April 26 will mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia will for many years be asking themselves what they should expect from the unpredictable consequences of the explosion of 1986. At the same time, people tend to say “Chernobyl gets forsaken”. The tendency is easy to explain: new accidents and disasters that are characteristic of the modern world appear to be fresher and more newsworthy than the 20-year-old tragedy. There is another tendency, though: the international conference “Chernobyl: 20 years Later” has proved that although the humanitarian aspects of the catastrophe may seem not as topical as before, scientists are getting more and more interested in the area that was hit by radiation.
The conference will be taking place in Minsk and Gomel on April 19–21. The locations are easy to understand: Minsk is the capital city of the country that suffered the most as a result of the accident, and “owing” to the catastrophe Gomel turned into a unique scientific training ground, a natural research facility, which has accumulated intellectual and technological resources to test, forecast and develop ways to overcome the effects of the tragedy.
Belarusian scientists have something to share, and their research is in demand now, according to the director of the Radiology Institute, Vladimir Ageyets.
— Nuclear technologies will keep developing whether we want it or not. Given the shortage of natural resources mankind has turned to nuclear power — France alone has over 60 nuclear power stations. At the same time, nobody feels absolutely secure and protected from man-caused and natural disasters, nuclear wars and terrorism…
The main purpose of the Radiology Institute is to rehabilitate the affected lands, and the institute has delivered.
— We can forecast the level of contamination for any crop even before the field is sowed, says Vladimir Ageyets.
It is owing to the achievements of Gomel scientists that farms in the vicinity of the Chernobyl station have managed to make clean produce and break even.
Another important matter to be addressed at the conference is the long-term effect of the accident. The head of the Radiobiology Institute, Yevgeny Konopolya, notes several aspects for us to have a full picture of the consequences of the disaster. One of them is the decomposition of fuel particles, increase in the migration ability of strontium and transuranic elements, transition of plutonium-241 into americium-241, which has emerged in test samples not long ago. This content of this new toxic and mobile element will keep increasing until 2056. Academician Yevgeny Konopolya believes there are no reasons to panic, however, it would be wise to account for the “americium factor” in the further strategy of land reclamation.
The Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Radiation Medicine and Ecology of Man will provide its facilities for addressing the medical, social and psychological consequences of the disaster. The director of the center, Eleonora Kapitonova also noted a lively interest in the Chernobyl problems and said she was certain the tendency was not only because of the “jubilee”.
The whole month of April was busy as never before: delegations from Japan, cameramen from Germany, visitors from the U.S., etc. The results of joint research will be presented in integrated reports of Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian scientists.
by Andrei Novikov