Recently in Belarus Category

A new agreement between Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers and the government of Belarus provides simplified procedures for the passage of automobiles on the Belorussian road connecting Slavutych and the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko attended the agreement’s signing ceremony on January 21, 2009.

The accord will introduce new passes for specialists, foreign experts, vehicles and goods involved in the implementation of international projects at the Chernobyl plant. Participants in such efforts will be exempt from customs inspections.

Call for Protests Against New Belarus Nuclear Plant

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Autonomous Operation, an interregional anarcho-communist association, is calling for protests against the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Belarus. The group plans to participate in the annual “Chernobyl Way” procession on April 26 (the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster) in Belarus.

Fearing their demonstration will not be enough, the group requests international support in the form of actions held across the world on April 26, 2009. The purpose of these actions should be to help people learn about the issues surrounding the construction of the Belorussian nuclear plant.

Belarus received more radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster than any other country. Despite opposition, the Belorussian government and President Aleksandr Lukashenko plan to build a new nuclear power plant in Ostrovetskaya near Lake Naroch, the largest lake in Belarus. Russia’s Rosatom is set to manage the construction, which is expected to cost approximately $5-6 billion.

Construction of the Ostrovetskaya Nuclear Power Plant is expected to begin in early 2009. The facility is expected to house two 1,000 MWt reactors to be put into operation in 2016 and 2018. Once operational, the plant is expected to provide up to 15% of the country’s electricity.

Two more reactors could be built in Belarus, with operations beginning around 2025.

Unfortunately, this call for action is probably too late. The Belorussian government hopes to start construction on the new facility this month. If this happens, the protests will occur three months into construction - that is, if the protests even occur. After all, we are talking about Belarus, which is far from being a true democratic state.

Autonomous Operation Call for Action

Chernobyl Charity Teen Kazyra Returns to Belarus

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Tanya KazyraTanya Kazyra, a 16-year participant in a summer program for children from Belarus’ Chernobyl-affected areas, finally returned to her home in Belarus last weekend. Kazyra made worldwide headlines in August when she remained with her host family in Petaluma, California after refusing to return to Belarus at the end of her summer holiday. Apparently, Kazyra changed her mind after speaking with a Russian Orthodox priest.

Tanya’s host family the Zapata’s, opposed her return to Belarus. In an interesting twist, the girl’s grandmother, Nadzeya Novik, expressed concern that the Zapata’s were preventing Tanya from going back to Belarus and from communicating with Belorussian authorities.

Reports of Tanya’s possible reasons for returning home include Lito Zapata’s departure for military service in Iraq and complaints that Ashley Zapata spent too much time with her boyfriend. The real reason may be that Tanya’s tourist visa expires on December 25, even though she did apply for a 6 month extension.

The furor over Tanya’s refusal to return home resulted in the Belorussian government placing a ban on travel outside the country for all “Chernobyl Children.” Since August, several charity organizations and governments have attempted to get the program reinstated. Hopefully with Tanya’s return to Belarus, these programs will get back to normal in the near future. Don’t be surprised, however, if additional safeguards and limitations are put in place by the Belorussian government.

Video: Chernobyl-Affected Areas in Belarus

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I just stumbled upon a new video/news report by Tessa Parry-Wingfield (Al Jazeera) about Chernobyl-affected areas.

What makes this video unique is that it features Karpavichi, an abandoned village in the contaminated areas of southern Belarus, approximately 60 km from the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. Karpavichi used to have 62 houses and was home to approximately 190 people.

The video also features samosel Adam Nikidich, who has returned to his home in the village of Belli Bara. Adam survives on food from passing trucks, fishing and vegetables he grows himself.

Biofuel from Chernobyl Contaminated Lands

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Belarus GorodeyaGreenfield Project Management Ltd., a Dublin-based investment and project management company specializing in energy, wants to grow feed crops in the Chernobyl-contaminated lands in Belarus for use in generating ethanol fuel.

Greenfield already has a joint venture agreement in place with state-owned Belbiopharm for the construction of bio-ethanol production facilities in Belarus. The first facility is planned to be built on the Pripyat River in Mozyr and is scheduled for completion before the end of 2010. This plant would generate 550-650 million liters of bio-ethanol annually, targeted for the European market.

I had many doubts when I first heard about this plan. My first thought was, great - let’s do this and use our cars to spread Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout around the world! However, after researching this issue further, I have found some potential benefits.

Currently, scientists estimate that the contaminated lands in Belarus will not be safe for cultivation of food for 300-600 years. Greenfield feels that through repeated harvests of specific types of grain for ethanol feedstock, the land could become safe for food production in as little as 60 years. Prime crops candidates are wheat and sugar beet.

How is this possible? Vegetation has the ability to absorb radioactive isotopes from the soil and incorporates it into the plants themselves. Theoretically, repeat harvests could remove contamination from the land quicker than if the land remains fallow. If this were to work, it is great news for Belarus and the government’s plans to repopulate the contaminated lands.

The remaining question is how to prevent dangerous levels of radioactivity from remaining in the resultant fuel. The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) says radioactivity can remain in the final fuel production, but only at acceptable background levels that are present worldwide. Didier Louvat, head of the IAEA Waste and Environmental Safety Section has said, “After the oil processing, the remaining radioactivity doesn’t make a big difference.”

Apparently, Danish and Swedish technology already exists to remove radioactivity from feedstock. Greenfield plans to move slowly by first testing the process using uncontaminated feedstock.

While this is exciting news, I will remain skeptical until I can read more about the actual process of generating this ethanol product, and how the radiation will be removed and safely stored. I am also concerned that the IAEA says the “remaining radioactivity doesn’t make a difference.” What are the precise levels of “doesn’t make a difference?” I would also feel better if the IAEA wanted to see less radiation in the final product that current worldwide background levels.

This situation will need to be monitored on an on-going basis to determine if the plan truly is a good thing and a positive step forward, or an extremely dangerous mistake.

Chernobyl Updates - Belarus

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My friend Kathy Ryan from Chernobyl Children’s Project International sent me a link to a story regarding Belarus’ President Alexandr Lukashenko and his attacks on critics of his plan to build a nuclear power station in the contaminated areas of his country.

Lukashenko argues that Belarus is surrounded by countries with nuclear power plants, any one of which could suffer a catastrophe and further contaminate his country. Since there are no guarantees that these stations are completely safe, he sees no reason why his country cannot have such a facility of its own.

Of course, Lukashenko says nothing about his attempts to repopulate the contaminated areas of Belarus in an attempt to increase agriculture and industry. After reading “contaminated areas” and “agriculture” in the same sentence, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the potential problems with this policy.

One could argue that if Belarus needs to establish some level of energy independence (and I fully support that), what better than to build a nuclear plant in an already contaminated area. However, that argument falls flat on its face when you consider that Lukashenko is forcing people to repopulate the area.

Yes, you read that right. People are being forced to repopulate contaminated areas of Belarus. Apparently the government is requiring many university graduates to live and work in contaminated areas. If they refuse, students could be stripped of their diplomas or required to reimburse the state for the full cost of their educations.

These work assignments began in 2007 and approximately 25% of this year’s 21,000 graduates are being sent to contaminated areas. So far, around 800 youths have refused their assignments.

man in Soltanovkaphoto by Kathy Ryan

My friend Kathy Ryan, who works with Chernobyl Children's Project International (CCPI) just returned home from a quick trip to Belarus. In the past, Kathy has visited the Vesnova Children's Mental Asylum (orphanage), where care is provided for children who have been abandoned or diagnosed with mental conditions.

During this particular trip, Kathy had a chance to visit the Soltanovka adult mental asylum, a facility similar to Vesnova that provides care for adults. When children at Vesnova reach the age of 18 (if they survive to that age), they are automatically taken in to the Soltanovka facility.

Kathy has started a series of blog posts on the CCPI-US website describing her experiences on this trip. If her first post is any indication of what will follow, you will definitely want to bookmark the site or subscribe to the blog so you can keep up with Kathy’s upcoming articles.

Be forewarned - if you are looking for an uplifting story, you will probably be disappointed. Kathy has painted a stark picture of the dilapidated conditions at the Soltanovka facility. The staff is overwhelmed, so while the patients are clothed, washed, and fed, there no treatment plans, therapists, or activities for them. The residents typically spend their days in bed, wandering the halls, rocking back and forth in place and watching a blurry television.

Soltanovka may sound like an appalling place, but I’m sure the workers do the best they can. It’s not much, but at least the residents get regular meals and a roof over their heads. Regarding the situation at Soltanovka, Kathy remarks, "... it is the place where mentally disabled people go to die."

The worst part of this is that Kathy's story is not new. It is nothing more than the tragic continuation of what is now a 22 year saga of how the Chernobyl nuclear disaster has affected the lives of so many people in southern Belarus.

I can’t imagine seeing a situation first-hand, such as that which Kathy describes.  It has to be difficult to hide your true feelings from the residents, and must be beyond depressing.

In today’s economic climate, financial limitations can be extremely hard on charities like CCPI. I am sure after visiting Soltanovka, Kathy and CCPI will do everything they can to help, somehow fitting this need in with their many other projects. CCPI already plans to help at Soltanovka with some sanitary and cosmetic repairs - hopefully they can find the resources to provide some additonal aid.

What Kathy describes in her report is certainly not a happy story, but one that should definitely get more attention than it currently receives. Perhaps in the near future, with the help of CCPI and other charitable organizations, this story can be transformed into nothing more than the sad prelude to a happier ending.  At least I would like to think so.

Chernobyl Accident Affects on Belarus

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Information about the affects of the Chernobyl accident in Belarus is not easy to find, as compared to Ukraine. At Chernobyl.info, the official website of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, I have found links to some new documents about Chernobyl’s affect on Belaus (published at Chernobyl.info on January 28).

Belarus Cs-137 MapIncluded are maps of Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 contamination within Belarus as of 2004. Also of interest are two maps forecasting Belorussian Cs-137 levels in both 2016 and 2046. You can also read a PDF document summarizing an International conference held April 19-21, 2006 in Minsk, titled “Chernobyl 20 years after. Strategy for recovery and sustainable development of the affected regions.”

A summary of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s activities in the Chernobyl Zone can be found on their webiste - “The SDC Chernobyl programme in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia aims at relieving the people suffering from the Chernobyl consequences, developing of  Chernobyl contaminated areas as well as increasing the national and international awareness on the problem.”