The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) will be commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster which takes place on Monday 26th April. It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster whose impact can still be seen in Ukraine and Belarus.
In the early hours of the 26th April a massive explosion took place at Reactor Number 3 leading to a huge radiation cloud spreading across much of Europe. The disaster took place partially due to human error and the weak nuclear safety regime of the then Soviet Union.
Some of the numbers around the incident and its implications remain truly staggering:
- Around 600,000 people were conscripted to bring the incident under control and clean-up the area. The health impacts for many of them are unknown.
- 2,600 square kilometres of north east Ukraine and southern Belarus remain in an exclusion zone; and are likely to do so for many hundreds of years due to the radiation levels around Chernobyl.
- 300,000 people were displaced from the city of Pripyat and the surrounding areas, never able to return to their homes.
- There was a cancer spike in the region, with thousands of children particularly affected.
- Estimates of longer-term deaths range from 4,000 to 93,000 people, even though the official Soviet death toll was just 31. (1)
- Though many trees in the exclusion area have regrown, scientists have found evidence of elevated levels of cataracts and albinism, and lower rates of beneficial bacteria, among some wildlife species in the area in recent years.
- The economic impact of the disaster has been calculated to be as much as £170 billion. (2)
- It was instrumental at galvanizing a global anti-nuclear movement that continues to this day.
NFLA was one of those groups galvanised by the Chernobyl disaster. Established in 1980 around real concerns over a nuclear weapon attack during the height of the Cold War, the Chernobyl disaster alerted councillors to a wide range of nuclear safety concerns and refocused some of its work to look at these matters, and the wider issues of dealing with the nuclear waste legacy.
As part of commemorating the 35th anniversary of Chernobyl, NFLA are actively supporting two events.
On Sunday 25th April at 5pm, NFLA are cooperating with Beyond Nuclear International, Greater Manchester & District CND and Chernobyl Children’s Project UK to hold a special webinar entitled ‘Living with Chernobyl’. (3)
Inspired by the recent Emmy-award winning drama series, ‘Chernobyl’, the webinar is focusing on the human elements of the disaster. Amongst the speakers are:
- Stage and screen actor Maxine Peake, who will read excerpts from the book ‘Voices of Chernobyl’ by Svetlana Alexievich, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for it. This book recounts many of the human stories of people directly affected by the disaster.
- Professor Kate Brown, author of the book ‘Manual for Survival’, a ground-level study of the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction and was described by The Economist as “a magisterial blend of historical research, investigative journalism, and poetic reportage.”
- Darragh McKeon, author of the novel ‘All That is Solid Melts into Air’. This well-received novel is based around the many human impacts of the Chernobyl disaster.
- Linda Walker, Executive Director of Chernobyl Children’s Project (UK), will outline the projects the charity continues to support in Belarus some 35 years after the disaster.
Following on from this event, on the 26th April, NFLA are supporting a full day online conference hosted by the European office of the German Lander of Baden-Württemberg, in association with the Alliance of Regions for the Phasing-out of Nuclear Power in Europe (who NFLA partners with) and the International Nuclear Risk Awareness Group (INRAG).
The conference will focus on an INRAG report on the ‘Risks of Lifetime Extensions of old Nuclear Power Plants’ and the ongoing concerns around a range of aging nuclear reactors across Europe and the world. 125 nuclear reactors in Europe alone have an average age of 33.4 years. The susceptibility to accidents naturally increases with the age of the reactors, which immensely increases the risk for people and the environment in Europe. (4)
Amongst the speakers to this conference are:
- Gregory Jaczko, former Chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
- Professor Wolfgang Renneberg, former Head of the Department for Reactor Safety, Radiation Protection and Waste Management at the German Federal Ministry.
- Dr Oda Becker of INRAG, who has been working as an independent scientist in the field of safety and risks at nuclear facilities for around 25 years.
- Dr Paul Dorfman is an Honorary Senior Research Associate at the UCL Energy Institute at University College London.
- Professor Wolfgang Kromp was the founder and head of the Institute for Security and Risk Research in Vienna.
- Professor Emeritus Stephen Thomas, Professor of Energy Policy at Greenwich University.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn, said:
“Chernobyl evokes in all of us a powerful human emotion about the frailty of humanity and the devastating impacts of nuclear materials when disaster strikes. As Hiroshima and Nagasaki remind us of the folly of using nuclear weapons to destroy cities, Chernobyl and more recently Fukushima remind us of the catastrophic human and environmental impacts of a meltdown and explosion of a nuclear power plant. I welcome these two important events as opportunities to consider the impacts on people of the disaster and reminds us that there are significant nuclear hazards remaining today, some 35 years after the Chernobyl disaster.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 07771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(1) Statistics quote at the end of the ‘Chernobyl’ television drama, Sky TV.
(2) National Geographic, ‘The Chernobyl Disaster’, 20th May 2019
(3) Living with Chernobyl webinar, 25th April 2021. To register go to the following Eventbrite link –
(4) Online conference, 26th April 2021. ‘Risks of extending the life of old nuclear power plants –