The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.60/No.19           May 13, 1996 
Chernobyl Disaster Still Haunts Region  

MINNEAPOLIS - Tens of thousands demonstrated in Ukraine and Belarus April 26 to mark the 10th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in history. In the preceding days, continued problems showed that the danger at the Chernobyl nuclear facility has not ended since the 1986 blast, which released 200 times the radioactivity of Washington's 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

On April 23, fire swept through five abandoned villages near the partially crippled plant, where two nuclear reactors churn out energy. Flames spread through the highly radioactive 18-mile "exclusion zone" around the plant. Officials downplayed the spread of radiation, but local Greenpeace spokesman Antony Frogratt termed the wind-swept blaze "one of the major ways [radiation] travels, clearly a danger to the health of people, and not only in Ukraine."

On April 25, as demonstrators in radiation protection suits neared the zone at the conclusion of a 66-mile march demanding Chernobyl be the shut down, nuclear waste leaked during a disposal operation. A CNN dispatch stated the leak caused 1,000 percent increase in radiation.

The April 26 demonstration of 50,000 in Minsk, Belarus, was attacked by the police. Belarus, which borders Ukraine, received some 70 percent of the fallout from the original disaster.

Continued affects of meltdown
The April 26, 1986 core meltdown occurred during a safety test of the Chernobyl cooling system. The blast and subsequent inferno took the lives of 32 plant workers and firefighters. The final toll is far from complete.

While no accurate figure on Chernobyl-linked deaths exists, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Ukraine's Health Ministry cite a figure of 125,000, in Ukraine alone, which is expected to rise to 200,000. In the region's contaminated zone - whose 54,000 square miles are equal to the land surface of Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland - the thyroid cancer rate for children is 100 times the norm.

Cancers are not expected to peak until 2005. Leukemia, which develops slowly, has yet to emerge. A major increase in leukemia around Hiroshima did not appear until 1955, 10 years after the atomic bombing. Ukrainian biologist Vyacheslav Konovalov reports no slowing of the rise in the rate of multiple birth defects and pathological disorders in human fetuses since the 1986 calamity.

Floods around the Chernobyl plant, as well as seepage from "graves" of buried radioactive waste, have contaminated a lake 156 miles from the blast site, and now threaten drinking water for 9 million people, and irrigation and fishing sources for another 23 million.

Virtually all the meager Soviet-era pensions and programs for 800,000 "liquidators," who carried out the massive clean up of the blast site, and others ill from radioactivity, are long gone. The United Nations estimates 9 million people in the area suffer from the effects of radiation.

In the early March cold, the Ukraine government turned off the heat at Kiev's Center for Radiation medicine, the country's main hospital for Chernobyl victims, for unpaid bills.

The Belarus government, which states it has spent $235 billion in Chernobyl-related programs, was recently denied the remaining $230 million of a $300 million lending package from the International Monetary Fund.

Testimony of Chernobyl survivor
"On every floor of my building, people have died, and are dying," Sasha Sirota told 50 people at the University of Minnesota April 22, as part of a national speaking tour sponsored by Greenpeace. The 19-year-old former resident of Pripyat watched Chernobyl burn from his apartment in 1986. "American corporations have a peculiar form of `aid' for us," he said. "They come to Russia to build `sophisticated' nuclear reactors. We don't need this kind of help."

Claiming he was "immeasurably moved" by a March visit to a Kiev hospital for children suffering from radiation, U.S. secretary of state Warren Christopher announced a $10 million donation to Ukraine for a mobile radiation monitoring laboratory and medical aid.

This is a tiny sum next to the aid given by Havana to the victims of the Chernobyl explosion. Since 1990, Cuba has treated more than 13,000 children, and 2,400 adults in its Children of Chernobyl project at Tarara, a beachfront campsite donated by the Pioneers, a Cuban children's group.

Sirota had a chance to make the trip to Tarara, but gave up a likely spot, "so that someone sicker than I could go," he said.

There is intense pressure on the few spaces that open for the journey, the young anti-nuclear fighter said. "In my building in Kiev, a `Chernobyl' building where 3,000 of us live, when a sign goes up for [the medical trip to] Cuba, everybody wants to go. Sometimes, the children of the bureaucrats get selected, not the sickest. This is a scandal. I don't think Cubans have knowledge of this."

Sirota has friends who have been treated in Cuba. "They loved it. They get fresh fruit, which they never get here. They think the camp is wonderful," he said. "Not like the Soviet camps we used to go to. They were like concentration camps, with military discipline. The children were very glad they went to Cuba. They get care they would never get in Ukraine. That is why so many want to go now."  
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