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Recalling a dark day 36 years ago

May 1st, 2022 6:10 PM

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THIS week marks the 36th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, at Chernobyl in Ukraine.

And, as mentioned in this column some weeks ago, it is back in the news – and again for all the wrong reasons.

Readers of a certain age will remember the fear that disaster struck in the hearts and minds of people all over Europe and how so many countries opened their doors to the orphan children who were born with serious physical issues, in its wake.

The Irish were among the leading nations that embraced those children and brought them to safety and hosted many hundreds more, for health-giving vacations, in the years after the horrific catastrophe.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that once again the Irish have embraced the Ukrainian people, and many believe it is because the horror of what happened on April 26th 1986 still resonates with us.

This week Adi Roche’s Irish charity Chernobyl Children International (CCI) said it was once more ‘deeply concerned’ about the power plant. There have been reports of ‘an alarming rise in radioactivity’, due to the ongoing devastating war in Ukraine, and CCI claimed this could even result in another Chernobyl disaster. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine signified a catastrophic change in modern warfare as we know it, Adi said this week.  During the recent Russian army occupation of the facility and – even more importantly now – the radioactive exclusion zone around it, the world was ‘essentially held to ransom’, she said, and the subsequent effects of the military takeover of the nuclear plant and environs have been ‘devastating’. 

The people living in the highly radioactive contaminated zone around Chernobyl are now facing what she termed ‘a war within a war’ and ‘a nightmare scenario with potentially devastating implications for Europe, and indeed the world’.

Those words are enough to send shivers up the most cynical of spines.

Adi’s charity went on to say that the outbreak of the war has resulted in a series of very worrying incidents at the power plant, including forest fires from Russian shelling, the disturbance of highly radioactive soil by Russian soldiers due to the digging of trenches, and the looting and destruction of an EU-funded research laboratory that was used to monitor nuclear waste. 

Officials have said that Russian troops stole radioactive material that is deadly if mishandled, and there is also a risk of over 200 tons of unprotected fuel at the bottom of the Chernobyl reactor escaping into the atmosphere if the reactor is damaged as a result of the war.

While it is a welcome development that Russian troops have left the Chernobyl region, the charity said, for now, there is no guarantee that they will not return.

Soaring levels of radiation have been discovered by world-renowned scientist Prof Yuri Bandazhevsky who has warned that any disturbance of radioactive material is lethal, as it re-releases radioactivity into the atmosphere.  Prof Bandazhevsky said over 300,000 people in that region are now facing a ‘double war’.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there are now fears that the Russians may have laid a maze of landmines around Chernobyl as they retreated. This could result in even more radioactivity being released into the environment if the mines were to explode.   

Roche uttered a terrifying warning this week: ‘Chernobyl is often relegated to the realm of history, with many thinking that it is something that happened a very long time ago and no longer poses any threat.  However, we are now witnessing that the reality is very different.  Chernobyl is not something from the past. Chernobyl was forever, Chernobyl is forever; the impact of that single shocking nuclear accident can never be undone; its radioactive footprint is embedded in our world forever and millions of people are still being affected by its deadly legacy.  The recent military activity at Chernobyl is further proof that Chernobyl remains an unfolding disaster.’

Her charity has called for the immediate evacuation of those who are trapped in the region, especially the innocent and vulnerable children.  It also wants our government to lobby the UN to declare that any attack on Chernobyl or any other Ukrainian nuclear facilities, be deemed a war crime.

One would think the term ‘war crime’ doesn’t even begin to cover the devastation and horror that any attack on the facility would unleash.

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