Helsinki Commission hearing focuses on Chornobyl's legacy

U.S. Helsinki Commission

WASHINGTON - The Helsinki Commission on April 26 held a hearing on "The Legacy of Chornobyl: Health and Safety 20 Years Later," commemorating the 20th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident at the Chornobyl power plant in Ukraine.

The health, environmental and socio-economic costs of the disaster at Chornobyl continue to have a profound impact on people in the region, especially in Ukraine and Belarus, which bore the brunt of Chornobyl's radioactive fallout.

"The bitter legacy of Chornobyl continues to be felt 20 years later, and its consequences will remain for the people of the region and beyond for a long time to come," said the commission's co-chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) who chaired the hearing. "We need to be vigilant of the latent health effects that still are expected to emerge and ensure that there is public awareness about the health threat."

Rep. Smith stressed the importance of the completion of the Chornobyl Shelter Implementation Plan to cover the rapidly deteriorating sarcophagus covering the damaged reactor: "We need to do everything possible to protect people and the environment from the large quantity of radioactive remains of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant even as we persist in our assistance to the victims."

"An important lesson from Chornobyl - one that remains relevant today - is in the importance of transparency in governance," said Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.). "The nature of the Soviet system did not lead to a humane or rational response to the tragedy. The consequences of this secrecy remain with us to this day. They are a vivid reminder of the value of open, democratic and accountable governments which respect the human rights and dignity of the individual."

Testifying at the hearing were: Stephen G. Rademaker, acting assistant secretary of state, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation; Oleh Shamshur, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States; Dr. David Marples, professor of history at the University of Alberta and author of three books on Chornobyl; Pablo Rubenstein, M.D., director, National Cord Blood Program at the New York Blood Center; and Kathleen Ryan, executive director, U.S.A., Chernobyl Children's Project International.

According to a press release from the Embassy of Ukraine, in his testimony at the hearing Ambassador Shamshur provided facts illustrating the enormous losses Ukraine suffered as a result of the Chornobyl accident and focused on the problems that might emerge in the near future. He emphasized the urgent necessity to finalize preparations for the erection of the new sarcophagus around the stricken reactor No. 4, work that must commence by 2007.

An unofficial transcript of the hearing will be posted on the Helsinki Commission's website,

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The commission consists of nine members of the Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

FOR THE RECORD: President Bush's statement on Chornobyl's 20th anniversary

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 30, 2006, No. 18, Vol. LXXIV

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