Feature Stories

Conclusions of the 3rd International Conference on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident Kiev, Ukraine, 4-8 June 2001

Staff Report

August 2005

A four-day international conference was held 17- 20 April 2001 to examine the lessons learned in the fifteen years since the Chernobyl accident. The conference was jointly organized by the governments of the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russian Federation, and the European Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Council of Europe, International Union of Radioecologists, European centre of Technogenic Safety, Institute of Protection and Nuclear Safety (France), and Nuclear Safety Institute (Germany).

In his address to the opening session, IAEA Deputy Director General, Z. Domaratzki noted that although among experts there was understanding of what happened and why, for the public, the consequences of the accident remain something that is feared, but little understood. He further noted that the participants of this conference had the responsibility to separate the facts from the fears and "scientific evidence" from "science fiction".

"... for the public, the consequences of the accident remain something that is feared, but little understood... participants of this conference had the responsibility to separate the facts from the fears and "scientific evidence" from "science fiction".
IAEA Deputy Director General, Z. Domaratzki

The conference examined a wide range of issues related to the accident and included national reports from the countries most affected- Belarus, the Russian Federation, and the Ukraine. Special sessions were devoted to: decommissioning and the issues related to the shelter and environmental, medical, social and economic consequences of the accident and related issues.

The role of international organizations in supporting ongoing needs in the affected area was summarized in a series of presentations by the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the UN Chernobyl Programme and the IAEA. This latter presentation reviewed the Agency's activities in improving safety standards and operating practices for nuclear power plants and providing support for environmental reclamation and remediation.

One of the most important outcomes of the accident, in terms of improving international co-operation and communication, was the development of two conventions - on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency. With the entry into force of these conventions, in October 1986 and February 1987 respectively, formal channels to report an accident and request Agency assistance were established. Member States are now obliged to report any emergency with potential transboundary release of radioactivity promptly to the IAEA and can formally request technical assistance to deal with the emergency.

The 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is the worst accident experienced by the civilian nuclear power industry. In the fifteen years since the accident, much progress has been made to come to grips with its consequences, both in human and technologic terms. There remains more to be done, however, in mitigating environmental contamination, ongoing medical monitoring and treatment of those affected, supporting economic recovery in the affected region, maintaining the sarcophagus that entombs the reactor, and finally decommissioning all reactors at the site. While much progress has been made in the nuclear power industry to improve safety procedures and culture at all plants as a result of the accident, there is no time for complacency. There are still lessons to be learned from the Chernobyl experience and this conference provided just such an opportunity for all involved.