[b]Chernobyl’s radioactive particles fell onto almost every European country in April 1986 but Belarus was most contaminated. Its economic loss reached $235bn (or 32 annual budgets of the country) as a result[/b]This huge sum embraces the fields and forests made redundant as a result of the catastrophe, as well as closed production facilities, loss of manufacturing and people’s ill health. For the third decade, Belarus is spending funds on alleviating the consequences of that technogenic tragedy. So far, $18bn has been spent. The fourth state programme (aimed at the elimination of the catastrophe’s consequences), due to finish this year, has received Br3 trillion alone and, in 2009, despite the global crisis, over Br922bn was spent.
This huge sum embraces the fields and forests made redundant as a result of the catastrophe, as well as closed production facilities, loss of manufacturing and people’s ill health. For the third decade, Belarus is spending funds on alleviating the consequences of that technogenic tragedy. So far, $18bn has been spent. The fourth state programme (aimed at the elimination of the catastrophe’s consequences), due to finish this year, has received Br3 trillion alone and, in 2009, despite the global crisis, over Br922bn was spent.
Besides ensuring social protection for those affected by the Chernobyl accident (40 to 60 percent of the total sum has been spent in this direction so far) agriculture and forestry have been given significant funding, allowing them to drive the main task of the five year programme: social-economic revival and sustainable development of affected districts. Of course, preserving social protection and radiation security is an ongoing concern but rehabilitation must give way to revival eventually. A new state programme for 2011-2015 is now being elaborated, focusing on these forward thinking goals.
The April of 1986 greatly affected the Belarusian agrarian sector, with around 20 percent of farm lands lost. Every year, this results in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. Cesium-137 has contaminated over a million of hectares of fields, while 350,000 hectares are spoiled by strontium. Nevertheless, by distributing lime and potassium and phosphate onto the contaminated territory, the volume of radionuclides in produce has reduced to a level within acceptable norms. Fertilisers have a very beneficial affect on the soil.
“Last year, we produced nothing which would fail to meet norms regarding radionuclide content,” stresses Gennady Antsipov, who heads Rehabilitation of the Affected Territories Department at the Belarusian Emergency Ministry’s Department for Eradicating the Consequences of Chernobyl. “This proves that a material base has been created to guarantee that agricultural production meets norms. Further action should be supervised by those who aim to sustain this status for products.”
Norms regarding the content of radionuclides in food and water in Belarus are among the strictest in the world: they must be four times less in milk and ten times less in bread, in comparison with EU norms. Strict control over the quality of products grown on contaminated territories is being established at every level, covering raw materials and food processed for further sale. Hundreds of radiation control laboratories supervise the process, conducting over 3m tests annually.
In areas where lime, phosphorus and potassium have failed to help the soil grow clean produce, farms have been re-oriented to sustain horses or cattle. Meanwhile, corn and rape seed can be grown without accumulating so many radionuclides. Programmes to re-orient the most contaminated farms in Gomel and Mogilev regions have been implemented since 2002. Komarinsky farm, in Bragin district, is a bright example, being situated close to the epicentre of the technogenic catastrophe. Soon after the accident, there was much debate over whether to use the area for farming, since the soil was clearly heavily contaminated (also causing low fertility). Some proposed planting forests but this wouldn’t have created jobs for local residents. It became the first farm in the Gomel region to fully change its specialisation. Instead of producing grain and milk, it began cattle breeding. Its French ‘limousine’ cows’ meat is especially valuable and all meet radionuclide norms. It took several years for the loss making farm to become profitable but meat production is also soon to be supplemented by selling thorough-
According to the Deputy Head of the Belarusian Emergency Ministry’s Department for Eradicating the Consequences of Chernobyl, Nikolay Tsybulko, 57 farms have been re-oriented (comprising 12 percent of all those situated in contaminated areas). Last year, about Br25bn was allocated for this purpose.
The joint Union State programme to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe is also contributing to revival. This year, the third joint Belarusian-Russian project finishes. Olga Lugovskaya, who heads Scientific Provision and International Co-operation at the Belarusian Emergency Ministry’s Department for Eradicating the Consequences of Chernobyl, tells us that six avenues are now under focus. These include growing fodder for horses and adding useful microelements to bread baking. The development of new production facilities in Chernobyl affected regions is a focus of the fifth state programme (2011-2015).
Belarusian forests have also been greatly affected by the catastrophe: almost 2m hectares, or 21 percent of the total. Many have been removed from economic activity but, of course, foresters, radiologists and engineers have been obliged to continue work in these areas. 53 forestries have appeared in the ‘zone’, with radiation monitoring being carefully conducted. Larisa Karbanovich, the Director of Bellesrad — the national company for radiation control and radiation security, has been working to solve a range of problems, including re-equipping forestry organisations within contaminated territories and developing software to allow radiation to be assessed promptly. The forestry industry has relied on budgetary financing and Union State funds, as has farming. The union of these two sources has helped quickly solve the problem of forest rehabilitation.
Recommendations are now being outlined to monitor radiation along the Belarusian-Russian border. Twenty permanent testing sites are located along this border and a list has been compiled of ways in which the Chernobyl accident has affected our economies. This has already been published in Russia and is soon to be released in Belarus. It outlines the past three years of study regarding changes to forests, agricultural land and water reservoirs, looking at radiation contamination. It should prove useful to specialists and residents of contaminated areas alike. It’s well known that we are most affected by ingesting contaminated food, with mushrooms, berries and wild fowl most affected. Campaigns to educate the population have been conducted since the early days of the catastrophe.
Every year, brochures are published to show the current radiation situation in each village and city, with data guiding local residents as to where to safely gather berries and mushrooms (and where they can swim in local rivers and ponds). In the past five years, about twenty forestries have received such brochures.
All data on the radiation situation in forests is also included in the Radioactive Contamination of Forests system, providing information on the level and distribution of soil contamination with Cesium-137 and gamma rays. In recent years, much work has been done to equip forestries to ensure public safety, including the building of towers to spot forest fires, and the purchase of modern fire-fighting equipment. Such fires send contaminated particles into the atmosphere, transporting them to other territories, and harming human health as people inhale them, alongside dust and ash. The forestries in the Narovlya, Chechersk and Krasnopolye districts, which have high levels of contamination (15 Curies and above) now have modern video surveillance systems to quickly detect places of ignition. Ms. Karbanovich tells us that, this year, the same equipment is to be supplied to the Vetka and Cherikov forestries. In addition, some forestries have been provided with cars to patrol forests and tractors, to add minerals to woods.
Work in Chernobyl affected areas continues, and shall do so for many decades — to ensure safe forestry activity and public health.
By Lilia Khlystun