It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Yet 20 years after Chernobyl, voices in Ukraine, including that of President Viktor Yushchenko, are being raised in favour of nuclear power stations. Despite the appalling fallout, many see them as a way to reduce reliance on Russian gas and provide for growing energy demands in the future.
“The recent gas scandal has shown that energy demand around the world and in Ukraine is increasing,” said Chernobyl station director Andrei Novikov. “We’re becoming more dependent on finite energy resources, so I think that nuclear energy is the most preferable for UKraine.”
Making the plant safe will take years. The last reactor was shut down nearly six years ago but the gigantic sarcophagus around Chernobyl was built in a rush and is crumbling, despite ongoing repairs.
Hundreds of metres of cracks have appeared. If it collapses, tonnes of radioactive dust would be released. Work is due to begin on a new cover, which will be built at the plant and then slid over the exisiting structure.
Engineer Nicolas Gouminiouk has seen his colleagues die one after the other. But he refuses to believe Chernobyl could happen again.
He said: “We’ve done what we had to. The security measures have been reinforced and the central area is working well. There is no chance of a new problem.”
It will be 2008 before the last fuel rods will be taken away and it could be up to 100 years before the station is fully decommissioned. But despite these salutory figures many consider nuclear power stations are worth the risk.
Andrei Novikov: “This is the kind of risk which may be considered by people like the risk of being killed in a car crash – as 100,000 people are every year. Despite this we are ready to accept that risk. I think that society and our civilisation are ready to accept the potential risk of nuclear energy.”