Greenpeace Chernobyl Anniversary statement

Feature story - 26 April, 2006
Today, on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster we must reflect on the impact of the day that changed the world's view of nuclear power. Chernobyl was not simply an industrial accident. It was a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale. Our recent report about the true health impact of the explosion and its aftermath show that the estimates of the number of people who died or who now have terminal or chronic illnesses as a result of Chernobyl could be many-fold higher than was originally thought.

Construction of the sarcophagus (cover) over the destroyed Chernobyl reactor.

Today, however, is not for statistics. This haunting milestone in thehistory of nuclear power is a time to remember the human sufferingcaused on that fateful day. All over the world this month, photoexhibitions have opened featuring portraits of those living with thepernicious after-effects of the radiation from Chernobyl - and thegrinding social deprivation following the disaster. The bedriddenchildren with cancers and degenerative diseases who must be turnedevery fifteen minutes in excruciating pain. The parents who themselvessuffer from chronic radiation-related diseases. The old people who haveno alternative but to eat mushrooms and burn firewood harvested fromwoodland so radioactive that soil samples from them are treated asradioactive waste in Western Europe. It is here where we should look -into the eyes of these people - when we are told about the so-called'benefits' of nuclear power.

Chernobyl is not just a historical event, from a moment in time twentyyears ago. It is still very much having a massive impact. The number ofpeople who will get sick and die because of the radiation fromChernobyl is still rising - and will do for many decades to come. Andthat horrific legacy is still being discovered as the extent of themedical impact of the disaster continues to manifest itself in therange of illnesses being seen in those affected.

The international community has failed the victims of Chernobyl. Notonly by downplaying the extent of the human impact, but also byabdicating their responsibility for them and failing to collaborate totake them out of the Chernobyl shadow and give them a better life, whatremains of it.

This anniversary comes at a pivotal moment in the future of nuclearpower - as the current generation of nuclear plants near the end oftheir life, we have the opportunity to reassess the human price we arewilling to pay for generating electricity in this way. Nuclear power isinherently highly dangerous and despite claims of improvements insafety, scientists agree that another catastrophe on the scale ofChernobyl could still happen any time, anywhere. Nuclear is also themost expensive energy source in the world and actually generates only 2percent of the world's supply. Clean, renewable sources such as wind,solar and hydroelectricity generate seven times as much, globally - andthat is growing. We also need to remember that wherever there isnuclear power, nuclear weapons are only few steps away.  

We must ensure that no more Chernobyls ever take place again. The onlyway we can do this is to ensure that nuclear power has no future,whilst investing in renewable alternatives. I believe that on the 20thanniversary of Chernobyl, governments and international bodies such asthe IAEA must exercise their moral duty to this and future generationsby committing to a rapid and permanent eradication of nuclear power.

Gerd Leipold

Executive Director

Greenpeace International