Greenpeace Chernobyl Anniversary statement

Feature Story - 2006-04-26
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 the history of nuclear power is a time to remember the human suffering caused on that fateful day. All over the world this month, photo exhibitions have opened featuring portraits of those living with the pernicious after-effects of the radiation from Chernobyl - and the grinding social deprivation following the disaster. The bedridden children with cancers and degenerative diseases who must be turned every fifteen minutes in excruciating pain. The parents who themselves suffer from chronic radiation-related diseases. The old people who have no alternative but to eat mushrooms and burn firewood harvested from woodland so radioactive that soil samples from them are treated as radioactive 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 twenty years ago. It is still very much having a massive impact. The number of people who will get sick and die because of the radiation from Chernobyl is still rising - and will do for many decades to come. And that horrific legacy is still being discovered as the extent of the medical impact of the disaster continues to manifest itself in the range of illnesses being seen in those affected.

The international community has failed the victims of Chernobyl. Not only by downplaying the extent of the human impact, but also by abdicating their responsibility for them and failing to collaborate to take them out of the Chernobyl shadow and give them a better life, what remains of it.

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

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

Gerd Leipold

Executive Director

Greenpeace International