|Tatyana Ignatenko, the mother of Vasily Ignatenko, a firefighter who worked at reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl when it exploded, visited his grave in Moscow yesterday. (Mikhail Metzel/Associated Press)|
Marking 25 years since Chernobyl, Russia defends nuclear energy
Medvedev calls for stricter rules around world
KIEV — Tough new guidelines could help prevent accidents like the Chernobyl meltdown, Russia’s president insisted yesterday, defending nuclear energy during solemn ceremonies commemorating the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in history.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych took part in a religious service outside Chernobyl’s damaged No. 4 nuclear reactor, laying the first stone of a monument to cleanup workers and placing bouquets of red roses at another monument to Chernobyl victims.
Medvedev said he has invited world leaders to work on rules for safer nuclear energy. His economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, said Russia forwarded its proposals yesterday to leaders of other Group of Eight countries, and he hoped they would be discussed at next month’s summit in France.
“It’s of utmost importance that we understand what kind of force humankind is dealing with so that our solutions . . . meet the challenges of nuclear energy,’’ Medvedev said.
The accident on April 26, 1986, spewed a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in heavily hit areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and western Russia. It has left forests and farmland still contaminated, offering a warning to the Japanese of the potential long-term effects of their own nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
The Chernobyl accident fostered deep mistrust among many in the affected areas, because Soviet leaders waited for days to tell people about the accident, evacuate them from contaminated areas, and warn them how to reduce health risks. Medvedev called that a major mistake.
“The duty of the government is to tell its people the truth. We must admit that the government did not always behave in the right way,’’ he said. “We must all be honest, we must give absolutely clear information about what is going on.’’
The Kremlin said Medvedev was calling for stricter safety standards for building and operating nuclear power plants, and increased governmental responsibilities when dealing with the consequences of possible nuclear accidents, including providing full, accurate information on any accident.
Yanukovych stressed that nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl and the nuclear explosion at Fukushima affect the whole planet, and renewed calls for donations to build a new, safer shelter over Chernobyl’s damaged reactor. Ukraine must still raise some $300 million to cover up the plant, which remains a no-go zone a quarter century after the disaster.
“The whole world has become convinced that such catastrophes have no boundaries and Fukushima-1 serves as a bitter example of that,’’ Yanukovych said. “No nation can battle such catastrophes alone.’’
Despite the dangers, the three most-affected former Soviet countries continue to believe in nuclear energy. Vladislav Bochkov, spokesman for the Russian nuclear energy agency, said 11 reactors are now under construction in Russia. Ukraine is building two and Belarus is building one.
The new reactor being constructed in Belarus is close to the border with Lithuania, where protests were held yesterday by activists who believe the project is unsafe. Opposition activists in Belarus also rallied to protest the new reactor.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Chernobyl last week, stressed in a statement yesterday the importance of strengthening the global nuclear safety regime.
The Chernobyl explosion released about 400 times more radiation than the US atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. The UN World Health Organization said among the 600,000 people most heavily exposed to radiation at Chernobyl, 4,000 more cancer deaths than average are expected.
Artur Tverdokhlebov, 80, a retired subway worker, joined some 3,000 Chernobyl victims at a memorial service at a monument in Kiev.
“Chernobyl is an open wound in the soul of our people,’’ said Tverdokhlebov, who was rushed to clean up the aftermath of Chernobyl in May 1986. “The authorities kept secret what had really happened, nobody told us anything about the danger and we ate the fish that we caught in the river.’’