Interview: Scale of Chernobyl disaster understated: Ukrainian expert

13:17, April 07, 2011      

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"The scale of the Chernobyl disaster is not exaggerated and even understated," a victims representative and leading nuclear expert told Xinhua in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

Alexander Zenchenko, the chairman of the Focal Alliance of Chernobyl Disaster Victims, also said the nuclear power plant catastrophe in Ukraine in 1986 and the current crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan were very different.

Zenchenko, who is a famous Ukrainian nuclear chemist and physicist, is in a good position to know. He was recently asked to advise on controlling the situation at Fukushima and is due to go there next week.

"In Ukraine, there was an explosion and the destruction of the outer appearance. In Japan, it was seismic. The earth's crust was destroyed. And the reactor was disturbed on the inside. But all the same lessons of Chernobyl will be useful for the elimination of the accident at the Fukushima-1 station. Because it is work connected with radiation, and our experts are knowledgeable in this," the expert said.

He argued that people did not know and had not known earlier the real situation in the contaminated Chernobyl territories.

"Some settlements were contaminated by radiation, but officially they are deemed safe for habitation. In addition, vehicles and equipment which participated in the liquidation had not been disposed of. Radiation accumulated in the tires. But the vehicles continue to ride on our roads," Zenchenko said. He warned that seismic oscillations near the Chernobyl's plant would carry very negative consequences.

"Chernobyl is absolutely unprotected. And if there is an earthquake, it will be even more critical than in Japan in terms of nuclear energy," he said.

The expert believes the Chernobyl accident occurred due to careless plant workers.

"Middle managers at the station wanted to experience certain types of uranium. They had not notified their superiors in Moscow in the Institute of Nuclear Physics. They wanted to prove that they could cope with complex tasks. But they could not foresee that the reactor cooling equipment would fail. Therefore, there was such a large-scale accident," he said.

Zenchenko said the plant managers weren't the only guilty party. The plant's builders were also responsible for the catastrophe. The authorities had not taken the necessary steps to eliminate the consequences. So they were also answerable for the accident.

"The mistake was that the Chernobyl nuclear power station was built very close to the city. The authorities have been concealing information about the severity of the accident. On May 1, millions of people took part in the celebrations, parade. There was no official information about the deaths. Firefighters who extinguished the reactor were taken to Moscow. They were buried in mass graves in secret locations. No one knows what proportion of radiation they have received. At that time, many state officials flew away from Kiev, instead of taking a decision on aid to Chernobyl's victims."

The physicist said ionizing radiation background in the Chernobyl zone remained very high even today, adding: "Radiation is 6-8 times higher than normal levels. But people live there and even go there on tourist trips. People do not realize that it is very dangerous for their health and life."

The world had not learned all the lessons of Chernobyl, Zenchenko said, but the catastrophe had changed many things.

"The Chernobyl disaster had a very significant impact on the world. Foreign stations have changed their attitude to nuclear power. This applies to German, Swedish and other world nuclear power plants. A lot of countries have improved the protection of their reactors, their location and operation," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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