The consequences of the Chernobyl disaster

Doc. 7538

24 April 1996

REPORT[1]

Rapporteur: Mr STAES, Belgium, Group of the European People's Party


Summary

            Although only partial, the data we have today on the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster give rise to feelings of helplessness and deep concern and require urgent and substantial action on the part of the international community, on the one hand, to come to the aid of the hundreds of thousands of irradiated victims and, on the other hand, to neutralise tangible risk factors such as the casing around the damaged reactor or the great quantity of waste stored in dangerous conditions.

            The Parliamentary Assembly therefore asks Council of Europe member states to take action on this matter without delay - of a bilateral or multilateral nature - by playing a role inter alia in neutralising the terrible consequences of the Chernobyl accident and helping Ukraine to close down this power station in optimal conditions.  Furthermore, it asks states in which high-risk nuclear power stations are located to stop operating these installations and introduce an energy policy based on safe and non-polluting energy sources and on efficient energy production and energy saving, and not systematically favour the nuclear option.

I. Draft resolution [link to adopted text]

1.         The Assembly recalls that 26 April 1996 is the 10th anniversary of the explosion of one of the reactors at Chernobyl nuclear power station, which triggered the biggest nuclear disaster ever and had tragic immediate, medium and long-term consequences for the population and for the environment.

2.         This tragic incident also proved that all countries, whether they were directly concerned or not, were totally unprepared to cope with this kind of disaster.

3.         In this connection, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency provide a welcome opportunity for Contracting Parties to create machinery to guarantee rapid, concerted and transparent action under such circumstances.

4.            Similarly, the Assembly believes that public access to clear and full information on this subject — and many others for that matter — must be viewed as a basic human right.

5.         It is only now, ten years on from the disaster, that increasingly comprehensive data is becoming available and providing irrefutable proof of the true scale of the consequences and the new risks generated by the inappropriate management of the accident.

6.            Furthermore the latest information on the state of the "sarcophagus", the structure designed to seal the damaged reactor, shows that there are real major threats which may well cause fresh damage or even another accident.

7.         In view of the need for practical and rapid action to repair this structure, and in the light of the alarming report by the consortium carrying out the feasibility study on stabilising the sarcophagus, the international community must rapidly join forces  to provide the funding needed to carry out this work.

8.            Moreover, the striking increase in thyroid cancer in children and the actual or potential — often incurable — illnesses attributable to the radiation to which many people were exposed, in particular the 800 000 who worked in relays at the site, compel the international community to take concerted action on a major scale to help save lives and care for the sick.

9.         The environmental situation — the situation of which is largely unknown until now — also calls for action based on an objective survey of the damage to date and on the worrying potential risks of the huge amount of radioactive waste stored in a haphazard fashion and the presence of irradiated foodstuffs in the food chain.

10.       The Assembly also wishes to stress that the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster should serve as an opportunity to reflect on the fact that all the discussions over the years about the dangers inherent in the majority of power stations in central and eastern Europe have only rarely been followed up with practical steps to avert or at the very least reduce such risks.

11.       As a result, urgent action is imperative and must be viewed as an overriding priority for the international community.

12.       In this connection, the Assembly welcomes the fact that at the G7 meeting held in Moscow on 18 and 19 April 1996 Ukraine formally undertook to shut down the Chernobyl nuclear power station before the year 2000.

13.       This presents Ukraine, along with all the other countries which will be faced with the same situation, with a choice as to replacement energy sources, and under such circumstances it is important to make available to these countries all the resources required to carry out an in-depth review of their new energy policies, which must give precedence to safety, efficient energy production, environmental protection and curbing demand.

14.       On the other hand, it should also be borne in mind that shutting down a nuclear power station does not immediately eliminate all the risks — proof of this being the sarcophagus — but should instead be viewed as the starting point for a series of measures to be carried out rapidly and under the safest possible conditions.

15.       In the light of the above, and with particular regard to Chernobyl, the Assembly calls on Ukraine:

            i.            to abide by the agreement it has reached with the G7 and to close the site before the year 2000, taking all necessary steps to neutralise all the risks the power station might pose, even when decommissioned;

            ii.            not to opt automatically to replace Chernobyl by completing two other nuclear reactors on which work had been started;

            iii.            to set up — in co-operation with organisations and institutions competent in this field — a research project in order to analyse the present and future consequences of the accident.

16.       With regard to the problem in general, the Assembly requests member states with high-risk nuclear power stations:

            i.            to close down such plants and give top priority to the safety of nuclear power stations which continue operating;

            ii.            to review their energy policy in such a way as to give priority to non-polluting and safe sources of energy, efficient energy production and energy saving, and not automatically opt for nuclear plants;

17.       In addition, the Assembly calls on all member states:

            i.            to take part in all initiatives aimed at reducing as quickly as possible the risks posed by the structure covering the damaged reactor at Chernobyl;

            ii.            to encourage through adequate funding all health assistance programmes to improve the state of health of the tens of thousands of people exposed to radiation from Chernobyl, and also to analyse the present and future ecological consequences of this accident;

            iii.            to give high priority to bilateral or multilateral initiatives to dismantle certain nuclear power stations or to rehabilitate others, provided such rehabilitation offers comprehensive safety guarantees;

            iv.            if they have not already done so, to sign and ratify the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, and to take all the administrative and legislative steps needed for the actual implementation of these conventions.

II. Explanatory memorandum

by Mr STAES

Contents

1.            Introduction

2.         The accident and the release of radioactive substance

3.         The objective consequences of the disaster

            3.1.     Environmental damage

            3.1.1.The soil

            3.1.2.The forests

            3.1.3.Water resources

            3.2.     Risks related to radioactive waste

            3.3.     The consequences for the health of populations

                        exposed to varying degrees of radiation

            3.4.      The current state of the plant and, in particular,

                        of the sarcophagus

4.         Lessons to be learned

            4.1.      As regards international co-operation, information exchange

                        and public information

            4.2.      As regards the power stations

5.            Conclusions

1. Introduction

            On 26 April 1986 reactor No. 4 of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, a Ukrainian town 130 km north of Kiev, was destroyed by two violent explosions.

            The Chernobyl accident was not the first accident to have taken place in a civilian nuclear plant, but it was undoubtedly the most serious.

             The loss in human lives, the dispersal of a large part of the reactor throughout the surrounding area, the lack of information, the conflicting reactions of western governments to the event, the socio-political conditions in the country where the accident took place ... all these factors helped to create a climate of public concern, fear and, consequently, distrust of the authorities.

            To mark the 10th anniversary of the disaster a series of important scientific meetings have been organised by various European and international bodies.  One of the most important will undoubtedly have been the conference held in Vienna from 8 to 12 April 1996 on the theme: "One decade after Chernobyl: summing up the consequences".

            The Vienna Conference, which was organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), dealt mainly with the consequences of the disaster in terms of health and endeavoured to distinguish between the proven consequences on which scientists have reached a consensus and those concerning which there is still a certain amount of doubt.

            Judging by the reactions to the findings of the conference in the media and in various organisations (for example, the almost unanimous opinions expressed on the subject at the European Parliament's session of 17 April 1996), the IAEA (which, it should be remembered, is responsible, on behalf of the United Nations, for supervising and promoting the use of nuclear energy throughout the world) appears to still favour an extremely cautious interpretation and to minimise the consequences of the accident.  On the other hand, there are some — a small minority — who seem to suggest that the three former Soviet republics have a tendency to exaggerate both the data and the problems related to the disaster.

            Numerous multilateral and bilateral studies and initiatives have been undertaken to assess the true scope of the disaster, its consequences for health and the environment and the potential risk which the site may still represent in its current state.  The large-scale participation of research institutes and universities in various countries in projects to study the consequences of the accident has helped improve reliability and transparency in both the approach to the problem and in communication.

            Notwithstanding this, the operating conditions of nuclear plants in the former Soviet Republic — not to mention the collection of data concerning the disaster itself — and also the uncertainty surrounding the long-term consequences of the dispersal of radionuclides make it impossible to arrive at an objective assessment of the consequences of the accident.  Moreover, various non-objective factors, often related to psychological perceptions of the nuclear issue, actual policy choices and the individual reactions to which all debates on nuclear energy give rise, also come into play, thus clouding the issue and leading to bias in one direction or another.

2. The accident and the release of radioactive substances

            Although it does not give a detailed description — which would have to include extremely technical details — the NEA's summing-up[2] is fairly exhaustive: "In summary, the Chernobyl accident was the product of a lack of 'safety culture'.  The reactor design was poor from the point of view of safety and unforgiving for the operators, both of which provoked a dangerous operating state.  The operators were not informed of this and were not aware that the test performed could have brought the reactor into explosive conditions.  In addition, they did not comply with established operational procedures.  The combination of these factors provoked a nuclear accident of maximum severity in which the reactor was totally destroyed within a few seconds."

            As a result of the two explosions an enormous amount of highly radioactive material and burning graphite was thrown into the air.  The plume of smoke rose to 1 km above the earth.  The heaviest debris fell close to the site whereas the lighter debris was carried by the wind, which at the time was blowing in a north-westerly direction.

            Although the operators undeniably bore a certain amount of responsibility for the accident, the latest assessments suggest that it was due mainly to the poor design of the reactor, whereas little emphasis was placed on this aspect at the time of the accident.

            Estimates of the amount of radioactive material released from the core of the reactor have increased with time.  We can now be certain that during the eruption, which lasted ten days, from 26 April to 6 May 1986, fallout from the Chernobyl reactor was 60% radioactive iodine and up to 40% cesium with, in addition, variable rates of several dozen radionuclides contained in the core of the reactor.  The total is equivalent to almost 150 million curies, which is comparable to 200 times the radioactive contamination caused by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions (according to a WHO estimate).

            "Local" contamination affected mainly the densely populated areas of Belarus (2 million persons concerned), the Ukraine (1,5 million persons concerned) and Russia.

            As regards western Europe, the wind was at first blowing in a north-westerly direction and fallout took place in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom.  The plume of smoke then turned south and spread over the north of the Mediterranean basin, part of central Europe and the Balkans.  There was more radioactive fallout in Austria, the eastern and southern parts of Switzerland, southern Germany and Scandinavia — where the passage of the cloud coincided with rainfall — than in most other countries.

3. The objective consequences of the disaster

            There are four main objective consequences:

            —            environmental damage;

            —            radioactive waste;

            —            consequences for the health of persons who were exposed to varying degrees of radiation;

            —        the present state of the plant and in particular of the "sarcophagus".

3.1.            Environmental damage

            Apart from the irrefutable reality of the loss in human lives and the dramatic increase in childhood thyroid cancer the reported effects of the accident on public health often vary from one extreme to the other.  On the other hand, the current effects on agriculture and the environment are quantifiable and therefore verifiable, and it is no doubt for this reason that they can be said to have been more extensive than the effects on public health.

            Contamination was very uneven: it was greater in areas where it rained, since the rain carried into the soil the radioactive particles it had picked up when passing through the radioactive cloud.  This phenomenon, in conjunction with the various winds, resulted in a "leopard spot" pattern of pollution.

            Consequently, the contamination of the soil and of forests or groundwater may be a substantial problem in certain areas for a very long time to come.  The most optimistic prognoses are that nature has reacted well and that, even in the 30 km no-go area around the site, the situation has improved considerably thanks not only to various human interventions but also to natural processes.  However, although the situation appears to be returning to normal, plants have in some cases undergone changes as a result of stunted growth or morphological alterations.

            It is for this reason moreover that some groups and some experts, both at international level and in the countries involved, are expressing concern about the state of the region's ecosystems and fear irreversible changes for biological diversity and the state of some resources such as water or forests.

            However, despite all the objective signs indicating that nature has a high capacity for self-regeneration, it remains irrefutable that there is a more or less large amount of cesium 137 in the atmosphere.  Cesium 137 has a half-life or thirty years and has entered the food chain, and this is obviously an important factor to take into account in any attempt to evaluate the effects on the health of the populations concerned.

            3.1.1.            The soil

            According to the report published recently by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD),[3] fallout from the accident contaminated a total surface area of 155 000 km2 in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

            Of this total surface area, 125 000 km2 were contaminated by radioactive cesium and 30 000 km2 by radioactive strontium.

            A whole series of measures were introduced at both the initial and later stages of the disaster to decontaminate the soil.  Some of these measures, such as the removal of the top layer of soil, the use of mineral fertilisers to reduce the accumulation of cesium and the decontamination of animals by the use of non-contaminated fodder or other products have produced satisfactory results.  However, there is still a high level of contamination and farming is still forbidden within a 40 km radius around the site, probably for an indefinite period.

            As regards the contamination recorded in Europe, the greatest fallout was recorded in Switzerland, in the Canton of Ticino, in the United Kingdom (North-West Scotland, North Wales and Northern Ireland), Belgium and in some Nordic countries, where radioactive fallout was facilitated by the direction of the wind and by rainfall.  As was the case in some Nordic countries with regard to reindeer, restrictions on the slaughtering of sheep were introduced in the United Kingdom because of the absorption of cesium through the roots of food consumed by the animals.

            3.1.2.            Forests

            Forests seem to have suffered the greatest environmental consequences.  The contamination of trees has been considerable on account of their high capacity to filter pollution, and forests therefore have high levels of radioactivity.

            The case of the forest situated close to the Chernobyl site — the "scorched" forest — where trees were irradiated to such an extent that they have not only died but have had to be treated as radioactive waste, is an extreme example, but many forests have such a high level of radioactivity that their by-products cause such concern that they are often declared unsuitable for consumption (game, mushrooms, ...) or for use (wood and its by-products ...).

            3.1.3.            Water resources

            The contamination of surface water has been checked and there appear to have been no problems in domestic water supplies since the accident.

            However, on account of the high radioactivity in the catchment area situated in the contaminated regions, stringent controls will be necessary to preserve drinking water resources.  One particular subject for concern is the possible contamination of groundwater in the exclusion zone by strontium 90, which might result in the contamination of drinking water at a rate well above the acceptable limits.

            In some European countries the contamination of rivers and lakes has caused problems, for example in Switzerland and Sweden, where this is a relatively serious problem.  The above-mentioned report by the NEA states that almost 15% of Swedish lakes have a rate of contamination exceeding the limit accepted in Sweden and that fish from these lakes have been declared unsuitable for sale.  The ban depends on the ecological half-life which, according to the species of fish and the type of lake, may last from a few years to several decades.

3.2.      Risks related to radioactive waste           

            As mentioned above, almost 800 000 persons worked in relays on the site of the accident in an endeavour to "manage" the outcome of the accident, particularly in clean-up and repair operations.

            These operations produced a very large amount of radioactive waste as well as contaminating the equipment used.  All this material was disposed of on some 800 sites inside or outside the 30 km no-go area. 

            Some of this waste was buried in pits or containers separated from the groundwater by concrete or clay walls which, if they remain intact, should ensure that any contamination of the groundwater remains negligible.

            Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the hastily dug pits or the open-air disposal sites close to reactor No. 4.  These contain the waste which accumulated on the trees following the explosions, the contaminated equipment and the upper layers of the soil removed as part of the decontamination operations.

            In this case, there are genuine risks of contamination of the water table and, in order to counter and minimise such risks, it is essential to take careful stock of the situation, monitor developments closely and make appropriate arrangements for disposing of the material, at least for the thousands of persons living nearby.

            Steps have been taken at international level to study the implementation of a technical solution to this problem.  It is essential to ensure that these are carefully co-ordinated so that the operation is carried out efficiently, rapidly and once and for all.

3.3.      The consequences for the health of populations exposed to varying degrees of radiation

            Although the effects on public health do not come within the committee's purview and the Health Committee, to which the matter has been referred for an opinion, is currently drawing up a report devoted exclusively to this aspect, I considered it impossible to overlook at least the essential data concerning the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe for the health of the populations affected by the radiation.

            The thirty-one deaths during the accident and the 150 or so persons who were exposed to high levels of radiation were the most direct consequence in terms of public health, in the hours following the explosion.

            However, it is obvious that a very large number of deaths which have taken place in the following months and years are due to the disaster.  The information available makes it difficult to give reliable figures in this connection.

            Depending on the source, ten years after the event estimates of the number of deaths caused by the accident range from 60 000 to 100 000.

            Although I considered it important to convey the general sense of disappointment to which the Vienna Conference seems to have given rise, I also wish to point out that, in the area of methodology, substantial progress has been made compared with the first "summit", also held in Vienna five years ago.

            At that time the IAEA presented a report on the effects of the accident which failed to take into account either the populations evacuated from the contaminated areas (approximately 300 000 persons) or the so-called "liquidatori", that is 800 000 persons who, as we saw earlier, worked on the site in relays to decontaminate it and limit as far as possible some of the consequences.

            The veil on this incredible "omission", which shows a disquieting lack of transparency, has now been lifted, revealing the cruel and irrefutable reality of the steadily increasing rate of childhood thyroid cancer in the contaminated areas.  This is clearly shown by a number of statistics: in Belarus, the worst-affected area, the following figures were recorded: from 1981-85: 3 cases of thyroid cancer; from 1986-90: 47 cases; from 1991-94: 286 cases ...[4]  More than 600 cases have now been recorded for the three former Soviet republics concerned.

            Moreover, even if other consequences which cannot be objectively quantified have been the subject of diverging interpretations, it is impossible to neglect the devastating psychological effects of the disaster on the population.

            In this section of the report, I would like to applaud one practical result of the Vienna Conference: the decision to set up a scientific research centre in Kiev to shed light on the consequences of the accident in the three former Soviet Republics.  This decision was taken by the French Minister of the Environment, together with his German counterpart.  The two countries will make an annual contribution of 1 million French francs to the operation of the centre.

3.4.      The current state of the plant and, in particular, of the sarcophagus

            Following the accident, the most urgent concern was to isolate the damaged reactor without waiting for all the conditions to be met for its complete elimination and the disposal of the highly radioactive material.

            It was therefore decided to surround the reactor with a concrete and steel casing which was supported by the metallic structure and the remaining walls of the building; this was linked to the building of reactor No. 3 by an intermediary building, referred to as building "V".

            It took seven months to complete this 300 000-ton casing, commonly referred to as the "sarcophagus", which was not intended to be a permanent structure but a temporary barrier, which is obviously inappropriate in the long term.

            Indeed, nine years after its construction, the stability and resistance of the casing have become a major cause for concern.  Numerous cracks in the roof have allowed rainwater to seep in, thus maintaining a high level of dampness within the sarcophagus.  This constant dampness is responsible for the corrosion of the internal metallic structures. In part these are the original structures of the building housing reactor No. 4, which were undoubtedly weakened and damaged by the explosion and the fires.

            The sarcophagus currently presents two major risks: the possibility of the roof and the internal structures caving in, which would inevitably result in the release of radionuclides into the environment and the escape of radionuclides into the groundwater.  A further objective risk is that the collapse of the sarcophagus could have dramatic consequences for reactor No. 3: the building housing it is connected to the sarcophagus by building "V" which is in itself somewhat unstable.

            These few indications concerning the possible risks are enough to show clearly how urgent it is to take drastic steps to neutralise the "sarcophagus" and the possible risks it presents.  Although the cracks were sealed in 1993, water continues to seep in and priority must be given to finding a permanent technical solution.

4. Lessons to be learned

4.1.      As regards international co-operation, information exchange and public information

            Judging from the authorities' initial reactions at the time of the accident, they were clearly at a loss to deal with this type of incident and had to make decisions based on criteria which had to be laid down as events unfolded, whereas they should have been established in advance. What is more, this lack of preparation led to confusion as to who was responsible for what and caused some harmful duplication of effort.

            It is true that Chernobyl did not affect all countries outside the former Soviet Union in the same way and, furthermore, the importance attached to given aspects of the problem varied in accordance with the conditions specific to each country. To add to this, at the beginning not only was there scant information, but decision-makers were also  being exposed to considerable political pressures linked to the public's perception of the dangers from the radiation.

            Such pressures meant that the authorities were overly cautious in some countries, more concerned with not frightening people than with providing objective information.

            The media for their part paid particular attention to the information the authorities gave the public. France is often cited as an example of a country which opted for excessive caution and silence on the accident itself and its potential repercussions. Today the authorities concerned (report by the Société française d'énergie nucléaire of April 1996) concede that information was inappropriate and badly received and that more information about contamination levels and the risks involved would have averted the controversies that ensued.

            Conversely, it has to be said that in some countries where information was generously divulged, but with no clear explanation of the real or potential harm, there were some irrational attitudes ...

            Furthermore, the accident also proved that it was necessary to take account of the transfrontier nature of the consequences and to draw up emergency plans for these types of incidents. The transfrontier nature of the contamination also prompted international organisations to foster multilateral co-operation in this field and culminated in two tangible achievements, namely the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident[5] and the Convention on Assistance in the case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency.

            At all events, this accident showed that it was crucial to look into the matter of public information not only in the event of a disaster but also in the event of major choices by decision-makers, such as the option of investing in nuclear energy.

            This accident clearly demonstrated that the authorities have a duty to provide the public with clear and full information, but also that the public is entitled to this information. What is therefore needed is training for a large number of well-informed people who are familiar with information techniques to ensure that the public has a credible source of information. Furthermore, emergency plans should put the public in a position to assess their own risk of contamination.

4.2.      As regards the power stations

            Since 1989 the problem of the state of nuclear power stations in central and eastern Europe has regularly taken centre stage and is still the subject of very lively debates between advocates and opponents of nuclear power.

            What is irrefutable is that there are currently fifteen Chernobyl-type reactors still in operation in the countries of the former Soviet Union, although they do not have the vital safety guarantees, despite all the investments that have been made in most of them.

            Chernobyl, like other nuclear power plants, needs to be decommissioned as soon as possible, but before this can be done, countries must be provided with the same level of energy production, which in fact now has to be geared to constantly increasing demand.

            The nature of this interim solution pits two opposing schools of thought on energy policy against one another, the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear lobbies. The first advocates a series of measures ranging from upgrading existing plants (modernisation of reactors, operating improvements) to the replacement of obsolete or dangerous facilities with "safe" nuclear plants, which seem to provide all the guarantees needed. The second lobby on the other hand calls for the decommissioning of dangerous nuclear power stations and the framing of a new energy policy for the country concerned based on the provision of other sources of energy, more efficient energy production and the curbing of demand through energy-saving measures.

            As far as Chernobyl is concerned, swift action clearly needs to be taken on the sarcophagus in order to eliminate all the immediate risks. Then a start has to be made on the process of decommissioning Chernobyl and complying with the agreement reached between the G7, the European Union and Ukraine to ensure that it is completed by the year 2000.

            I am delighted for example at the Franco-German agreement in this field and am pleased that the two countries are working together to put forward solutions to the most pressing problems. Yet such moves do not appear to be enough in view of the scale of the investments required.

            As a result, what is urgently needed is a co-ordinated and rapid international effort which is based on objective scientific data and does not give precedence to the energy preferences of certain countries where there is strong economic pressure from the major players in the industry.

5. Conclusions

            The Chernobyl disaster catapulted the problem of nuclear power plants in the countries of central and eastern Europe and their serious potential risks to the top of the international agenda.

            Various international bodies have been discussing the problem for years and regular mention is made of the devastating effects of the Chernobyl disaster and of the fact that the former Soviet republics still have fifteen reactors which are just as dangerous ... Regrettably, ten years on from the world's largest nuclear accident, the threat from these nuclear plants, like other risks, still looms large and no practical steps have even minimised that threat.

            But to come back to the matter at hand, what progress has been made as regards Chernobyl? There is, I am sorry to say, only one reply: not much, not much at all.

            Deliberately being provocative, it might be said that the most tangible achievement of the last ten years is that we have shed light on most of the devastating effects, be they in terms of public health, environmental damage, potential or real dangers ...

            It might also be argued that it has taken ten years to dawn on us that urgent action is needed ...

            We might conclude by echoing the words of one the speakers in the debate on this  subject at the European Parliament's last part-session, who pointed out how much we tend to love major professions of faith and how we are keen on sensations but bereft of solutions ...

            Now, the international community is duty bound to come up with swift solutions to a series of problems caused by the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster.

            It is vital that Ukraine abide by its commitments and cease operating this plant which is a constant risk. It is equally vital that Ukraine pursue a policy to save energy but at the same time have the amount of energy it actually needs. But is the only, and more to the point, right solution really to make up for this shortfall by completing two other nuclear power stations?

            The conclusions I would like to draw in this report apply partly to Chernobyl itself and the effects of the accident and partly to more general issues which we cannot ignore. However, all these solutions have one thing in common, and that is their urgency.

            As far as Chernobyl is concerned, the necessary funds (estimated at USD 1,6 billion) must be found and made available to deal with the "sarcophagus", which is such a risk that it is unthinkable to wait until the reactor is dismantled without taking urgent action.

            In addition, now that a substantial amount of data and forecasts on public health can be considered reliable and unfortunately irrefutable, a further priority — I would even say obligation — is to take action in this field at all levels. We must harness all our knowledge, our experience, our human and therapeutic resources to treat the hundreds of thousands of people — including so many children — who are the innocent victims paying such a high price ...

            Another crucial problem which must be remedied is the prevailing and potential environmental situation. We must marshal all our forces to deal with the soil, forests, lakes and rivers and the food chain — on the basis of a comprehensive environmental survey — in order to minimise as far as possible current and future ecological damage.

            But that in itself is not enough: water resources in particular, but also the  atmosphere and soil, are threatened by the enormous quantities of waste which have accumulated in over 800 sites and which clearly call for urgent action if we wish to avoid tragic repercussions.

            As far as problems of a general nature are concerned, reference is often made to the lessons which can be learned from the Chernobyl disaster. But in actual fact, what evidence is there to suggest, that things would be any different in the event of another disaster? Have our member states really got down to the job of devising emergency plans? Have our parliaments or governments taken steps to give the public reliable and clear information?

            Reference is often made to the conventions which have been drawn up and which we have mentioned in this report — on early notification of a nuclear accident and on assistance in the case of a radiological emergency — and will enter into force shortly.

            I am delighted about this as these instruments are obviously the fruit of considerable efforts and those countries which have already signed and ratified them should be commended for their efforts. But the matter is too serious for us to stop there without giving any thought to what actually happens to such conventions in reality. As our committee knows from having grappled with this thorny issue on a number of occasions, the process of signing and ratifying such a legal instrument is sometimes as far as it goes for governments, instead of serving as a springboard for practical measures at national level as part of a common approach laid down by the convention.

            The Chernobyl disaster also raised the matter of training for people called on to deal with these sophisticated facilities. Here too the skills of certain individuals should be capitalised on for the benefit of the wider community. Accordingly, it is essential to foster not only research but also co-operation between research centres.

            However our track record after ten years of post-Chernobyl activity (or inactivity) should force us to take urgent steps for all the Chernobyls lying in wait in central and eastern Europe.

            Decommissioning needs to be carried out rapidly and a common will should make it possible to do so without the delays caused by a lack of funding. However, I should also like to make it clear that thought needs to be given to replacement forms of energy production.

            Why should priority go to nuclear energy? Why not go for less dangerous options (gas or treated coal)? Above all, the countries concerned must overhaul their energy policies and make sure that their centrepieces become efficient energy production and curbing demand by saving energy.


Reporting committee: Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly : none.

Reference to committee : Reference No. 2071 of 22 April 1996

Draft resolution adopted by the committee on 23 April 1996.

Members of the committee : Mr Briane (Chairman), Mr Ruffy and Lord Newall (Vice-Chairmen), MM. Akçali, Andreoli, Arata, Assis Miranda, Mrs Aytaman, Bachna, Benetatos, Blaauw, Mrs Blunck, MM. Bonrepaux, Büchel, Carcarino, Ciemniak, Mrs Dromberg, MM. Feldmann (Alternate : Antretter), Frunda, Grau (Alternate : Ramirez Pery), Haraldsson, Hardy, Herrero (Alternate : Bolinaga), Hoeffel, Mrs Johansson, MM Johansson, Korakas, Kukk, Lie, Mocanu, Molloy, Molnar, Mota Amaral, Motiu, Mozetic, Mrs Naoumova, Mme Oleinik, MM. Parisi, Plattner, Pozela, Priedkalns, Prokes, Prusi, Rakhansky, Redmond, Mrs Riess (Alternate : Mrs Schicker), MM. Rott, Samofalov, Mrs Severinsen, MM. Shishlov (Alternate : Shuba), Spacek, Staes, Sytchev, Szymanski, Theis, Toshev, Valkeniers, Vella, Woltjer, Zierer.

N.B. The names of those members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries to the committee : Mrs Cagnolati-Staveris, Mr Sixto


[1] by the Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities

[2] Chernobyl — Ten Years On Radiological and Health Impact — An appraisal by the NEA Committee on Radiation Protection and Public Health.

[3] See footnote 1.

[4] See footnotes 1 and 2.

[5] This convention, signed by fifty countries to date, will enter into force in a few months' time.