News / Europe

Ukraine-Russia Tension Hampers Chernobyl Cleanup

Ukraine-Russia Tension Hampers Chernobyl Cleanupi
X
March 27, 2014 3:55 PM
The tensions between Russia and Ukraine have begun complicating the ongoing cleanup at the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Chernobyl in Ukraine.
— The tensions between Russia and Ukraine have begun complicating the ongoing cleanup at the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. 
 
In northern Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus, the world’s largest movable structure is being built.

When finished, the 250-meter-wide steel arch is to slide 200 meters to cover the sarcophagus hastily built after the 1986 explosion to entomb Chernobyl Reactor Number 4.

Driver Igor Bordnarch made more than 500 trips to the location, none lasting more than 15 minutes.  His geiger counter shows the limited effectiveness of the old sarcophagus, which is in danger of collapse.  
 
“This, actually for perimeter of the nuclear power plant, is a cleaned area.  So the radiation does not go from the ground, from the soil.  It goes directly through the sarcophagus,” explained Bordnarch.
 
Tons of radioactive material shot into the sky when the reactor exploded.  The fallout blanketed Belarus and Ukraine in what was then the Soviet Union.  But the Soviet government in Moscow did not raise a public alarm.  It would be scientists in Sweden who told the world something ominous had occurred.  
 
Farmer Ivan Semenyuk said if Soviet authorities had told villagers they would never be able to return home, there would have been panic and perhaps many of the 120,000 people in the area would have refused to leave. 

“They lied to us. I took only 20 potatoes and a kettle. I fled in my broken-down car,” he said.

But Semenyuk and his wife have illegally returned home to tend to a small wheat field and raise some chickens and a pig, just 12 kilometers from the accident site.

Most of a 30-square-kilometer exclusion zone remains an eerie ghost town, off limits to all but cleanup workers and some officials who may spend no more than 15 days per month inside.    

A top Ukrainian Communist official at the time, Leonid Kravchuk, who would become independent Ukraine’s first president, visited the site two days after the explosion.  

“Of course the Ukrainian intelligentsia, Ukrainian scientists and those who were politically savvy saw that Moscow would never tell the truth to Ukraine.  They knew that Moscow always wanted to see Ukraine under its thumb,” Kravchuk said.
 
  • A rusting ride for children in the highly radioactive abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, near Chernobyl, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • The entrance to the restricted Chernobyl zone, in which no one, on the Ukrainian side, is allowed to live within 30 kilometers of the destroyed nuclear reactor, Chernobyl, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Arash Arabasadi/VOA)
  • A monument commemorating permanently evacuated towns and villages inside the exclusion zone, Chernobyl, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • Nature has taken back most of the villages inside the exclusion zone, in Pripyat, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • Ivan Semenuk, 78, has illegally returned to his home in a village near the exclusion zone, Paryshiv, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • An unusually high radiation reading of about 172 micro-sieverts per hour over some vegetation on the ground of the Pripyat amusement park, in Pripyat, near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • The Ferris wheel in the Pripyat amusement park, now an iconic symbol to a younger generation born after the Chernobyl disaster, thanks to its inclusion in the video game: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, in Pripyat, near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine, March 19, 2014.
  • A cashier uses an abacus at one of the few commercial establishments inside the exclusion zone, Chernobyl, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • A monument in front of a fire station to the 32 firefighters who died responding to the explosion at Reactor No. 4, Chernobyl, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • Remote control equipment used at Chernobyl after the reactor explosion. Much of it ceased to function because the high radioactivity levels made electronic circuits inoperable, Chernobyl, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA).
  • Driver Igor Bordnarch, a frequent visitor to the Chernobyl reactor site, checks radiation readings just 240 meters from the destroyed reactor, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • VOA's videographer Arash Arabasadi and correspondent Steve Herman (holding a radiation monitor) in front of the old sarcophagus covering Chernobyl Reactor No. 4, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (unknown photographer/VOA)
  • To exit the exclusion zone, all persons must have their radiation level checked by an automated device. Here VOA correspondent Steve Herman gets the all clear, Chernobyl, Ukraine, March 19, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)


     

Twenty-eight years later those initial Ukrainian suspicions are full-fledged animosities, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  

Ukrainian officials say Russia has abandoned its G-8 duties to lead fundraising for the sarcophagus cost overruns, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Now they [Russia] will leave us on our own to finish the construction of the new sarcophagus and it is hugely uncertain whether they will provide the portion of the funds that they took responsibility for,” said Ukrainian lawmaker Valerii Kalchenko.  

An emergency meeting of concerned nations and the funding coordinator, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is to be held April 4 in London to discuss the money shortfall for the sarcophagus.

There are warnings time is running out to avert a second Chernobyl catastrophe due to the precarious condition of the sarcophagus.

“This is why it is very important for us today not to lose time," said Kalchenko.  "Perhaps we have three to four years left to finish the construction.”

But even when the new protective arch is slid into place, the dangerous work will not be finished.

Removing spent fuel and other highly radioactive materials will take decades and cost many more billions of dollars, a tremendous financial burden for Ukraine.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid