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Trade union activists: Ukraine abandoned Chernobyl zone to Nature’s mercy

April 22, 2016, 8:22 UTC+3 KIEV

Land areas within the exclusion zone continue emanating powerful radiation

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© ITAR-TASS/Viktor Tolochko

KIEV, April 22. /TASS/. Thirty years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Ukrainian government does not have either an all-round picture of what is happening in the exclusion zone or a strategy for how to use the lands located within the perimeter of the zone, the veterans of Chernobyl trade union associations said on Thursday told a news conference held on the eve of 30 years since the tragic blast at the plant.

"The government has de facto abandoned these territories for estranged survival," said Nikolai Teterin, a representative of the Trade Union of Atomic Energy and Industry Workers.

Even experts do not have unanimity of assessments as regards security of the Chernobyl zone and, consequently, approaches towards its further use. For instance, initiatives to cut the 30 km exclusion (mandatory resettlement) zone around the Chernobyl plant to just 10 km and to set up a biosphere preserve there.

Proposals go even as far as utilizing a part of the land areas within the exclusion zone for industrial purposes.

Teterin said the viewpoints suggesting that the Chernobyl zone has been fully cleared of radiation and that economic activity could supposedly resume there are instances of oversimplification.

As for the instituting of a biosphere preserve, the move could make any sense at all only if research was done there - and research would inevitably necessitate financing, he said. "But the problem is no one can tell unambiguously yet how this idea could be possibly translated into practice," Teterin said.

In the meantime, land areas within the exclusion zone continue emanating powerful radiation, he said, adding that contamination of the soil within the zone was rather uneven.

Teterin specified, for instance, that radiation levels exceeded the norm by a factor of 30 to 50 in headwaters and the subterranean waters were the most contaminated ones.

"As of today, the subsoil waters are contaminated to the degree that puts them actually into the category of radioactive waste," he said. "Contamination exceeds the norm by a thousand times there."

It is the subterranean streams that transport radiation outside the exclusion zone in 90% cases, Teterin indicated.

"That’s why I’d like to stay away from the claims that everything is so nice and pristine in the exclusion zone."

He quoted data from researchers suggesting that physicians found precancerous conditions in 80% children in the age group of twelve to seventeen years old in the Kiev region’s Ivankovsky district, which adjoins the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Along with it, projects of a safe utilization of the Chernobyl zone territories, experts indicated. One of the possible options is the growing of plants used in the energy sphere.

Strontium 90 will lose effect around 2214, Cesium 137, in 2314, and the activity of the main element, Plutonium 239, will be exhausted only in 24,000 years from now Nikolai Teterin Representative of the Trade Union of Atomic Energy and Industry Workers

"One could try and grow power-generating pussy willow," said Maksim Orlov, the chairman of the Chernobyl plant trade union organization. "There’s an opinion it doesn’t accumulate radio nuclides. That’s one of the options but for some reason it is disregarded."

One more possible option is to build power-generating facilities there, for instance, solar power plants, Orlov said.

He pointed out the unregulated legal status of lands in the exclusion zone that does not permit any transformations there.

The absence of clear governmental policies as regards the further utilization of the Chernobyl zone exerts impact on the attitude to people who continue working at enterprises in the exclusion zone, trade union representatives said.

About 6,500 workers on state payroll are working at various facilities in the exclusion zone and another 2,500 persons are working right at the plant, Nikolai Teterin said adding: "The total workforce placed there reaches 11,000 people."

In the meantime, the cabinet of Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk that resigned a week ago axed all the social programmes funded from the national budget by 30%. It also revoked the budget article, under which an equivalent of $ 7.87 million was to be paid off as supplements to the workers employed in the Chernobyl zone.

As a result, the wages of Chernobyl workers fell by more than a half as of January 1, 2016, to $ 177.1 a month.

The fact caused natural indignation among the workers, the representatives said. "We prepared for a massive action of protest in front of the cabinet building on April 22," Maxim Orlov said. However, the new cabinet issued a resolution on Wednesday that re-established the wages.

"Thanks to the surprisingly fast decision of the government we called of the action of protest," he said.

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