As General Assembly Marks Chernobyl Disaster’s 25th Anniversary, Secretary-General Says ‘We Must Treat Nuclear Safety as Seriously as We Treat Nuclear Weapons’

26 April 2011

As General Assembly Marks Chernobyl Disaster’s 25th Anniversary, Secretary-General Says ‘We Must Treat Nuclear Safety as Seriously as We Treat Nuclear Weapons’

26 April 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly


87th Meeting (AM)

As General Assembly Marks Chernobyl Disaster’s 25th Anniversary, Secretary-General

Says ‘We Must Treat Nuclear Safety as Seriously as We Treat Nuclear Weapons’

Affected States of Belarus, Russian Federation, Ukraine Also Address Meeting,

Stress Need for Full, Effective Implementation of 2006-2016 Decade of Recovery

The current threats posed by Japan’s nuclear power plant echoed the Chernobyl disaster and, thus, the anniversary of that event should be a time for reflection and “robust global debate” on nuclear safety, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this morning as the General Assembly held a special commemorative meeting on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chernobyl.

“We must treat nuclear safety as seriously as we treat nuclear weapons,” Mr. Ban said, announcing that in September he planned to convene a meeting of world leaders on the issue, as he helped open today’s commemoration, which also heard from the Assembly presidency, affected States, regional groups and a host country representative.

Noting that last week, countries had pledged €550 million to continue work on a new shield for the damaged reactor in Chernobyl, which was expected to last 100 years, Mr. Ban said:  “What we need now is a shield to protect our wider world.  A shield forged at the United Nations, with your help and support.  A shield that will ensure that nuclear power plants are sources of peaceful energy — not potential catastrophe.”

The 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, exposing 8.4 million people in those countries to high radiation, according to the anniversary web site.

In 1990, when the Soviet Government acknowledged the need for assistance, the General Assembly adopted resolution 45/190, calling for “international cooperation to address and mitigate the consequences” of the disaster, for which an Inter-Agency Task Force was established to coordinate hundreds of projects in health, nuclear safety, rehabilitation, environment, production of clean foods and information.

The Chernobyl Trust Fund was created in 1991 and is currently under the management of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  In 2002, the United Nations shifted its approach towards long-term development under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  In 2007, the Assembly declared 2006-2016 the Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development of the Affected Regions (Press Release GA/10661), and in 2009, the Organization launched the International Chernobyl Research and Information Network.

Mr. Ban, in his remarks today, said that the United Nations had done everything possible to promote recovery in the affected region, noting that through projects supported by the international efforts, people were starting to return to previously dangerous areas near Chernobyl in small numbers.  The soil was still contaminated, but forestry projects were reviving the land and work was ongoing through the current action plan.  (Full remarks issued as Press Release SG/SM/13528)

Also opening the commemoration this morning, Maria Rubiales de Chamorro, Acting President of the General Assembly, said that the new development-oriented approach had already begun to yield practical results, and that the Action Plan, which applied until 2016, was prepared as a framework for ensuring that the area fully overcame the stigma it now suffered, communities took full control of their lives and normalcy became a realistic prospect.

“The Chernobyl anniversary is an occasion both to remember the disaster and to take stock of the many problems that still linger on, but it also a time to look ahead and seek solutions that hold promise for the affected communities and renew our commitment to a safer future,” she said.  She said the anniversary was also a time to acknowledge the work of the Governments of the three most-affected countries — Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine — to protect the affected populations from the effects of radiation and mitigate the consequences of the accident, as well as for their ongoing efforts to rebuild the affected areas and promote socio-economic development.

The affected areas still needed, however, fresh investments, new jobs and accurate information on how to live safely in conditions of low-dose radiation, she said.  The resilience of those still coping with the disaster was remarkable, but they needed continuous support, she added, welcoming the outcome of last weeks pledging conference.  “Only by working together, will we be able to bring this region back to normal life fully,” she concluded.

Representatives of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine paid tribute to the victims and commended the adoption last week of the Kyiv Declaration, saying it reaffirmed the importance of nuclear safety and showed States’ willingness to further cooperate in that area.  In addition, they stressed the need to bolster international cooperation within the 2006-2016 Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development and to fully and effectively implement the United Nations 10-year action plan.  Since the disaster, large-scale activities to address its consequences and restore affected territories had never ceased in their respective countries and amongst each other.  They also stood ready to share their scientific and practical experience to help Japan deal with its recent nuclear power plant tragedy.

Valentin Rybakov, Assistant to the President of Belarus on Foreign Policy, said that Belarus was spending $1.2 million daily to economically revive and sustainably develop affected areas through clean up, resettlement and land re-cultivation.  Just 1 per cent of that amount was funded by the international community.  But more modern technology in agriculture and forestry was needed to spur production and job creation in affected areas.  “Delivery of each and every cent carefully scraped together by the international community to the affected people and territories must become our common task,” he said.

Alexander Pankin of the Russian Federation said that between 1992 and 2010, Russian officials had earmarked 10 billion roubles to build housing, hospitals, schools, recreation centres, roads, gas pipelines and water systems in the vicinity of Chernobyl.  Next year, his Government would give €5 million to the Nuclear Safety Account and €20 million to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund.  He lauded international aid given to neighbouring Ukraine and called upon all partners to continue efforts to construct a stable, environmentally safe nuclear shelter.  Yuriv Sergeye of Ukraine stressed the urgency of nuclear safety and said his Government was focused on evaluating safety levels at all Ukrainian nuclear power plants.  He also noted the benefits of low-cost, clean nuclear energy to achieve sustainable development.

Following those statements, the General Assembly stood for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Chernobyl disaster.  Representatives of Regional Groups then took the floor to pay tribute to the victims, including residents, plant workers and emergency workers and to express concern and solidarity with the people who continued to suffer the consequences.  They also commended the efforts of the United Nations system in coordinating international assistance and to affirm the continued need for international cooperation.

The representative of Niger spoke on behalf of the Group of African States, that of Jordan on behalf of the Asian States, Lithuania on behalf of the Eastern European States, Barbados on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States and Liechtenstein on behalf of the Western European and other States.

Regional representatives also stressed the need to learn from the accident, as well as from the current experience in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami, in order to ensure the safety of nuclear energy for the future.  “Our best tribute to the victims of this tragedy is to ensure that lessons learned from the accident will bring about lasting improvements in nuclear and radiation safety,” the representative of Barbados said.  Avowing that respect for international commitments in nuclear issues was paramount, Liechtenstein’s representative said that it was important that the new shelter for reactor number four in Chernobyl be completed soon.

The representative of the United States, the host country, concurred with the need to use lessons learned to ensure safety and security of nuclear industries.  “The events at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island remind us that nuclear safety is not strictly a national responsibility,” he said.  Investing in scientific research for safe disposal and storage of spent nuclear fuels must be a priority, he added.  The international community must build upon existing protocols to further international nuclear energy cooperation and emergency response, as well as advance efforts toward a new generation of nuclear reactor designs with the most innovative safety features.

Also this morning, the Assembly took note that Grenada had made a payment to reduce its arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter.

The General Assembly will meet again at a date and time to be announced.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.