Nuclear disaster's legacy is examined


TRAGIC health consequences and the environment of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 10 years ago will be the focus of a conference in Vienna starting today.

About 700 delegates from around the world, including senior politicians and nuclear experts, have arrived in the Austrian capital for the four day meeting to discuss the impact of the Chernobyl accident.

Delegation fro in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, the countries most affected by radioactive fallout from the April 26th, 1986, explosion, will address the conference, the Vienna based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.

The IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog agency, is co- sponsoring the meeting with the European Union Commission and the World Health Organisation.

The Belarussian president, Mr Alexander Lukashenko, and the Ukrainian prime minister, Mr Yevhen Marchuk, are expected to deliver personal statements to delegates.

Belarus, a country of 10 million people, suffered most from the fire and blast at Chernobyl, just over the border in Ukraine. Seventy per cent of the radiation which swept across Europe fell on Belarus then part of the Soviet Union.

A conference on Chernobyl held in Minsk last month was told that former Soviet republics faced a peak in cancers caused by radioactivity in about nine years' time.

"In contaminated regions, incidences of thyroid and breast cancer and leukemia are two to three times higher than in other regions," Belarus's Chernobyl minister, Mr Ivan Kenik, said.

Mr Lukashenko said Belarus, which has no nuclear power plants, spent 25 per cent of its national budget, directly or indirectly, on cleanup operations.

The Vienna meeting follows three days of debate last week among international nuclear scientists at IAEA headquarters on the problems at Chernobyl and the safety of 15 Chernobyl style reactors still operating in Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania.

Western experts and delegates from the former Soviet republics agreed on the sort of measures needed to prevent similar accidents at the so called RBMK reactors, but the main message from Russia and Ukraine was that none of this could be done effectively without one vital resource cash.

Mr Viktor Siderenko, deputy minister at the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, told a news conference last week that financial aid to deal with the upgrading of the RBMK graphite moderated plants remained a major headache.

"The general amount of costs for serious improvements is around $100-150 million per unit," Mr Siderenko said.

Experts estimate Western pledges so far amount to $20-30 million (about £16 million) per unit.

The three countries operating the plants, all in financial difficulties, say they cannot shut the reactors down because they depend on them for their power supplies. According to the latest data available, Lithuania relies on nuclear power for more than 75 per cent of its power needs, Ukraine around 34 per cent and Russia just over 11 per cent.