This story appeared originally in The Korea Times on Feb. 23, 2012 as the third in a series of interviews I did with ambassadors from countries participating in the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit which took place on March 26-27.
By Philip Iglauer
Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant blew up on April 26, 1986, spewing a radioactive plume of black smoke and particulates into the atmosphere. The accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine is the worst in human history and its effects on human health and the environment some 26 years ago reverberate to this day.
That’s why the memory of the world’s worst nuclear accident weighs heavily on Ukraine’s participation in the coming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul March 26-27, and makes nuclear safety and nuclear security inseparable, indeed, a matter of life and death.
“Ukraine is a unique country in terms of nuclear safety and security,” Ukrainian Ambassador to Korea Vasyl Marmazov said in an interview with the Korea Times.
“They mentioned the Chernobyl disaster, the aftermath of which we still have to deal with nowadays, and due to which we have gained a huge experience on nuclear safety and protection of people from nuclear disasters’ effects,” he said.
Leaders of over 50 nations around the world will convene here next month. Ukraine’s delegation to the Summit will be headed by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
“The explosion is considered the worst man-made accident ever,” said Maramzov, who arrived as Ukraine’s new envoy here in October 2011. “The accident had the disastrous impact on life, health and the environment in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and prompted fear and concerns in other nations of the world about the effects of radiation.”
Chernobyl may well have informed Ukraine’s announcement at the Washington Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 to get rid of the country’s stocks of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from nuclear research facilities by the time leaders convene at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit.
Ukraine’s decision to get rid of its HEU stocks was joined by Mexico and Chile at a U.N. General Assembly meeting in September 2010.
“Ukraine’s example can serve as a basis for the unification of international efforts toward the establishment of a safe, nuclear-free world in the interests of all states,” Marmazov said. “We remain active in the field of nuclear disarmament and Ukraine consistently supports further reductions of existing nuclear weapons,” Marmazov said. “(Ukraine) views a nuclear-free world as a goal worthy of a coordinated international effort.”
Marmazov said that it is imperative for all nations to establish a reliable international architecture for nuclear safety and security, and to exercise control over nuclear materials and technologies.
In the lead up to the Summit, the Institute of Radiological and Medical Science and the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences will meet at a joint workshop on scientific issues related to the impact of the Chernobyl accident.
“One of the most important tasks for Ukraine and its international partners today, particularly Korea, is transforming the Chernobyl nuclear power plant into an ecologically safe system,” Marmazov said. “It is necessary to build a new, safe sarcophagus over the destroyed fourth reactor and a safe spent nuclear fuel repository.”
Marmazov said that Ukraine’s significant contribution to nuclear disarmament and its role in strengthening international peace and security was recognized at a signing ceremony of the United States-Russia START agreement in Prague, the Czech Republic, in April 2010.
The following year, Ukraine commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by hosting the Summit on the Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy, in which the international community sought to raise funds for “Chernobyl projects.”
Donors contributed about $715 million for a new sarcophagus and for compensation to the people who performed the task of decontamination work near the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant, so-called “liquidators.”
“Since the accident, over 112,000 liquidators have died,” Marmazov said. “Altogether around 5 million people were exposed to nuclear radiation, they have thyroid cancer, leukaemia, heart disease and radiation sickness.”
Marmazov said that Ukrainian specialists collected a repository of information over the last 25 years since the Chernobyl disaster for the protection of the population from the consequences of nuclear accidents and for the prevention and treatment of diseases caused by radiation.
This year, Ukraine and Korea celebrate 20 years since they established diplomatic relations. High-level visits to Ukraine by Korean officials are expected in line with the milestone year. Korea and Ukraine signed an agreement for cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy in July 2001.
“We are ready to work hand in hand with other countries toward strengthening nuclear security, reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism, and preventing unauthorized actors, like terrorists, from acquiring nuclear materials,” Marmazov said. “We are ready to discuss these issues at the highest level in the framework of the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit.