20 April 2011

Highest Standards of Emergency Preparedness Must Be Integral to Global Sustainable Development Strategy, Secretary-General Tells Conference on Nuclear Safety

20 April 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Highest Standards of Emergency Preparedness Must Be Integral to Global Sustainable

Development Strategy, Secretary-General Tells Conference on Nuclear Safety


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the “25 Years after the Chernobyl Catastrophe:  Safety for the Future” Conference, in Kyiv, today, 20 April:

This morning, together with President [Viktor] Yanukovych of Ukraine, I visited Chernobyl.  I paid tribute to the courageous fire-fighters who lost their lives, quite literally, saving the world.  I saw the Chernobyl Command Centre and the encouraging progress in building a new shelter for the damaged reactor.

It was a very impressive, creative and ambitious project to shelter the damaged reactor for the coming 100 years.  And I am grateful to the international community for their strong and generous support, as shown yesterday at the Kyiv summit meeting on the Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy.

It is one thing to read and hear about Chernobyl, and it is a completely different story to see for myself.  It was an extremely moving experience for me.

Today we remember:  the 6,000 children whose health was seriously undermined by thyroid cancer; the more than 330,000 people uprooted from local towns and villages; the 600,000 recovery workers; the 6 million people who continue to live in affected communities of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine; and the countless others haunted by fears for their health, their livelihoods, and their families’ future.

We honour this loss and pain.  Those feelings are even more profound as we reflect on the unfolding tragedy in Japan.  But we are here today to do more than remember.  We are here to look forward.  The people of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine know well that, despite the passing of 25 years, the legacy of Chernobyl lives on.

It is not easy to overcome perceptions.  It is not simple to erase the stain of fear.  To some, it may seem that this entire vast region is poisoned forever.  Not so.  A quarter century after Chernobyl, we are beginning a new chapter, with new understanding.

Science has shown that normal life is fully possible for most people living in areas affected by the Chernobyl disaster.  What these areas need most is recovery and development:  new jobs; fresh investment; the restoration of a sense of community.

The United Nations has supported the Governments and people of the region to meet these basic goals.  The United Nations Action Plan on Chernobyl to 2016 reflects a United Nations system-wide commitment to shared principles and priorities addressing Chernobyl recovery.  This is guiding our work through the Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development of the Affected Regions proclaimed by the General Assembly.

Together we are working with officials, local communities, and other partners to improve infrastructure, promote small business, improve health systems, and spur job creation.  We are also focusing on the goals and aspirations of the region’s young people, and I thank Goodwill Ambassador Maria Sharapova for her work.

As we mark this anniversary, we stand in solidarity with those whose lives were changed by the tragedy.  The resilience of those still coping with the disaster is remarkable.  They need our continued support.

This moment and this place also compel us to look even further ahead.  Yesterday, world leaders gathered at the Kyiv Summit on the Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy, and I highly commend the visionary leadership of President Yanukovych for organizing this meeting, even a long time before we had seen this Japanese tragedy.  This is really foresight, how we can work together to safeguard nuclear energy from this disaster.

The time has come for a global debate on the future of nuclear energy, I told them.  We discussed our mutual efforts to safeguard the Chernobyl nuclear site.  To advance that work, Governments pledged another €550 million to complete construction of the new reactor shield and build safe storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.  We also agreed on a fundamental principle:  nuclear safety is our common goal, our common responsibility.

Nuclear accidents respect no borders.  We owe it to our citizens and the world to practise the highest standards of emergency preparedness and response, from the design of new facilities through construction and operation to their eventual decommissioning.  Further, we agreed that these standards must be an integral part of the international community’s global strategy for sustainable development.

Today, you gather to consider how science can advance this cause.  To many, nuclear energy looks to be a relatively clean and logical choice in an era of increasing resource scarcity.  Yet the record requires us to ask painful questions:  have we correctly calculated its risks and costs?  Are we doing all we can to keep the world’s people safe?

The unfortunate truth is that we are likely to see more such disasters.  The world has witnessed an unnerving history of [near] accidents.  We have seen in Japan the effects of natural disasters, particularly in areas vulnerable to seismic activity.

Climate change means more incidents of freak and increasingly severe weather.  With the number of nuclear energy facilities scheduled to increase substantially in the coming decades, our vulnerability will only grow.  It is time to step back and deal with these facts squarely.  Issues of nuclear power and nuclear safety are a matter of global public interest, not merely national policy.  

Looking to the future, we need international standards for construction, agreed guarantees of public safety, full transparency and information-sharing, among others.  Let us make that the enduring legacy of Chernobyl.

And together, on this important anniversary, let us resolve to dispel the last cloud of Chernobyl and offer a better future for the people who have lived too long under its shadow.

Thank you very much.

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