On April 26, 1986 a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded, causing an environmental disaster never before seen.
Acute radiation leakage resulted in thousands of cancer cases across the region, including in neighbouring countries.
Tens of thousands were forced to flee.
A conference organised by L’Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (Inalco) was held in Paris to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the event.
Experts spoke of their experience and what challenges the region faces, including at the blast site.
Ukrainian Ambassador to France, Oleh Shamshur: “The work is expected to be finished at the end of 2017 but of course the contents of the container must be decontaminated. This will take more time. If I am not mistaken, it is projected to be finished in 2023.”
Some Ukrainians chose to return to the contaminated zone.
Galina Ackerman, Associate Researcher, University of Caen:
“There are people who live in contaminated areas because because we cannot displace 8 million persons. And actually it’s rather random, even in the 30 km area around the center there are places that, in principle, are habitable. The problem is that to sanitise the living conditions of the population requires huge investments.”
Wildlife has seemingly returned in abundance, but the effects of a likely contaminated food chain and animals are yet to be known.
Frédérick Lemarchand, Sociologist, University of Caen: “After Chernobyl we can no longer look at food without worry and experience serene gardens and forests. And at the same time, much remains unchanged from before the accident; physically things have not changed. So it’s a very odd effect of schizophrenia between contamination of that which we do not see but know is there and effects that will perhaps be produced but are delayed.
For those who remained, most people in contaminated areas say, ‘Why are we closed off, why have they put barbed wire, why have we been relocated when we could live here and live well?’.”
Oksana Pashlovska, University La Sapienza, Italy: “The most powerful symbol of the situation is people coming back to the contaminated areas once a year. They return for the Easter holidays. And where do they visit? They gather at the graveyards to pay respect to their loved ones, the dead.”
An estimated 800 people live in the most radioactive area.
Here, the average life expectancy is between 45 and 50 years.