26 April 1996

Press Briefing



The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Coordinator for Chernobyl Assistance, Yasushi Akashi, opened today's joint press conference by the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine by saying that, 10 years ago today, an experiment at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant "went terribly wrong" causing the worst accident in the history of nuclear power generation.

The accident at Chernobyl was not like any other disaster, Mr. Akashi said. It started 10 years ago, but was still happening today. The incidence of thyroid cancer in children was still increasing and not likely to reach its peak for another 10 to 15 years.

Mr. Akashi said a number of important commemorative events had taken place, along with a commitment expressed by heads of State at the Moscow Nuclear Safety and Security Summit to give absolutely priority to the safe use of nuclear energy. Tribute was paid to firefighters and innocent victims of the disaster this morning at a special commemorative meeting here, and solidarity was expressed for the hundreds of thousands of people who continued to suffer physically, economically and psychologically from the effects of that disaster. New pledges of financial support for the victims had also been announced. Mr. Akashi gave his assurance to the affected countries that international efforts to overcome the consequences of Chernobyl would not end with this anniversary.

The Deputy Minister on Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation, Sergei Khetagurov, said much work had been done to decontaminate the affected territory. The radiological situation had been improved in some of the affected areas. At the same time, many medical programmes for the affected population had been implemented. In addition, the Russian Federation had adopted a federal law on radiological safety, introducing acceptable levels of radiation exposure to the population. Major risk groups requiring protracted medical control had been identified, including the children from the most polluted areas, and liquidators from the years 1986 to 1987. Further efforts by the Government before and after the year 2000 included medical care to all liquidators and others exposed to radiation.

Mr. Khetagurov said the coming years would be marked by a peak of radiologically induced thyroid cancer, especially among children. There would be additional need for social protection of those affected persons. Further scientific research was needed to eliminate the consequences of the disaster, and to provide for an adequate response to possible radiological emergencies in the future. The Russian Federation, being a pioneer in the development of

nuclear technologies, naturally suffered the heaviest losses. It shared its sad and tragic story with all in order to prevent such accidents in the future.

The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Ivan Antanovich, expressed the gratitude of the President and of the people for the assistance, compassion and cooperation of the international community. The major issue was prevention of a future radiological accident. It was his country's duty to study the situation in-depth and to prevent future disasters. There was a deep emotional issue that had enormous importance to the citizens of his country -- nobody expected Chernobyl; nobody was immediately ready to respond to it. Foremost among all the assistance was the cooperation of the simple citizens of the world. Thousands of children from contaminated areas in Belarus were invited every year to visit the ordinary families of foreign countries, and given the chance not to live among contamination. No matter how grave the accident, no matter how long term the consequences, it showed that when common will for action was present, disasters could be prevented and treated.

The Permanent Representative of Ukraine, Anatoli M. Zlenko, read out a statement by Ukraine's President, Leonid Kuchma, which said the alarm bells of Chernobyl that had been sounding in our ears for 10 years would continue to ring. It was a time to bow down to the souls who unhesitatingly stepped into that "nuclear hell". The President was grateful to the tens of thousands of foreign citizens who had rendered their support.

Ukraine had become a zone of environmental emergency, according to the President's statement. Twelve per cent of the State's budget was being spent to cure the "Chernobyl disease". In the last four years alone, more than $3 billion had been spent on Chernobyl, five times the country's total allocation for education, health and culture for the country. The battle was beyond Ukraine's capabilities, and it was unknown for how long its citizens would have to carry that heavy cross. Help from the international community was required. What was at stake was not only the destiny of Ukraine, but the future of mankind. It was the Chernobyl disaster that made the world more sensitive to the trials of individual nations.

A correspondent asked the group whether they were finding donor fatigue or a wall of international constraints on contributions to Chernobyl. Mr. Zlenko said measures and actions at the United Nations would raise the level of political attention to the problem. As Mr. Akashi stated, already yesterday seven countries announced donations, including Japan, Canada, and New Zealand. The list was open. Mr. Antanovich added that it was not so much donor fatigue as donor professionalization. But, those who still pledged assistance wanted to pledge it for specific aims. There was a cooperation among professionals on one level that was necessary, and a human cooperation on the other. That two-layered approach would be best in coming years.

Chernobyl Press Conference - 3 - 26 April 1996

Referring to a report about a fleet of abandoned nuclear submarines, potentially future Chernobyls, another correspondent asked what would be done about it. Mr. Khetagurov said that, indeed, the Chernobyl tragedy had called the people's attention to the nuclear safety of not only nuclear facilities in Russia -- there were 29 nuclear reactors today -- but to the major problems involved in the employment of nuclear submarines (of which there were several dozens in the north alone), and the disposal of nuclear waste. An example of international cooperation along those lines was the localizing of other submarines, done with the help of the Russian Federation, New Zealand and others, rendering them no longer dangerous. The Chernobyl tragedy had called the entire world's attention to the global problems of nuclear safety. Regarding donor contributions, he added that the most acute and urgent problems needed to be identified.

When Mr. Zlenko was asked if the sum of $3 billion was enough to shut down Chernobyl, he replied that it was a beginning. Nobody could predict how much would be needed to decommission Chernobyl. The President of Ukraine was also satisfied by that figure.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.