Ten Lessons from Chernobyl
Kiev, 22 April 1996
On 26 April,1986, Unit Four of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
exploded. The radioactivity released was several hundred times the combined
releases from the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Vast
areas throughout Europe were contaminated. Chernobyl is etched forever
into the memory of humanity as a place of shame, sorrow and fear.
Ten years later, the warning signal of Chernobyl has gone unheeded.
While in the West (except in France) nuclear production plans have been
abandoned because of runaway costs, cheaper competing technologies and
mounting public opposition, the East has now become the arena for
uneconomic investments in new plants or in upgrading old ones. More than
half of the reactors still under construction today are located in
centrally planned electric systems in Eastern Europe and Asia.
On 20 to 22 April, 1996, two hundred and fifty activists and
from East and West met in Kiev at the invitation of the Heinrich Boell
=46oundation to commemorate the catastrophe. What brought us together was a
shared awareness of the urgent necessity
to honor those killed and afflicted;
to acknowledge the full human and environmental consequences;
to understand the real costs of nuclear energy;
to explore practical ways to implement safer and cheaper alternatives;
to initiate cooperative action to achieve these goals.
The theme of the conference was the overriding question: What are th=
lessons of Chernobyl, and what should we do about them? Our deliberations
led to the following ten lessons:
1. Government agencies have consistently covered up and underestimated the
The health, economic, environmental and psychological effects of the
disaster are more far-reaching and enduring than is officially
acknowledged. Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian official information
about the health status in the polluted regions show a significant
increase of many illness. The International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA)
continues cynically to downplay the severity of the tragedy and recently
argued that no discernible cancer effects (other than thyroid) have been
found, demanding a ten year 'latency period' before recognizing a cancer
as radiation induced. The reality is that 9 million people were directly
affected by the disaster through dislocation, high risk, health damage or
death. One quarter of Belarus=C6s government budget is currently swallowed
up in responding to this disaster.
2. The region's current nuclear policy is unacceptable: it must be
The operating reactors at Chernobyl are among the most dangerous in the
world. The continued operation of these reactors as blackmail for foreign
aid is deplorable. We demand that they be shut down immediately rather
than "upgraded", since safety flaws of this design are too fundamental to
repair, and alternatives cost less. We reject the G7 "Memorandum of
Understanding" which would finish reactors at Khmelnitski and Rovno as
replacement power.Instead we advocate western support for a basic reform
of the Ukranian energy sector, which uses seven times more energy per unit
GNP than does Western Europe.
3. Nuclear Power is inherently unsafe.
Chernobyl is not a singular case, but is symptomatic of the nuclear
industry worldwide. Although East Europeannuclear facilities are
notoriously unsafe, reactor performance in the West has been unacceptable
as well. There are no effective safeguards against theft and proliferation
of fissile materials usable for terrorism or in warfare. After 50 yearsof
research and billions of dollars spent, no method has been discovered of
safely isolating radioactive waste fromliving things. The whole nuclear
fuel chain from uranium mining to waste storage, in which reactors are but
one link, causes unacceptable health and environmental hazards.
4. Nuclear technology is ethically questionable and socially detrimental.
Centralized electricity generating systems based on nuclear power have
proven wasteful, inflexible and expensive. Infostering a "priesthood" of
experts, they are incompatible with emerging civil societies. They are
inherently anti-democratic in the methods required to implement and to
safeguard them. They entail incalculatable risks andliabilities across
borders and for unborn future generations, beyond the legal authority of
any national government.
5. The real costs of nuclear power are hidden.
Western nuclear industries are exporting technologies to Eastern Europe
and to Asia which cannot be sold at home.Nuclear power is one of the most
expensive sources of energy in large scale use and in addition it has huge
hidden social costs. It survives only where it is subsidized by our taxes,
our health and our future, and is shielded from faircompetition. It also
diverts investment away from more desirable energy options.