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Chernobyl 20th Anniversary Symposium in Tokyo

As promised in NIT 111, CNIC co-hosted an event in Tokyo to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. In the afternoon there was a symposium entitled "20 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe - what happened and what continues now?" Several short videos were shown in the morning and there was also an exhibition including photos and children's pictures.

The videos showed close-up footage of the liquidators, most of them in their shirt sleeves, cleaning up the intensely radioactive aftermath. Those who have not already died, are mostly in poor health. Sadly, the state has all but forgotten them. The bravery awards and the promises of social welfare counted for little when the economy began to collapse.

The focus of the children's pictures was quite different. In picture after picture the most prominent feature was nature, in particular animals and birds: sad, lonely, wounded, but sometimes pointing the way to regeneration and hope.

The keynote speaker at the symposium was Dr. Yuri Shcherbak. Dr. Shcherbak has been sounding the alarm about Chernobyl from the earliest days. Perestroika gathered strength in the years after the Chernobyl accident and in 1989, despite his critical views, Dr. Shcherbak was elected to parliament. After Ukraine gained its independence, he became the Ukrainian environment minister. Then in 1992 he became Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel and subsequently received postings as Ambassador to the US, Mexico and Canada.

He began his speech by referring to the cherry blossom season in Japan. Cherry trees in full bloom grace the streets of Tokyo for no more than a week late March or early April each year. (By April 26th, the anniversary of Chernobyl, they are well on their way up to Rokkasho in the north.) Dr. Shcherbak pointed out that whereas each April cherry blossoms are a symbol of life, Chernobyl is a symbol of death. His account of the accident and its consequences left no one in any doubt that this is true, but his concluding remarks did not counsel despair. Instead, he read us one of his poems, rather haiku-like in form.

The apple trees at Chernobyl
Are flowering once again
Sad recollections
Give birth to bright hope

As in the children's pictures, the human spirit takes inspiration from nature. When thus inspired, hope is indominatable.

Nevertheless, the full tragedy of Chernobyl must be presented truthfully. All the speakers were critical of attempts to underestimate the number of people who died or suffered as a result of Chernobyl. Indeed, they pointed out that reducing Chernobyl to a body count leaves out most of the damage caused by the accident.

Dr. Shcherbak spoke about the difficulty of managing huge scale technology, particularly in unstable or undemocratic countries. Imagine, for example, the problems of managing nuclear power plants in regions of conflict. When war begins, operations must be stopped. Peace keeping forces will be required to protect nuclear power plants. Nevertheless, he did not totally reject nuclear power. To us it seemed that he had made a perfect case for a nuclear phase out, but perhaps he is more pessimistic than us about alternatives, or more optimistic than us that nuclear energy can solve the world's problems. CNIC Co-Director, Hideyuki Ban, clearly stated that he does not believe nuclear energy can solve the world's problems, in particular the problem of climate change.

There were many Chernobyl-related activities in Japan besides the above event. CNIC also issued an appeal in English and Japanese, "Building a 21st Century which is not dependent on nuclear energy". This appeal can be viewed on our web site.

Philip White (NIT Editor)

1. This translation is adapted from the interpreter's improvised Japanese and English translations.

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