26 January 2016
By Bryan T. Smyth
In what will be the first in a series of international events to mark the 30th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O’Leary will lead an Irish delegation on an official visit to Chernobyl in Ukraine early next month.
The Lord Mayor will be accompanied by the Chief Executive of Cork City Council, Ann Doherty, Irish Ambassador to Belarus David Noonan and Adi Roche, voluntary CEO of the Cork based Chernobyl Children International charity, which has raised over €100 million euro to fund health and humanitarian projects for victims of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus.
While in Chernobyl the Lord Mayor, the Chief Executive and Ambassador will be briefed on the progress of the gigantic €1.5 billion euro steel and concrete arch – or “sarcophagus” – which is being built in a race against the clock to contain the radio activity which is still leaking from the damaged reactor. The Irish Government is one of 40 countries and organisations funding the “safe confinement structure. It has contributed €8 million euro towards the work.
Construction of the enormous new shelter – which will make the leaking reactor safe for the next 100 years, has been dogged by technical and financial delays but it is now due for completion in 2017. Only 3% of the radioactive material in the plant escaped during the April 26th 1986 explosion; the remaining 97% is still inside the crumbling reactors.
During their visit to the heart of the Chernobyl “exclusion zone” the Cork delegation will be taken to the huge construction site beside the damaged reactor where the French led team of scientists, engineers and construction workers are building the new arch sarcophagus (twice the size of Croke Park and tall enough to house the Statue of Liberty.) It will, eventually, be rolled over the old hastily constructed shelter teams of Soviet soldiers and building works placed around Reactor 4 which was at the centre of the explosion.
The delegation will meet relatives of families who were directly affected by the radioactive fallout and visit abandoned ghost towns like Pripyat which once housed the families of the thousands of men and women who worked at the nearby Chernobyl Plant. Its 50,000 residents were evacuated a day after the deadly explosion.
The Lord Mayor will also visit a smaller number of outlying villages in the zone to which some older people have illegally returned. They will hear how the lives of 7 million people were affected by the accident which released 200 times more radioactivity than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
The five day civic visit has also been organised to recognise the work which has been done by the Adi Roche Chernobyl Children International charity in providing care, particularly for the child victims of Chernobyl, over the past 25 years. The delegation will visit orphanages, clinics, hospice care centres, foster homes and independent living units which have been built and funded by Irish volunteers and Irish Government contributions.
In Belarus, the Lord Mayor and the Chief Executive, will have meetings with the Mayor of Glusk and the Mayor of Gomel where Irish funded projects have transformed the lives of children born with genetic defects; children who were orphaned or abandoned during the years of economic crisis and social upheaval following the Chernobyl accident. The Chernobyl reactor is located in north-west Ukraine but 75% of the fall out fell on neighbouring Belarus because of the prevailing wind conditions at the time.
“Cork is rightly proud of the fantastic work that has been done by Chernobyl Children International since its foundation 25 years ago”, said Lord Mayor, Councillor Chris O’Leary. “It is an honour for me to be travelling to Chernobyl not only to witness this work, but also to pay tribute on behalf of the people of Cork to the Charity and to the hundreds of volunteers whose generosity and kindness down the years has delivered €100 million in aid, and has enabled almost 25,000 children to have had the benefit of holidaying in Ireland.”
This will be Adi Roche’s 25th visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. She says: “It is particularly significant that the Lord Mayor of Cork has chosen to lead the first official Irish delegation to Chernobyl given that the people of Cork were among of the first ‘responders’ to the crisis thirty years ago. We hope that his presence will be a reminder of the threat Chernobyl still poses to the world and we are particularly pleased that he will have an opportunity to see the extraordinary work which Irish volunteers have been doing in regions affected by the Chernobyl accident which they were first able to go there in 1991 – prior to that what had happened at Chernobyl was cloaked in secrecy and denial by the old Soviet regime”.
Since its foundation in Cork in 1991, CCI has become the largest global contributor to victims of the Chernobyl disaster in Belarus. During the coming months many international events are being organised to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.