On this 20th anniversary, it is important to honour the painful memory that lingers on in the hearts and minds of the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were deeply affected by the accident.
Many emergency rescue workers died in the following weeks and months. Thousands of children contracted thyroid cancer, and thousands of other individuals will eventually die of other cancers caused by the release of radiation. Vast areas of cropland, forests, rivers and urban centres were contaminated by environmental fallout.
At the IAEA, it might be said that we have been responding to the accident and its consequences for 20 years, in a number of ways: first, through a variety of programmes designed to help mitigate the environmental and health consequences of the accident; second, by analysing the lessons of what went wrong to allow such an accident to occur at all; and third, by working to prevent any such accident from occurring in the future.
As is its mandate, the technical cooperation (TC) programme has played an important role in building scientific capacity through training, expert advice and the delivery of much-needed equipment. Over the next few days, TC will post a series of articles highlighting technical cooperation initiatives in the Chernobyl region, which now comprises of Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Through words and images, we will take you to Chernobyl: the entombed Reactor 4 and the evacuated villages; the surrounding farmlands and forests; the medical centres, the local markets and moving memorials for those who gave up their lives. We will also take you inside the laboratories and, increasingly, private enterprises that are applying modern nuclear technologies not only to address the consequences of the disaster, but also to stimulate social and economic recovery. An additional feature will focus on ongoing radiation protection initiatives at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Today, there is strong agreement amongst the international community that Chernobyl’s needs are still great. But it is time for a new strategy, as reflected in the titles of joint international conferences: 20 Years After Chernobyl: Strategy for Recovery and Sustainable Development of the Affected Regions (19–21 April 2006, Belarus) and 20 Years After Chernobyl: Future Outlook (24–26 April 2006, Ukraine).
This new direction signifies the successes achieved to date in mitigating disaster and initiating remediation, as well as the need to strategically address a very different issue. For the hundreds of thousands of people who were evacuated from the affected areas — forced to leave behind their homes, possessions, and livelihoods — and resettled elsewhere, the trauma of Chernobyl has had long-lasting psychological and social impacts.
It is time to help heal the mental health of Chernobyl survivors. TC’s contributions to this goal may be more indirect than those of our UN counterparts, but we believe we can and will facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and capacity at regional, national and personal levels, thereby helping to re-build individual and collective confidence.
To begin our coverage, we offer a link to the speech delivered by Ana María Cetto, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of Technical Cooperation Programme at the recent conference in Minsk.