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Chernobyl: Tragedy Happened 34 Years Ago. What Are the Historic Lessons?

Chernobyl: Tragedy Happened 34 Years Ago. What Are the Historic Lessons?

At night between 25 and 26 April 1986, a nuclear station near small Ukrainian town of Chernobyl was affected by the largest-scale radiation-related manmade catastrophe in the history of humankind. The devastating tragedy left around five million suffering people who lived in the area encompassing five thousand towns and villages of today’s Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Radioactive cesium and strontium contaminated around 150.0 thousand square kilometers across the territories of the three countries. Most of radioactive fall-outs covered the territory of Belarus, resulting in the radioactive contamination of 23 per cent of the country’s territory with a quarter of the entire population (Russia – 1.5 per cent of the territory, Ukraine – 7 per cent of the territory).

Today, the territory of radioactive contamination includes 49 districts of all the regions of Belarus. As a result of the accident, 3.678 settlements with 2.2 million people were located on the territory of radioactive contamination. 479 localities have ceased to exist. 137.7 thousand people were displaced from the affected territories. 75% of them are residents of the Gomel region. Simultaneously, with the organized evacuation, about 200 thousand people independently left
the territory of radioactive contamination.

According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Belarus, around 1.5 thousand localities (40%) were removed from polluted areas between 1986 and 2019. Currently, the list of localities and objects located in the pollution zone (it is reviewed every 5 years) contains 2.193 localities.

The Chernobyl tragedy challenged Belarus with consequences in nearly all areas of life.

The economic damage inflicted on the nation is estimated at $235 bln which is an equivalent of
19 national budgets of 2015. The expenditures earmarked by Belarus and the international community for the mitigation of the catastrophe covered less than a half of the colossal damages.

Essential damage was caused to agricultural sector of Belarus. Around the fifth part of all crop lands, namely, 2.640 km2, cannot be used. Over the post-disaster years, it was possible to bring back a tiny share of crop lands to the agricultural economy. Annually, the losses are over $700 mln for Belarus.

The contamination area encompassed 132 deposits of mineral resources, leaving the forestry business greatly damaged. The annual losses of forestry resources are currently over 2 mln cubic meters. The contaminated area now includes around 340 industrial enterprises whose operation deteriorated dramatically.

Over 1.0 million, including nearly half a million of teenagers are still living in the affected areas. At the beginning of 2019, there were 1.49 mln people affected by the Chernobyl accident, including 249.0 thousand children. About 9.5 thousand people became disabled directly due to the Chernobyl accident.

The medical after-effects of the disaster resulted in the rise of the incidence of oncologic diseases with rife thyroid cancer. The incidence of thyroid cancer in children grew almost forty-fold, in adults 2.5-7 times.

The tragedy had complicated social and psychological effects: the resettlement and deteriorated health conditions of many Belarus residents forced them to change the usual ways of life and jobs. It was rather painful for them to become adapted to a new environment.

The long-term and versatile mitigation of Chernobyl aftermath has been always a high priority for the Government of Belarus given the scale of environmental and economic jeopardy. All practical efforts to mitigate the Chernobyl after-effects have and are made part of various national programmes.

Currently, the National Programme for the Mitigation of Chernobyl After-effects for the Years 2011-2015 and for 2020 is implemented. Its major goal is to rehabilitate and develop the affected areas socially and economically, maintain the required level of safety for the suffering citizens and radiation safety. The principal task of the current Programme is to move away from the rehabilitation efforts in most critical directions of the mitigation towards social and economic revival and sustainable development of the affected areas.

The share of annual expenditures on state programmes to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster is about 3% of the national budget of Belarus. The total amount of funding from 1990 to 2020 is around $20.0 bln in equivalent.

Various international organizations assisted the Belarusian Government in mitigating the Chernobyl after-effects. In most cases, a major focus was given to the mitigation of short-term and medium-term radioactive aftermath by reclaiming the contaminated lands, providing special medical services, monitoring long-term effects of radioactive exposure, studying environmental aspects of the de-commissioned Chernobyl station and environmental problems in the treatment of radioactive wastes.

Belarus has ample opportunity to organize rest and recuperation of children domestically. Today, there are 14 children’s rehabilitation and recuperation centres, specializing in the year-round recuperation of those affected. The annual number of patients is around 120,000 children.

An active stance of the Government of Belarus in mitigating Chernobyl aftermath triggered essential results. Today, there are the following performing systems:
– of radioactive control and monitoring;
– of health monitoring and recuperation of the Chernobyl-affected population;
– social protection of the affected citizens;
– rehabilitation measures in agriculture and forestry;
– Chernobyl researches.

34 years have passed since the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded. There has been a great deal of work done, and there is a lot to do under the programmes to mitigate the after-effects of
the harrowing tragedy. Many generations to come in Belarus will be compelled to face the effects of the catastrophe and struggle for a better future. Within these years, Belarus amassed enormous scientific, managerial and professional experience. The country that was struck the heaviest by the disaster has been granted an expert state status. The valuable knowledge in the possession of Belarus today may well and do serve the entire humankind.

Given such experience, the Republic of Belarus is implementing its own nuclear power programme whose economic importance is hard to overestimate. The Government of Belarus honors its commitments under the ESPO Convention, undertakes to meet safety requirements in the Belarusian Nuclear Power Station, taking into account, inter alia, experience obtained from the monitoring of the incident at Japanese «Fukushima-1» Nuclear Station. The obvious priorities are to keep the Belarusian Nuclear Power Station safe and to meet the international environmental commitments in the cross-border context.