26 April marks the 28th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Despite the tragedy occurring almost three decades ago, the consequences are still being felt, and containing the dangerous radiation is an ongoing, dangerous struggle.
Speaking about the disaster, Green leading candidate José Bové said, "Today we remember the victims of the biggest ever nuclear accident. Both Chernobyl and Fukushima have shown that there is no safe nuclear energy. Europe has to have clear targets for a nuclear phase out and invest substantially in renewables."
The legacy of Chernobyl is still being felt. The concrete sarcophagus that was put in place immediately after the disaster is currently being replaced. This project is called the ‘New Safe Confinement Arch Project’. It is co-funded by the international community, Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), at a cost of approximately $2.1bn (US).
Fitting a new shield to seal off the area is essential (and becoming increasingly urgent), as the old sarcophagus is deteriorating rapidly. Last winter, part of the concrete coating collapsed. The arch is due to be completed by 2015, if construction keeps to schedule. However, EBRD already describe this timeline as "ambitious.”
As the Green Group in the European Parliament highlighted in 2013, while this money will ostensibly be put into making the reactors safer, the programme significantly increases nuclear risk in Ukraine by keeping outdated Soviet-era nuclear reactors online. We Greens are strongly opposed to the allocation of European public funds in this way, and have called for an immediate halt to this process. This process is taking place without public debate and without consultation, despite the profound repercussions for the citizens of Ukraine and the surrounding region. As a result, there is an increasing amount of misinformation about the real state of the exclusion zone.
A new study has debunked the popular myth that wildlife and biodiversity have been restored and are thriving in and around Chernobyl since humans evacuated the area in 1986. Researchers found that the natural cycle of decay of organic materials around Chernobyl has been significantly reduced because of the disappearance of crucial microbes in the radioactively contaminated zones. “The long-term consequences of the loss of this essential microbial community could be unprecedented ecologically, while the most immediate consequence is the build-up of undecayed leaf matter. This creates an increased risk of forest fires which could spread radioactivity to uncontaminated areas.”
The Chernobyl disaster and the constantly ongoing crisis surrounding the site’s containment, are both crucial reminders that nuclear energy is inherently unstable and hazardous, and where incidents occur they can easily spiral out of control.