Chernobyl: Five Years LaterFriday, April 26, 1991
Held as a fifth anniversary commemoration of the disaster at Chernobyl, the briefing featured a short film that was produced by an Australian film company on Chernobyl’s progress in the five years after the crisis. Afterward, Samuel Wise, staff director at the Commission, led the discussion on the damage Chernobyl continued to have on surrounding regions in 1991. Witnesses Dr. David Marples and Dr. Natalia Preobrazhensk addressed the environmental concerns and political authority over Chernobyl, along with how Ukraine’s judicial system had dealt with the situation. They also acknowledged the situation of Soviet nuclear power at the time.
Sofia CSCE Meeting on the Protection of the EnvironmentThursday, September 28, 1989
The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer chaired, was to examine the first meeting in CSCE history devoted exclusively to the environment. The hearing predated the Sofia Meeting itself, whose purpose was to address environmental problems that recognize no borders and threaten every individual’s right to a peaceful and secure life. Unfortunately, the Sofia Meeting had been marred by the Bulgarian government’s lack of tolerance in its treatment of its Turkish and Muslim minorities, specifically the Bulgarian government’s campaign to assimilate Turkish minorities, which constituted a serious violation of human rights. Needless to say, then, intersectionality existed and continues to exist among environmental issues and the Helsinki process’s other top priorities.
Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Phase III and IVFriday, January 01, 1988
The main activity of the Vienna Meeting throughout Phases III and IV was the presentation and negotiation of proposals for inclu sion in the concluding document of the meeting. The number (more than 160), complexity and controversial nature of many of these proposals led to the extension of the Vienna Meeting well beyond its target closing date of July 31. These factors, along with other elements such as continuing major shortcomings in the implementa tion of existing commitments, are largely responsible for the continuation of the Vienna Meeting into 1988. The slow pace of progress already evident in Phase II continued through the next phase. Each side defended its own proposals but showed little disposition to begin the process of compromise which could lead to the conclusion of the meeting. The main procedural development during this phase was the appointment of coordinators from the neutral and non-aligned states to guide the work of the drafting groups. This development provided greater order and structure for the proceedings but did little to advance the drafting work or to induce compromises. Other major developments during this phase were the introduction of the long-awaited Western proposal on military security and the tabling of a comprehensive compromise proposed in Basket III by two neutral delegations, Austria and Switzerland. Both proposals were put forth at the very end of the phase and thus did not have much impact until the next phase. The Western (NATO) proposal on military security questions was designed as a response to the Eastern proposal which envisioned two main objectives: another round of negotiations on confidence and security-building measures (CSBMs) to build upon the successful Stockholm meeting and the initiation of negotiations on conventional disarmament, both within the same CSCE forum. The Western response to this proposal was delayed primarily because of United States and French differences over the connection between the conventional arms negotiations and the CSCE process, the French arguing that the negotiations should be an integral part of the process and the U.S. insisting that they be independent. The issue was resolved by agreement that the negotiations would be "within the framework of the CSCE," but should remain autonomous.
Documents of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in the U.S.S.R. and Lithuania (1976-1986), Vol. 3 - UkraineThursday, January 01, 1987
November 9, 1986, marked the 10th anniversary of the largest and, in terms of prison sentences, the most repressed of the Soviet Helsinki Groups--the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Founded by Ukrainian writer and World War II veteran Mykola Rudenko, the group produced extensive documentation on violations of the Helsinki Accords in Ukraine, such as persecution of individual dissent, suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture, and religious persecution. The Soviet Government was determined to deny this group any public voice. Of the 38 members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, all but one have been imprisoned at one time or another. Fourteen Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and one Estonian human rights activist who joined the group while in a labor camp, are currently serving lengthly sentences. Since May 1984, three members have died in camps. All three men had been ill and denied adequate medical care. Oleksa Tykhy, Yuriy Lytvyn and Vasyl Stus all died for their beliefs. Prior to his death, Stus had written "Moscow has given the camp authorities complete power, and anyone harboring the illusion that our relations with /the camp authorities/ are regulated by some sort of law is sadly mistaken." His words were tragically prophetic. We are concerned that the same fate awaits others, including Lev Lukianenko, Mykola Horbal, Ivan Kandyba, Vasyl Ovsienko and Vitaly Kalynychenko. It is vital that we remember the courageous members of the Ukrainian Monitoring Group and their eloquent call for compliance with the ideals of Helsinki. In fact, the Congress recently passed a resolution commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki group and honoring the members of all the Soviet Helsinki Monitoring Groups. At the ongoing Vienna CSCE Follow-up Meeting, the United States and other Western delegations are speaking out on behalf of the imprisoned members of the Ukrainian and other Helsinki Groups. We hope that the documents contained in this volume will help to ensure that the Ukrainian Group and its message are not forgotten.
List of Organizations Involved in Exchange Programs with the Soviet Union and Eastern EuropeWednesday, October 01, 1986
The Commission developed this report to help interested persons and organizations participate in exchange programs with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It lists organizations which conduct exchange programs and other contacts with these countries. The parties to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe declared their intention to expand cooperation in security, economic, humanitarian, information, culture, and education affairs and to respect and put into practice certain basic principles, including those of human rights. The Final Act was signed in Helsinki on August 1, 1975, by 35 heads of state or government, including the United States, Canada, and every state in Europe except Albania. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) was created as an independent government agency in 1976 to monitor compliance with the Final Act and to encourage U.S. governmental and private programs to expand East-West economic and cultural cooperation and exchange of people and ideas. In the Final Act, the signatories express the view that cultural exchanges and development of relations in education and science contribute to the strengthening of peace, better mutual under standing, and enrichment of the human personality. In the Com mission's view, exchange programs with the Soviet bloc countries break down barriers and lessen distrust. They help Americans learn about the views and goals of these societies. Such programs help expose the peoples of these countries to the values and goals of our pluralistic society. Critical to such programs is that Americans are given the opportunity to tell the Soviets and their allies on a personal level about their concern for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Fifth Anniversary of the Formation of the Ukrainian Helsinki GroupMonday, February 16, 1981
On November 9, 1976, 10 brave men and women in Kiev organized a citizens' group to examine how the Soviet Government was living up to its Helsinki human rights pledges. Tragically, however, far from greeting this new civic endeavor, the Kremlin, in a savage campaign of official reprisal, singled out the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for especially harsh treatment. By 1981, 30 group activists were in Soviet camps, prisons, and places of exile. The four witnesses at the Helsinki Commission hearing provided expert testimony on Ukraine and the Helsinki process, and their fates gave an insight into the radically different ways in which our Government and that of the Soviet Union reacted to citizen interest in the Helsinki process.
Profiles: Helsinki MonitorsMonday, December 10, 1979
In May of 1976, a group of Soviet citizens dedicated themselves to promoting compliance by their government with the humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. Collecting and disseminating information on violations of those provisions, these human rights activists thereby expressed their stated conviction that "the issues of humanitarianism and free information have a direct relationship to the problem of international security." Respect for human rights in the USSR, they held, is a precondition for the development of a solid East-West detente. After hearing about the work of the Helsinki Groups on foreign radio broadcasts, many ordinary Soviet citizens began sending the Group information on human rights violations in various areas of the USSR. In this way, the Groups became catalysts, drawing together the disparate strands of Soviet dissent. Group reports reflect these varied concerns: conditions in labor camps and psychiatric hospitals; the problems of religious and ethnic minorities; emigration difficulties; and denials of economic rights. The CSCE Commission translates and compiles these Group documents in its series of "Reports of the Helsinki Accord Monitors in the Soviet Union." Encouraged by the success of the first Helsinki Group in Moscow, other such groups were organized in the Ukraine, Lithuania, Armenia, and Georgia. In Moscow, two allied groups were formed to deal with more specific issues: the Working Commission on the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes, and the Christian Committee to Defend the Rights of Believers. In recognition of the sacrifice, dedication, and successful work of all these groups, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe nominated all their members for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 and 1979. During the past two years, other allied groups have emerged: the Initiative Group for the Defense of the Rights of Invalids in the USSR; the Group for the Legal Struggle and Investigation of Facts about the Persecution of Believers in the USSR of the All-Union Church of the Faithful and Free Seventh-Day Adventists; and the Catholic Committee to Defense the Rights of Believers in the USSR. With the addition of these new committees, an even broader spectrum of human rights issues and interests in the Soviet Union is now represented. At the present time, there are 66 men and women in the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in Moscow, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia. Currently, 26 people have joined the Christian, Catholic and Adventist Committees, the Working Con-miission on Psychiatric Abuse and the Initiative Group for Invalids. For this compilation of biographical information on the present members, the Commission is indebted to the following for their assistance: ORGANIZATIONS AND PUBLICATIONS Amnesty International, Bulletin d'Information, Comite pour I'application des accords d'Helsinki en Georgie, Committee for the Defense of Soviet Political Prisoners, ELTA Information Service, Helsinki Guarantees for Ukraine Committee, Keston College, Khronika Press, Lithuanian-American Community of the U.S.A., Inc., Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, National Conference on Soviet Jewry, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Smoloskyp, Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Ukrainian National Information Service, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Washington Street Research Center. INDIVIDUALS Mr. Victor Abdalov, Mrs. Lyudmila Alekseeva, Gen. and Mrs. Pyotr Grigorenko, Ms. Dina Kaminskaya, Mr. Ambartsum Khlagatyan, Mr. Michael Meerson, Rev. Aleksandr Shmeiman, Mr. Konstantin Simis, Ms. Veronika Stein, Mr. Valentin Turchin, and Ms. Lydia Voronina, Ms. Yulya Zaks.
Implementation of The Helsinki Accords Vol. XI – Religious Persecution In U.S.S.R. & HR Violations in UkraineThursday, June 07, 1979
The first part of this hearing, led by Commissioner Dante B. Fascell, focused largely on the imprisonment of Russian Pastor Georgi Vins, who had spent eight of the last thirteen years in prison simply due to his occupation. Repression of this Baptist minister exemplified such repression of other Baptist clergymen by the U.S.S.R., whose denomination in the country dated back to the early 1900s. However, in 1965, the Soviet Baptist movement split into the recognized and legitimated all-union Council of Evangelical Christians, and the dissident reform Baptists, making the latter the first Soviet dissident human rights group. The second portion of the hearing discussed Ukrainian political retribution and dissidents, exemplified by the cases of witnesses who had all been political prisoners in the Eastern European country.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS VOL. IV - REPORTS ON SOVIET REPRESSION AND THE BELGRADE CONFERENCESunday, June 05, 1977
In light of first anniversary of the creation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, this hearing focused on the work and the plight of courageous individuals who utilized the Helsinki accords as instruments for advancing international respect for human rights. In particular, the hearing delved into the case of Anatoly Shcharansky, one of the most courageous spokesmen of human rights in the U.S.S.R., faces treason charges as groundless as they are ominous. The Soviet decision to hold a show trial for Shcharansky with phony evidence and counterfeit witnesses combined with the earlier arrest of members of Helsinki monitoring groups in Russia, Ukraine, and most recently, in Georgia, were in violation of the Helsinki accords.
Podcast: Russian Intention, Russian Aggression
From September 10 – 16, ZAPAD 2021—a major Russian military exercise that includes thousands of troops—will take place in and around Belarus. The exercise follows months of reports that the Russian military has been involved in actions that potentially could spark a major and violent confrontation between Russia and other countries, including a March deployment by Moscow of some 100,000 new troops in and around Ukraine and a June incident in the Black Sea in which Russian forces seemingly faced off against the British destroyer HMS Defender. In this episode, Lt. General Ben Hodges (Ret.) analyzes whether these developments represent a major escalation and imminent conflict with Russia; whether they are part of a deliberate, coordinated strategy by the Kremlin; and what, if any, guardrails could prevent Russian aggression against its neighbors or a direct conflict with NATO. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 18 | Russian Intention, Russian Aggression
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
By Rachel Bauman, Policy Advisor
and Kyle Parker, Senior Senate Staff Representative
In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, during a safety test designed to simulate a power outage, a combination of operator error and inherent flaws in reactor design led to an explosion and fire at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station’s Reactor 4. The graphite fire burned uncontained for nine days, releasing radioactive particles over most of Europe, contaminating Ukraine and neighboring Belarus most severely.
It took nearly two full days for Soviet authorities to begin the evacuation of the approximately 50,000 residents of the nearby city of Pripyat, located just a mile away from the power station. A public admission of the accident only came on the evening of April 28 following diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin from the government of Sweden where, earlier that day, monitors at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant north of Stockholm had detected elevated radiation levels and suspected an accident in the Soviet Union. Given the secrecy of the Soviet system, the subjectivity of first-hand accounts, and the breakup of the Soviet Union, some of the why and how of what happened remain controversial.
This amusement park in Pripyat was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986, a few days before the disaster.
Less than six months after the disaster, construction began on nearby Slavutych, a city to replace Pripyat and house the displaced workers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and their families. Much work remained to be done to contain and assess the April disaster, not to mention run the remaining three reactors, the last of which ceased to operate only in December 2000. The formal decommissioning process of Reactors 1, 2, and 3 began in 2015 and will continue for decades.
To this day, many residents of Slavutych board a special train for the power station’s workers transiting Belarus to enter the Exclusion Zone for work at the plant and nearby storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.
Thirty-three years after that safety test at Reactor 4 went fatally wrong, the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station remains the worst in world history, superseding the 1979 partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania and eclipsing the meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following damage sustained by a catastrophic tsunami in 2011. The accident at Three Mile Island remains the worst in the history of U.S. commercial atomic energy and ranked a 5 (accident with wider consequences) on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale of assessing nuclear and radiological events. Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only two disasters to ever be ranked as a 7 (major accident), the scale’s maximum.
Due to the differences in the half-lives of the specific contaminants, a full remediation and resettlement around Fukushima holds far greater promise than around Chernobyl. If radioactive leakage can be fully contained at Fukushima, there is a chance that the area could be declared completely safe for permanent human habitation in less than 100 years. By comparison, the first zone of exclusion immediately surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 is likely to remain unsafe for permanent habitation for thousands of years.
The total human, environmental, and financial cost of the disaster is fraught with obvious political sensitivities, but even in the scientific realm, significant disputes remain. The unprecedented magnitude of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster frustrates efforts to draw a definitive conclusion on the lingering effects of the explosion and fire of 1986. While there is wide agreement that somewhere between 30 and 50 people died in the immediate aftermath as a direct result of the accident, consensus breaks down over estimates of a longer-term assessment of deaths attributable to the radioactive fallout from the disaster.
Shortly after the disaster, a zone of approximately 1,000 square miles around Reactor 4 was established, evacuated, and condemned for permanent human habitation. This area—known as the Exclusion or Alienation Zone—has begun the long process of being reclaimed by nature.
The area is divided between Zone 1 and Zones 2 and 3. The first zone is the immediate vicinity around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and comprises roughly 15 percent of the total Exclusion Zone. It is also contaminated with transuranium elements that decay over a period of thousands of years, placing this area off-limits indefinitely. Zones 2 and 3 comprise the remaining territory and were largely contaminated with elements that decay much faster. Some of this shorter-term contamination is already gone and the rest could be gone in the coming decades.
The Exclusion Zone is as alive as it is hauntingly empty. Forests encroach on what were once fertile fields. Butterflies flutter above concrete cracked open by saplings. Wild horses roam by day and wolves by night, and entropy takes its toll on man-made construction. It almost seems that the flora and fauna suffered more from proximity to humans than they now do from lingering radiation in the contaminated soil—a phenomenon known as the ecological paradox.
In those first critical hours after the explosion, when firefighters heroically battled a radioactive blaze, efforts were made to erect temporary barriers around the damaged core of Reactor 4. Those emergency efforts continued once the fire was out, but the hasty construction allowed radiation to continue to escape the confines of the reactor and was structurally unsuitable for containing the deadly transuranium elements inside. In 2018, with the support of the international donor community, Ukraine completed construction on the New Safe Confinement facility designed to safely entomb Reactor 4 for as long as 100 years.
Helsinki Commission policy advisor Rachel Bauman inside the structure containing Reactor 4.
Support from the West, most notably the United States, is critical to safety. Currently, Western contractors are working with Ukrainian partners to complete the construction of a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from other reactors across the country. Construction is reportedly on, or slightly ahead of, schedule on this facility that is planned to eliminate Ukraine’s need to contract with Russia for its growing storage needs.
Protecting the public from the widely dispersed radioactive particulate found within the Exclusion Zone is the main reason for the establishment of the zone itself as well as the multiple checkpoints encountered when leaving the zone. The most immediate danger to further contamination of habitable areas beyond the Exclusion Zone are wildfires; their smoke disperses contaminated debris into the atmosphere and in the direction of prevailing winds. Ukrainian firefighters have trained regularly with firefighters from the American West as they execute what is not only a domestic priority, but an international responsibility.
Other regular challenges to the safe administration of the Exclusion Zone are trespassers pursuing adventure, souvenirs, or wild game. Risks include not only the obvious danger of radiation exposure, but also crumbling construction and poor communications should a rescue be needed. Trespassers also risk the safety of the broader public by inadvertently transporting radioactive materials outside the Exclusion Zone.
A final, and enduring, challenge to securing the Exclusion Zone lies with waning public interest and thus political pressure to devoting scarce financial resources to protect this beautiful but contaminated landscape for the long term.
Government authorities plan to use Exclusion Zone 1 for dangerous industrial activities such as storing spent nuclear fuel or developing massive solar panel farms designed to replace some of the electricity that was once generated by the power station’s four reactors. The remainder of the Exclusion Zone will serve as a buffer between habitable areas and Zone 1 as well as a unique nature preserve and massive open-air laboratory to study any lingering effects of the disaster.
Construction site of a future spent storage facility.
As the passage of time has made parts of the Exclusion Zone safer, more and more visitors come to learn about those tragic events of the spring of 1986. Locals are beginning to tap a developing market for nuclear tourism, fueled by politicians, scientists, and thrill-seekers.
When leaving the Exclusion Zone and passing through the last checkpoint, travelers are greeted by tour buses, flag-carrying guides, and a roadside kiosk selling cheap t-shirts. Increasing interest in Chernobyl tours, and particularly the photogenic abandoned town of Pripyat, ensure a steady stream of income. The city may no longer generate power, but it continues to generate interest.