Lessons of Chernobyl must be learned, but nuclear should not be abandoned

Japan and other nations will heed the lessons of Chernobyl as they deal with the aftermath of Fukushima, says Ukraine's Deputy Economy Minister Valery Piatnitsky.

The nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima is shaking the world. People are reminded of the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl 25 years ago. How did you experience the Chernobyl catastrophe and what do you feel now when you see the videos and pictures from Japan?

25 years ago, there were no pictures of Chernobyl. Everything was covered up. The pictures and images on TV suggested that everything was okay. I knew this history because my father participated in covering the Chernobyl plant after the explosion.
What did he do at the plant in Chernobyl?

The day of the catastrophe, on 26 April 1986, we celebrated my father's 50th birthday. Suddenly, he received a call from Chernobyl and he went to Chernobyl to organise some preparations. So I knew the true story from the beginning. Unfortunately, we still have to experience these radiation troubles. Chernobyl will affect many generations. It will take another 575 years for the territory to be completely clean of radiation.

Now, in Japan things are different since we do see what is happening and it is a real disaster. I hope the consequences of the accident in Japan will be less dangerous than in the Ukraine.
How are Ukrainians reacting to images of the catastrophe at Fukushima?

Many Ukrainians have the intention of inviting people, children from Japan to spend some time in Ukraine. We appreciated this support of other countries after the Chernobyl catastrophe. Many of our children spent at least the summer time in different countries.

On the territory of the so-called exclusion zone around Chernobyl, shortly after the catastrophe, a scientific research centre was formed by 15 countries, including Japan. Many Japanese scientists alongside German, Danish, Dutch or Americans could study the aftermath of Chernobyl and its impact on nature, the environment, and human beings. As paradoxical as it is, now they can use this research, this experience.

Currently, we are preparing the Kiev summit on the innovative and safe use of nuclear energy which will take place on 19 April. We believe that this summit will be a proper platform to discuss how to deal with these issues in the future. We started the preparations in the framework of the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl and know it turns out to be quite an issue. We hope that leaders of many countries will come to Kiev to this summit to analyse the mistakes and learn the lessons. The major point is the future development of nuclear energy.
The only lesson to be learned is the abolition of nuclear energy, isn't it?

No. In the past 25 years since Chernobyl, we learned not to be afraid, but to be wise and to be cautious. People keep flying with planes even though there are so many airborne catastrophes.

The world has learned so much from the Chernobyl catastrophe and it will learn more from the catastrophe in Japan. Maybe in the future there won't be nuclear power plants in areas that are potentially threatened by earthquakes. But to give up completely the development of nuclear energy is not the wisest decision.

Nuclear energy is still the least polluting, cheapest energy. Sweden, for example, develops its nuclear energy technology and therefore has much less CO2 pollution than Denmark, which has its emphasis on renewable energy.
So giving up nuclear energy is no option for Ukraine?

No, this is no option. The point is not about giving up nuclear energy. The point is how to really make use of nuclear energy safe. First we have to improve our energy efficiency; afterwards we can reduce use of nuclear energy.
Are your nuclear plants earthquake-resistant?

Yes, regarding the likely magnitude of earthquakes in Ukraine. The last big earthquake in Ukraine occurred in 1927, hitting the Crimean Peninsula. After Chernobyl, we stopped a project to build a nuclear power plant on Crimea. There are no plans to build plants in areas that can be hit by earthquakes. We only build plans in areas which have never before experienced earthquakes. Our nuclear power stations are built on geologically stable platforms.
How will Ukraine commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe?

There will be three major events. On 19 April we have the afore-mentioned Kiev summit on the innovative and safe use of nuclear energy and a pledging conference. On 20 April there will be a scientific and practical conference which is co-organised together with German institutions. On 26 April, the day of the tragedy, there will be some ceremonies dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives to save us from the worst consequences of the catastrophe. The so-called liquidators will have their gatherings, too.