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 Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid