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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid