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

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.