviet Union, Europe, and eastern North America. Large areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were heavily contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people.

A 30 kilometer (18 mile) zone around the plant remains closed to the public. It is located at Prypiat in northern Ukraine about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Kiev. The reactor is now crumbling beside an abandoned city that once housed some 50,000 workers and their families.

"This land must be revitalized," Yushchenko said. "We should look at it as having prospects, not with the feeling that this is a territory of Ukraine that has been erased from the map and which we must forget."

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Chernobyl reactor No. 4 after the accident showing the extensive damage to the main reactor hall (Photo credit unknown)
Prypiat and the surrounding area will not be safe for human habitation for several centuries, scientists say. The radioactive isotopes caesium-137 and strontium-90 released by the accident will take 300 years to decay to one thousandth of their present level. Scientists say that after the radioactive isotopces have reached this level, the area may be used for most human activities again.

A project to build a new shelter to cover reactor No. 4 will begin "in several months," Yushchenko said. Work on the US$1.1 billion (885 million euro) internationally funded project has been delayed repeatedly, although the hastily built current shelter of concrete and steel is crumbling.

Yushchenko thanked the country's international partners for their assistance in dealing with the aftereffects of the blast.

"We are deeply grateful for this support. We hope all the obligations assumed by the international community will be fulfilled," he said. "I am convinced we will succeed and see Ukraine prosper if we unite, particularly to resolve our Chernobyl problems. This is our obligation and our responsibility for posterity."

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President Viktor Yushchenko lays a wreath at a new monument commemorating those who died at Chernobyl. April 25, 2007. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
Thirty-one people died within the first two months of the Chernobyl disaster from illnesses caused by radioactivity. There is debate over the longer-term toll.

The UN's World Health Organization has estimated that 9,300 people will die from cancers caused by Chernobyl's radiation. Some groups, such as Greenpeace, believe the toll could be 10 times higher.

To mark the anniversary today, 30 Greenpeace activists from six European nations halted construction of the Electricite de France's proposed new European pressurized water reactor at Flamanville, France.

Activists occupied cranes and used trucks to block the entrance at the construction site because they view the new type of reactor as "dangerous."

"The proposed construction of such new reactors, which are likely to be the most dangerous in the world, is an insult to the memory of those who died in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl, and the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives continue to be blighted by the disaster," said Frederic Marillier of Greenpeace France.
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Greenpeace activists lock themselves to a truck at the site of Electricite de France's European pressurized water reactor at Flamanville, France. (Photo Greenpeace / Pierre Gleizes)
"We're occupying the construction site to highlight the risk to all of Europe," said Marillier, "and we call upon the two candidates for France's presidential election to cancel the EPR project at Flamanville."

A recent study commissioned by Greenpeace, shows that the new generation of EPR reactors have an inherently higher risk of serious radioactive contamination in the event of any accident.

The study, produced by John Large Associates, found that the number of people affected and requiring evacuation following the 'most likely' of nuclear incidents at the Flamanville reactor would be about 660,000.

In a worst-case scenario, the number of people requiring evacuation would increase to more than three million.

Based on a nuclear industry document leaked last year, Greenpeace warns that European pressurized water reactor plants are vulnerable to terrorist attack.