April 24, 2011

Chernobyl Difficulties Continue After 25 Years

After a week of meetings organized by the Ukrainian government in the capital Kiev, those in attendance decided that the Chernobyl cleanup will remain expensive and a hassle for many more years.

The government organized the four-day event to mark the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident.

An international donors' conference raised $802 million worth of pledges to build a shelter to cover the exploded reactor building for the next century.  However, the pledges fell short of the $1.1 billion sought for the shelter and a facility for storing spent reactor fuel.

Workers can start disassembling the reactor and disposing the hundreds of tons of radioactive materials once the shelter is built.

"Right now, we don't have the processes, but we are working on developing them," Igor Gramotkin, director of the now-decommissioned power plant, told delegates.

Over 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been detected in people who were children or adolescents when exposed to high levels of radiation after the blast, and at least 28 people have died of acute radiation position from close exposure to the shattered reactor.

Mikhail Balanov of the U.N. Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation told the conference that other medical effects were difficult to project because the margins of error in various studies are too high to allow reliable assessment.

Balanov said that radioactive contamination of mushrooms and berries remain high "and we will face elevated levels for decades to come."

About 115,000 people were evacuated from the plant's vicinity after the blast.  A 19-mile area directly around the plant remains off-limits and the town of Pripyat, where plant workers once lived, now hosts deteriorating apartment towers.

The conference delayed its intention of producing a final document.

"It is clear it is not possible to come up with crystal-clear conclusions,"said moderator Volodymyr Holosha, director of the guarded "exclusion zone" around the plant, told the conference.

During the conference, officials drew attention to the ongoing crisis at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the conference to call for "top-to-bottom" review of nuclear safety standards and for strengthening the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Seven employees of the British and French Embassies in Kiev launched a 24-hour 68-mile charity walk on Friday to raise money for children affected by the disaster.


Image Caption: Chernobyl Disaster Aftermath: very extensive damage to the main reactor hall (image center) and turbine building (image lower left). (Credit: Wikipedia/Soviet Authorities)


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