25 Years On: Chernobyl is Still a Disaster

Will SA Govt Take Note?

Feature story - April 11, 2011
Greenpeace repeats its call for SA government to abandon plans to build new nuclear stations in the face of deadly catastrophes such as the Chernobyl disaster that’s still affecting Ukrainians 25 years later.

Radiation Measurement near Chernobyl

Greenpeace nuclear expert Tobias Muenchmeyer measures the nuclear radiation at the house of Ivan Sholjaruk, (75, in the background) who returned to his house located in the 30 km exclusive zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power station. © Jan Grarup / NOOR / Greenpeace

Greenpeace radiation experts have discovered high levels of radioactive contamination in several types of staple foods in affected areas of the Ukraine. In one village alone in the Rivnenska region, the team found the long-lived isotope caesium-137 in 93 percent of the milk samples — exceeding acceptable Ukrainian levels for children by factors ranging from between 1.2 and 16.3.

“Our analysis found high levels of radioactivity from the Chernobyl disaster in samples of food. The most critical levels were in key staples: milk, wild berries and mushrooms, in many cases the levels of radioactive caesium exceeded Ukrainian acceptable limits,” said Iryna Labunska, Senior Scientist, Greenpeace International.

“There is an urgent need to continue a thorough, science-based evaluation of radionuclide contamination of agricultural land and grazing pastures in affected areas of the Ukraine,” she stressed.

The radioactivity released as a result of the explosions at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant caused severe problems that affected many countries. In Ukraine, 18,000 km2 of agricultural land was contaminated. It is estimated that some 40 percent of the country’s woods were contaminated, totalling 35,000 km2.

Over the years following the accident, the Ukrainian government undertook regular analyses of foods produced in contaminated areas, and the Ministry of Emergencies and Affairs of Population Protection published the data. However, for the last two years this monitoring has not been performed. Accordingly, an important long-term data set is no longer being added to.

“Even after 25 years, people living up to hundreds of kilometres away from Chernobyl are still exposed to dangerous levels of radiation through local food sources”, said Rianne Teule, Greenpeace Africa Energy Campaigner.

“In Fukushima, we are already seeing a similar situation emerging concerning the contamination of milk and vegetables. If we are to avoid the consequences of future disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, the South African government must phase out nuclear energy and invest in energy efficiency and clean, safe renewable sources, this is the only way to the sustainable future all South Africans deserve."