Ukraine Asks Help For Chernobyl Region

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko appealed to the international community for financial help Monday, two days before the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, to aid the region surrounding the nuclear plant.

The old control room is shown inside reactor No.4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This is the location where Soviet engineers flipped a power switch on April 26, 1986, and two explosions followed one after another immediately, sending radioactive clouds thoughout most of Europe, causing the world's worst nuclear accident.

"We need to get rid of the Chernobyl stereotype as an incurable inflammation on the body of Ukraine," Yushchenko said, opening an international conference of radiation and health experts in the Ukrainian capital. "This is land _ land we should recover and put back to life. ... A new day should come to the Chernobyl area, a day of its recovery."

That will require money _ far more than this cash-strapped former Soviet republic can afford, Yushchenko said, noting that Ukraine had already spent $15 billion on Chernobyl-related projects.

The April 26, 1986, explosion and fire at Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor spewed radiation across much of northern Europe over a 10-day period, resulting in the evacuation of more than 100,000 people and the contamination of more than 77,220 square miles of European land.

Death tolls connected to the explosion, which released about 400 times more radiation than the U.S. atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima, remain hotly debated, although at least 31 people died as a direct result of trying to contain the fire.

Thousands have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the U.N. health agency said about 9,300 people were likely to die of cancers caused by radiation. Some groups, however, including Greenpeace, have put the numbers 10 times higher.

"The toll of the accident was huge, that is clear. And we can never forget the problems it caused, but there is a way forward," said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Kalman Mizsei, defending last year's U.N. Chernobyl Forum report that found the biggest obstacle to recovery was a sense of malaise and fear among residents _ rather than lingering radiation.

The U.N. report concluded that most of those affected received such low doses of radiation that it was unlikely to have had any significant health effects.

"The 5 million residents of contaminated areas need not live in fear of radiation _ and that is a hopeful finding," Mizsei said.

The three-day conference in Kiev was co-hosted by U.N. agencies, the European Commission and the governments of Russia and Belarus. It was aimed at "reviewing and better using the experience gained from the accident and enabling the world to be better prepared for a future accident of this magnitude," organizers said.

Yushchenko complained that even 20 years after the accident, much remained unknown about the tragedy. He said people deserved the truth more than anything, adding that while the accident was horrific with almost unspeakable consequences, it should not be used as a "black spot on energy technology."

"We have learned some lessons," said Yushchenko, who has expressed his backing for nuclear energy as a way to reduce Ukraine's energy dependence on Russian gas supplies.

Environmentalists protested outside the Ukrainian Opera House, where the conference was held, carrying signs that read: "Remember Chernobyl. No new Reactors."

Source: AP