Canada takes an active role in battling the consequences

by Christopher Guly

OTTAWA - From the political power brokers in Ottawa to interested - and, in some cases, unconventional - individuals, Canadians have taken an active role in helping Ukraine in its Chornobyl clean-up operations.

During its tenure as chair of the G-7, the Canadian government hosted a December 20, 1995, signing in Ottawa of a memorandum of understanding and aid package between the Group of Seven industrialized countries and Ukraine. The G-7 is composed of Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The deal promised Ukraine $2.3 billion (U.S.) in compensation and assistance to close the Chornobyl site by 2000 - including $498 million in grants and $1.8 billion in loans to Kyiv to help find new sources of electric power for Ukraine.

It followed a 1994 decision by the world's top seven economic powers to establish a $200 million (U.S.) fund to assist Ukraine in ensuring the safety of its nuclear reactors. At the time, Canada contributed $24 million (about $18 million in U.S. dollars) to the multi-year program. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, that amount - 12 percent of the total - was three times higher than Canada would "normally provide for such an effort."

Last December, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps and Ukraine's acting head of the State Committee on the Use of Nuclear Energy, N.R. Nigmatullin, signed a nuclear cooperation agreement that would initiate bilateral trade in nuclear material and equipment.

"This agreement will allow the Canadian nuclear industry to pursue commercial opportunities in support of the restructuring of Ukraine's energy sector," said Canada's former minister of foreign affairs, André Ouellet.

Between July 1993 and December 1994, Natural Resources Canada ran the Chornobyl GIS Project, a $350,000 (about $257,000 U.S.) Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) initiative involving geographic information, system-based environmental assessment and monitoring systems in Kyiv and Minsk to help Ukrainians with effective planning to minimize the aftereffects of the 1986 disaster.

Following President Leonid Kuchma's 1994 visit to Canada, Prime Minister Jean Chretien's government gave Ukraine $3.3 million (about $2.3 million U.S.) to finance a three-tiered nuclear fuel management project led by Ontario Hydro International Inc. of Toronto. The arrangement involved transferring Canadian high-density concrete canister technology for the short-term storage of used nuclear fuel to power plants at Chornobyl and Rivne in northwestern Ukraine.

Canadian businesses are also trying to help Ukraine find alternative sources of energy. Uk-Ran Oil Corp. is leading a project to kick-start 160 oil wells in Leliakiv - about 60 miles east of Kyiv. Working with Britain's JPX, the Calgary-based Tenerex is pumping 10 million cubic feet of gas and 3,000 barrels of oil daily from the Poltava region, while Toronto-based Northland Power has been working on a heat-and-power project for the Kyiv suburb, Darnytsia, which would modernize an existing plant and install new Canadian-made generators and boilers.

Sealing the sacophagus

While corporate Canada got involved in post-Chornobyl Ukraine, Main Street Canada wasn't far away. Willy Nelson, a 54-year-old candlemaker from Perth, Ontario, west of Ottawa, has spent the last three years espousing his theory that the burned-out, now concrete-encased No. 4 reactor at Chornobyl could be "healed" with wax. Since 1993, Mr. Nelson has claimed that he could stop the stricken reactor from leaking or collapsing using paraffin technology. Last summer, he used wax to rustproof the steel reinforcing rods, which have been exposed to the elements since the April 26, 1986, accident.

Before he left for Ukraine, Mr. Nelson told The Weekly the wax could seal the cracks - preventing rain from entering and radioactive dust from exiting.

Though Mr. Nelson's idea received endorsements from the Ukrainian government and such organizations as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., success has eluded him - and ultimately, Chornobyl.

But, if anything, his spirited approach and subsequent media attention has kept the 1986 Chornobyl disaster alive in many people's minds.

"If we can mitigate the effects now, we can save the children of tomorrow," said Mr. Nelson.

Helping the children

That's a message the Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund has been spreading for years. Through its "Help Us Help The Children" project, the group has shipped hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies and essential goods to the most innocent of Chornobyl's victims.

When the reactor blew a decade ago, it went down in history as the site of the world's worst nuclear accident - spreading radiation across much of northern Europe. Close to 900,000 children throughout Ukraine alone were believed contaminated by the deadly aftereffects.

The University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine also was involved in working with young victims, between January 1992 and February 1994 through the Chornobyl's Children Project. The $934,800 (about $687,000 U.S.) CIDA program developed medical consultancy, and teaching and training services to create a model pediatric facility at Children's Hospital No. 1 in Kyiv.

CIDA also contributed $550,000 (about $404,000 U.S.) to UNESCO's Chornobyl treatment centers. Canadian medical specialists helped train staff and treat patients at the Special Clinic for the Protection of Children Against Radiation at Hospital No. 14 in Kyiv.

Meanwhile, the University of Toronto National Cancer Institute concluded a two-and-a-half year computerized cancer registry program for 26 Ukrainian hospitals.

More assistance is needed

Although the efforts and contributions have been welcomed by many in Kyiv, some Ukrainian officials have suggested more could be done.

For instance, after Ukrainian Environment Minister Yuriy Kostenko signed the G-7 aid deal in Ottawa last December, members of the Ukrainian delegation hinted that the $2.3 billion package should have been doubled.

And, last summer, Oleksander Moroz, chairman of Ukraine's Parliament, told an Ottawa news conference that Canada and the other G-7 countries unfairly placed a burden on Ukraine concerning Chornobyl. "We understand the responsibility we carry, but it is not just Ukraine's problem, but Europe's problem as well," he said.

Mr. Moroz's pronouncement followed a declaration by G-7 leaders in Halifax last June that hailed President Kuchma's decision to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant by 2000. "We are pleased to note the commitment of bilateral resources for short-term safety upgrades and preliminary decommissioning work for the closure of Chornobyl," the leaders said.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 21, 1996, No. 16, Vol. LXIV

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