The memorial to the firefighters of Chernobyl
The memorial to the firefighters of Chernobyl, a monument that pays tribute to the first responders to the disaster in April 1986. Many of these firefighters were exposed to large doses of radiation in the minutes and hours following the accident. Photo: Dana Sacchetti/IAEA

The persistent legacy of the Chernobyl disaster

An explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 spread a radioactive cloud over large parts of the Soviet Union, now the territories of Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Nearly 8.4 million people in the three countries were exposed to the radiation.

The Soviet Government acknowledged the need for international assistance only in 1990. That same year the General Assembly adopted resolution 45/190, calling for “international cooperation to address and mitigate the consequences at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.” That was the start of the United Nations' involvement in the Chernobyl recovery. An Inter-Agency Task Force was established to coordinate the Chernobyl co-operation. In 1991 the UN created the Chernobyl Trust Fund - currently under the management of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Since 1986, the UN family of organizations and major NGOs have launched more than 230 different research and assistance projects in the fields of health, nuclear safety, rehabilitation, environment, production of clean foods and information.

In 2002 the United Nations announced a shift in the Chernobyl strategy, with a new focus on a long-term developmental approach. UNDP and its regional offices in the three affected countries took the lead in the implementation of the new strategy. There is still a great deal of work that needs to be done in the affected region. To provide support to international, national and public programmes targeted at the sustainable development of these territories, in 2009 UN launched the International Chernobyl Research and Information Network (ICRIN)

On 8 December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 26 April as International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day. In its resolution, the General Assembly recognized that three decades after the disaster there remains persistent serious long-term consequences and that the affected communities and territories are experiencing continuing related needs. The General Assembly invites all Member States, relevant agencies of the United Nations system and other international organizations, as well as civil society, to observe the day.

Recent Developments

The completion of the placement of the new safe confinement over the old shelter was a major milestone achieved in 2019, with €2.2 billion provided by over 45 donor nations through funds managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The new safe confinement was handed over to the Government of Ukraine on 10 July 2019. The scope of the project in terms of international cooperation is one of the largest ever seen in the field of nuclear safety.

Since the United Nations agencies have shifted their focus from humanitarian assistance to prevention, recovery, remediation and capacity development, an integrated approach to sustainable development was adopted to address the needs of the affected regions and communities. The agencies, funds and programmes have continued to work closely with the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine to provide development assistance to the Chernobyl-affected communities.

 

Chernobyl Recovery

Chernobyl — 1986

Radioactive material

The UN and the nuclear age were born almost simultaneously. The horror of the Second World War, culminating in the nuclear blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, brought home the need to address the nuclear issue. By its first resolution, the General Assembly established the UN Atomic Energy Commission to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy. And a landmark address by United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, “Atoms for Peace”, led to the establishment in 1957 of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

 

Restoration work is underway in Chernobyl-affected areas, 33 years after the disaster. (April 2019)

Since the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident on 26 April 1986, the United Nations, along with the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, has been leading the recovery and development efforts to support the affected regions. While extensive humanitarian work was conducted immediately after the accident, additional recovery and rehabilitation activities were conducted in the following years to secure the area, limit the exposure of the population, provide medical follow-up to those affected and study the health consequences of the incident.

 

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. More information available here.