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Helsinki Commission Reviews Long-term Health and Safety Issues from Chornobyl Disaster

WASHINGTON – The Helsinki Commission 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 twenty years later, and its consequences will remain for the people of the region and beyond for a long time to come,” said Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) 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.”

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, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States; 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, USA, Chernobyl Children’s Project International.

An transcript of the hearing is on the Commission website.

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