|April 26, 2011|
Medvedev Urges Worldwide Nuclear Safety as Japan Stirs Fears
|President Dmitry Medvedev called for international nuclear safety standards while visiting Chernobyl today on the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster, as Japan's reactor crisis raises concerns about Russia's resurgent atomic industry. |
Russia will help develop new safety standards for nuclear energy after a devastating earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant in Japan last month, Medvedev said before the trip to Ukraine to commemorate the explosion at Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor.
"We need to understand what force people are dealing with," the Russian president said today in Chernobyl city, where he and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych unveiled a monument.
The Chernobyl disaster killed at least 31 plant workers and firefighters in three months and forced the evacuation of a quarter of a million people. That accident released at least 100 times more radiation than the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Particles scattered as far as the U.K., while Ukraine, Belarus and parts of Russia bore the worst of the contamination.
Russia's proposals to improve international nuclear safety regulations were today sent to the Group of Eight nations, as well as to BRICS countries, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Arkady Dvorkovich, Medvedev's aide, said in a Kremlin statement e- mailed today.
The plant, covered by a makeshift shelter, still leaks radiation, as Ukraine seeks to collect funds globally to build a new confinement. Even with radiation leaks, Chernobyl has become a tourist destination.
A quarter of century later, workers are battling to contain radiation leaks at Fukushima after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, while countries such as Germany said they will revise plans for the development of nuclear energy.
Japan's government ranked the Fukushima crisis as a level 7 accident, the highest severity rating on an international scale, matching that of the Chernobyl disaster.
"Fukushima is 10 percent of what happened at Chernobyl," Ukraine's Ambassador to Japan Mykola Kulinich said today in Tokyo, referring to the damage to people and the environment.
Medvedev and Yanukovych met to discuss nuclear safety today, as some European governments review plans for atomic energy. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel last month ordered the seven oldest plants idled pending industrywide safety checks after the Japanese reactors leaked radiation, triggering protests against nuclear power across Europe.
"The recent events reminded humankind that we shouldn't relax," Medvedev said yesterday at a meeting with liquidators, as people who battled the Chernobyl meltdown are known. Russia's safety standards are now higher than in many other advanced countries, he said.
The Fukushima accident shouldn't stop development of nuclear energy, Medvedev said on April 15.
Rosatom Corp., Russia's nuclear holding company, plans to at least triple sales to $50 billion by 2030, as China and India order more reactors and fuel, Chief Executive Officer Sergei Kiriyenko said in September.
Nuclear energy accounts for 16 percent of Russia's total power generation, while the country plans to increase that to as much as 30 percent in the long term, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last year.
More than half of Russians believe a nuclear disaster similar to that in Japan could happen in Russia "in the next few years," according to a survey of 1,600 people conducted by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, on March 26 and 27. About 9 percent would opt for a shift away from nuclear power and a ban on new power plants, VTsIOM said on its website.
Radiation levels near the Chernobyl reactor are currently about 300 times more than normal in the center of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, said the site's chief engineer, Andrii Savin.
The area 30 kilometers around Chernobyl "is a dead zone," Kulinich said. "It is not a Disneyland."
The site draws travelers, especially after the Fukushima accident.
'Lot of Demand'
"There is a lot of demand," Dmitry Chernov, project coordinator of Tour2Kiev, which organizes trips to Chernobyl, said by phone from Kiev. "Now it is linked to the situation at Fukushima."
One-day excursions for English-speaking tourists from the Ukrainian capital into the exclusion zone and a visit to the power plant cost $150 to $160, according to the agency's website. Radiation absorbed during the trip doesn't exceed that on a transatlantic flight, the agency said.
"Tourists from the European Union, the Germans, Dutch, French, Scandinavians, are the most frequent guests," Chernov said. "Europeans are better informed about the situation in the zone than Russian and Ukrainian citizens."