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Around two million people have been hurt by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that took place 26 years ago. “The Chernobyl disaster underscored that mankind must be extra careful in using nuclear technologies,” Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych said. Is India listening?
The impact of Chernobyl nuclear disaster we see today is not just the exclusion zone around the destroyed reactor, but enormous radioactive contamination still observed in the now independent states of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. There are vast territories in Russia’s Bryansk Region where the levels of background radiation are still too high for people to live safely in the area. Ironically, Russia, one of the countries most severely affected by Chernobyl, prefers to ignore the immense renewable energy potential and still placing its bets on more nuclear power plants.
Indian nuclear power plants are situated in Zone II and III except Narora plant in Uttar Pradesh, which is situated in Zone IV. Is the government doing enough to ensure that our nuclear plant are safe and can withstand any disaster, natural or otherwise? Here is an international report highlighting the Chernobyl disaster and the measures taken by the Ukrainian government to protect its citizens from the after-effects of the disaster.
Twenty-six years to the day after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Ukraine on Thursday began construction of a vast new metal shelter to contain the stricken Chernobyl reactor.
The 20,000-tonne structure, big enough to enclose the Statue of Liberty, is due to be completed by 2015, allowing the delicate and dangerous job of dismantling the reactor and cleaning vast amounts of radioactive waste still around it to begin.
“The Chernobyl disaster underscored that mankind must be extra careful in using nuclear technologies,” Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych said at the commencement ceremony. “Nuclear accidents lead to global consequences. They are not a problem of just one country, they affect the life of entire regions.”
The 26 April 1986, explosion spewed a cloud of radiation over the northern hemisphere, forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes in Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia. The Soviet government initially tried to hush up the explosion and resisted evacuation of neighbouring settlements, as well as failing to tell citizens how to protect themselves against radiation.
A concrete “sarcophagus” was hastily erected over the wrecked reactor, but it has been crumbling and leaking radiation in recent years and a new confinement structure is necessary.
Mr Yanukovych said two million people have been hurt by the tragedy and it was the state’s obligation to protect and treat them. But his reassurances fell flat with Chernobyl clean-up workers and victims. About 2,000 protesters rallied on Thursday outside parliament in Kiev, demanding more compensation and pensions.
Mr Yanukovych also thanked international donors for pledging 740 million euros (615 million pounds) to build the new shelter and a nuclear fuel waste facility. The biggest donors are the G8 industrial nations, including Japan, itself still recovering from last year’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown.
“It feels good to note Ukraine wasn’t left alone with its pain. We felt the whole world came to our rescue,” Mr Yanukovych said.
Vince Novak, director of the Nuclear Safety Department with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which part-funds the project, praised Ukraine’s commitment.
“It is definitely important to know there is a strong commitment in Ukraine to do everything necessary to ensure that the Chernobyl project progresses well,” he said. “We have no room or margins for delay, for errors or for poor performance.” Mr Novak said 1,000 workers are now beginning to piece together the giant arch from French steel on an assembly site 200 metres away from the exploded reactor. After it is assembled in the coming months, workers will begin to lift it to slide it over the reactor. The contours of the new confinement building should become visible by the year end. Then a front and back section will be built.
Preparatory work has been under way since 2008. That included cleaning up the assembly site, replacing contaminated soil, and then putting it in concrete, which now enables employees to work without special radiation protection.
EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, has also written to PMO hoping that someone there will have the sanity to think outside the narrow confines of Department of Energy and be statesmanlike in reviewing the safety of nuclear power. There are a myriad ways to find answers to our energy problem without committing the people of this country to a dangerous nuclear future.