Chernobyl nuclear disaster guides Ukraine at Seoul Summit

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.

Ukrainian Ambassador to South Korea
Ukrainian Ambassador to South Korea  Vasyl Marmazov

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.

Nuclear Summit Logo 2012
Chernobyl surely played a part in Ukraine’s historic decision to remove the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal in 1994 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its independence.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Summit will heighten the political will to fight nuclear terrorism,’ envoy says

This story appeared originally in The Korea Times on Martch 13, 2012 as the 10th in a series of interviews I did with ambassadors from countries participating in the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit which occured on March 26-27.

By Philip Iglauer

Spanish Ambassador to South Korea Luis Arias-Romero
Spanish Ambassador to South Korea Luis Arias-Romero

Spain believes the coming nuclear summit could best serve as a catalyst to heighten the international community’s political will in its fight against nuclear terrorism.

“The biggest commitment we need is a true political will at the highest levels,” said Spanish Ambassador Luis Arias-Romero in an email interview with The Korea Times. “We are touching a very sensitive area for states, so that level of confidence is needed.”

Leaders of more than 50 nations and international organizations will convene here for the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit on March 26 and 27. This is the second global gathering of world leaders to tackle ways to prevent nuclear and radiological materials from ever falling into the hands of terrorists, criminal gangs or other non-state groups. They first met in 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Spain sees the summit as a means of enhancing nuclear commitments already made to existing international regimes and organizations, such as the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We know the value of developing and consolidating a global architecture on nuclear security as a means to channel international cooperation and to help others to create and develop strong national capacities,” Arias-Romero said.

He said that is why Spain actively participates in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, an international initiative of more than 80 countries set up to fight nuclear terrorism. Launched in 2006, it has since inspired the current nuclear security summit process.

“We think this objective in the Seoul summit is very important,” he said. Arias-Romero said that Spain is contributing to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund because it is important to enhance the role and resources of the international atomic watch dog organization.

Nuclear Summit Logo 2012

Nuclear safety has since become a huge issue for many of the nations participating in the summit, since a tsunami that slammed into Japan’s northern coast at Fukushima and caused a massive nuclear accident.

Arias-Romero said nuclear security and safety are two side of the same coin. “After the Fukushima nuclear accident, we have to develop a comprehensive approach to nuclear security and nuclear safety as mutually reinforcing and complementary,” he said.

He said that since that accident, the nuclear plants in Spain have “undergone additional evaluations and the levels and requirements of safety and security have increased as a result.”

With eight active plants, nuclear energy accounts for 20 percent of Spain’s energy needs. The nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea are on the minds of every participant, although the two nations’ nuclear programs are not officially on the agenda of the Seoul summit.

Arias-Romero said Iran must comply with its safeguard agreements and other obligations as an NPT signatory.

Iran, though a signatory to the NPT, was not invited to participate in the summit, according to the Iranian Embassy in Seoul.

Israel, Pakistan and India, which are not signatories to the NPT and possess nuclear weapons, are participating in the Seoul summit.

“The IAEA has a basic role to play in supervising their commitments from the NPT, so that there is a complete confidence in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, without any deviation to undeclared or non peaceful uses,” he said.

“This is basic in the case of Iran, and we have to thank the IAEA for their continuous efforts to develop a structured negotiating process with Iran to solve all outstanding issues on the nature of its nuclear program and to commit Iran to comply fully and without preconditions with its international obligations.”

In the case of North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003, Arias-Romero only said that Spain looks forward to the return of the IAEA inspectors to the North’s Yongbyon nuclear facility as soon as possible.