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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 07.06.2023, 09:02

Chernobyl: a tragedy happened 25 years ago. What are the historic lessons?

Alla Petrova, BC, Riga, 13.04.2011.Print version
At night between 25 and 26 April 1986, a nuclear station near a small Ukrainian town of Chernobyl was affected by the largest-scale radiation-related manmade catastrophe in the history of humankind. The devastating tragedy left around five million suffering who lived in the area encompassing five thousand towns and villages of today’s Belarus, Russia and Ukraine… Radioactive cesium and strontium with half-life of 28 and 30 years contaminated around 150,000 square kilometers across the territories of the three countries. A total of 17 European countries were affected by the radioactive fall-outs.

Experts estimate that most radioactive fall-outs rained on the territory of Belarus, resulting in the radioactive contamination of 23% of our country’s territory populated by a quarter of the population, cf. Russia – 1.5%, Ukraine – 7%, informed BC press service of Embassy of Belarus in Latvia.


The Chernobyl tragedy challenged both Belarus and the international community with consequences for nearly all areas of life.


The economic damage inflicted on the nation is estimated at $235bn which is an equivalent of 32 national budgets in 1986. The expenditures earmarked by Belarus and the international community for the mitigation of the catastrophe covered a mere 10% of the colossal damages.


Essential damage was caused to the agricultural sector of Belarus economy. Around a fifth of all crop lands, namely, 2,640 square kilometers, cannot be used. Over the post-disaster years, it was possible to bring back only 150 square kilometers to the agricultural economy. Annually, the losses are over $700m for Belarus. There was a decrease in the crop lands and agricultural harvests, livestock came down dramatically.


The contamination area encompassed 132 deposits of mineral resources, leaving the forestry business greatly damaged. The annual losses of forestry resources are currently in excess of 2m cubic meters. The contaminated area now includes around 340 industrial enterprises whose operation deteriorated dramatically.


The human damage of the disaster is two million of those who suffered. 1.3 million, including nearly half a million of teenagers are still living in the affected areas.


The medical after-effects of the disaster gave rise to the incidence of oncologic diseases with rife thyroid cancer. The incidence of thyroid cancer in children grew almost forty-fold, in adults 2.5-7 times.


The tragedy had complicated social and psychological effects: the resettlement and deteriorated health conditions of many Belarus residents forced them to change the usual ways of life and jobs. That took many a lot of pains to become adapted to a new environment.


The long-term and versatile mitigation of Chernobyl aftermath was high on the priority list for the Belarusian government. Given the scale of environmental and economic jeopardy, time-consuming and costly measures have been developed and improved to deliver the set targets. To that end, net of the external assistance from 1986, Belarus spent over $18bn. All practical efforts to mitigate the Chernobyl after-effects have and are made part of various national programmes.


Currently, a new National Programme is drafted for the mitigation of Chernobyl after-effects for the years 2011-2015. Its major goal will be to rehabilitate and develop the affected areas socially and economically, maintain the required level of safety for the suffering citizens and radiation safety. The principal task of the current programme is to move away from the rehabilitation efforts in most critical directions of the mitigation towards social and economic revival and sustainable development of the affected areas.


Three programmes on the Chernobyl mitigation were implemented under the Union State of Belarus and Russian from 1998 to 2010. At the moment, the Ministries of Emergencies of the two countries started developing a concept of the joint action programme for 2011-2015. The Union State intends to boost mitigation funds. Another two billion Russian roubles are scheduled to be earmarked to add to 1.2 billion allocated for the implementation of the programme in the past five-year period.


The international community also keeps abreast with Chernobyl problems. A host of international organizations assist the Belarusian Government in mitigating the Chernobyl after-effects. In most cases, a major focus is given to the mitigation of short-term and medium-term radioactive aftermath by reclaiming the contaminated lands, providing special medical services, monitoring long-term effects of radioactive exposure, studying environmental aspects of the de-commissioned Chernobyl station and environmental problems in the treatment of radioactive wastes.


Even though Belarus requires as much international assistance as before and even increasingly more, nowadays the donor countries take less interest in the provision of assistance. One of the reasons is the fact that a lot of time has since passed. To treat the fatigue of the donors, the UN family organizations developed a new strategy of assistance, prioritizing rehabilitation and development. The strategy pre-supposes the development of local economy by encouraging private business community, raising inward investment and developing small business, generating new jobs and sources of income.


Apart from international programmes, what is important is gratuitous humanitarian assistance rendered by charities and individuals.


Children’s recuperation abroad is an opportunity to help the population living in the contaminated territories. The countries who are traditional hosts of children include Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain, US, UK and Canada. The foreign travels of children put positive impact on their health, morale and psychology, beyond doubt.


However, the recuperation practices have an important innate element – safety of children while on recuperation trips and exercise of their rights and freedoms. In this regard, today, to keep them safer, children are supposed to travel to those countries for recuperation that have a special agreement with Belarus, setting out guarantees and rights of Belarusian children and listing arrangements to be made by the hosting country’s authorities to protect children in various circumstances.


Belarus has ample opportunity to organize rest and recuperation of children domestically. Today, there are 14 children’s rehabilitation and recuperation centres, specializing in the year-round recuperation of those affected. The annual number of patients is around 120,000 children.


The joint efforts of the international community, international organizations and active stance of Belarus in mitigating Chernobyl aftermath triggered essential results. Today, there are the following systems launched and performing well:


- of radioactive control and monitoring;

- of health monitoring and recuperation of the Chernobyl-affected population;

- social protection of the affected citizens;

- rehabilitation measures in agriculture and forestry;

- Chernobyl researches.


It has been 25 years since the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded. There has been a great deal done, and there is a lot to do under the programmes to mitigate the after-effects of the harrowing tragedy. Many generations to come in Belarus will be compelled to face the effects of the catastrophe and struggle for a better future. For the 25 years, Belarus amassed enormous scientific, managerial and professional experience. The country that was struck the heaviest by the disaster has been granted an expert state status. The valuable knowledge in our possession today may well and do serve the humankind in its entirety.


Given such experience, the Republic of Belarus is on the standby to implement its own nuclear power programme whose economic importance is hard to overestimate. The Belarusian Government honours its commitments under the ESPO Convention, undertakes to meet safety requirements in the Belarusian nuclear power station, taking into account inter alia experience obtained from the monitoring of the liquidation at Fukushima-1.


The obvious priorities are to keep the Belarusian nuclear power station safe and meet our international environmental commitments in the cross-border context.

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