Chernobyl disaster ‘left imprint across Europe’, Mayor says

Cork delegation visits areas in Ukraine and Belarus that were affected by nuclear fallout

Adi Roche, founder of Chernobyl Children International (CCI), with Ann Doherty, chief executive of Cork City Council and Lord Mayor of Cork Chris O’Leary. Photograph: Dan McLaughlin.

Adi Roche, founder of Chernobyl Children International (CCI), with Ann Doherty, chief executive of Cork City Council and Lord Mayor of Cork Chris O’Leary. Photograph: Dan McLaughlin.

 

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster nearly 30 years ago “left its imprint right across Europe”, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Chris O’Leary, has said on a visit to the site of the incident in Ukraine.

A delegation from Cork visited the Chernobyl power station and toured surrounding areas in Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus that were heavily contaminated after the accident.

Mr O’Leary and Ann Doherty, chief executive of Cork City Council, were travelling with Adi Roche, founder of the charity Chernobyl Children International (CCI).

The charity has raised more than €100 million to help those most affected by the world’s worst nuclear accident, which took place on April 26th, 1986.

The delegation on Thursday visited Pripyat, a ghost town 3km from the power plant, from which 50,000 residents were evacuated the day after the disaster, even as Soviet officials hid the scale of the catastrophe from their citizens and the world.

Forgotten city

Mr O’Leary was among the civil defence workers who detected radioactive fallout from Chernobyl in Ireland in 1986.

The delegation arrived in Chernobyl’s 30km-radius “exclusion zone” after meeting local officials in Belarus and visiting CCI projects, which provide care and accommodation for orphans and other vulnerable people who would otherwise be consigned to dilapidated state institutions.

Mr O’Leary said the visit had “reinforced a relationship” that has seen CCI bring more than 25,000 children from Chernobyl-affected areas to Ireland for treatment, recuperation and holidays.

“We spend our time reassuring our people that things will be alright, and problems will be sorted out,” said Ms Doherty, standing beside the rusting Ferris wheel of Pripyat’s fairground, amid deserted apartment blocks and offices.

“It’s shocking to think how this disaster was for the people here, and how they could never have imagined that this would happen to their town.”

The visitors also viewed the decommissioned power station, which was one of the biggest nuclear plants in the world when a combination of human error and flawed design caused a massive meltdown in reactor number four.

About 30 people perished in the ensuing explosion and emergency response, but debate continues over the overall number of people who have died as a result of the incident, with estimates ranging from a handful to many thousands.

The World Health Organisation recognises a “dramatic increase in thyroid cancer . . . among those exposed at a young age” to the nuclear fallout and “some indication of increased leukaemia and cataract incidence among workers” in the clean-up operation.

Chernobyl’s last reactor was shut down in 2000. A French-led consortium is in the process of building a vast €2 billion protective steel cover that is due to be slid over the top of reactor number four next year.

The State is contributing €8 million to the project.

Robot role

“There may be an impression that Chernobyl is something which happened a very long time ago and no longer poses a threat to the world. But the reality of the situation is very, very different,” Ms Roche said.