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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs