Staunton, April 22 – Thirty-five years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster exposed a larger area of Russia and Belarus than even of Ukraine where the plant is located, radiation continues to undermine the health and well-being of people in all these areas, and as evidence of this, almost 2,000 Russians are still dying from the effects of Chernobyl each year.
In the areas of radioactive contamination, the ratio of deaths to births is far higher than elsewhere in the Russian Federation, and the incidence of cancers and of birth defects far higher as well. And while some radioactive elements have degraded, many more remain and will affect people for hundreds of years.
Despite this, Lyudmila Komogortseva, a former Bryansk Oblast duma deputy and a chemist who is a member of the expert council of the human rights ombudsman there, says, the government is doing less and less, primarily by shifting areas from those requiring more attention to those requiring less (rosbalt.ru/russia/2021/04/22/1898629.html).
In October 2015, the government removed hundreds of villages from areas classified as highly contaminated to others listed as less at risk. That meant two things: the government no longer had to pay for the benefits and relocations Russian laws call for and the people in the “dirty” areas have suffered even more.
Komogortseva says her expert council has released a new report about this which shows the government is taking other steps to avoid having to bear responsibility. For many villages, there is no longer data on how much radiation people are experiencing, even though private measurements show that it is still above permissible levels.
“People know about this,” she says, “and of course are expressing their dissatisfaction.”
Moreover, while the authorities talk about the decay of Plutonium-241 over the last 35 years, they do not say much about what it has decayed into, Americium-241, an isotope which remains radioactive and has a half life of more than 430 years. Nor do the powers talk much about Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 which remain strongly radioactive.
Unless the government changes its approach and makes a serious effort to protect those living in the Chernobyl zones, thousands more will suffer, face birth defects among their children and die in the coming years, long after many people have forgotten about the 1986 accident that so shocked the world at that time.