I don't usually quote Russia Herald, as they typically just broker news articles from other resources. However their article today by Anya Ardayeva and Lisa McAdams regarding the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant disaster is rather well done, detailing not just the accident 20 years ago today, but the problems for the future with the reactor.
The destroyed reactor is still extremely radioactive, covered by the so-called sarcophagus, built to protect the environment from radiation, but it was only designed to last 15 years and now scientists and environmentalist say it is falling apart.The article also details the cleanup operation, those that died to contain the accident, and the lives of those people remain within the Exclusion Zone.
Twenty years on, radiation levels are still extreme, says Yulia Marusich, Chernobyl's information officer. She says the sarcophagus does not completely seal off the radiation and it is not structurally sound. 'The existing shelter is not stable, it is not reliable. It [sarcophagus] was constructed remotely. On one hand, it reduced the personnel exposure. On the other hand, it didn't provide the accuracy of a shelter structures installation.'
Outside experts confirm the sarcophagus is falling apart and could collapse.
Francis O'Donnell, head of the United Nations Development Program in Ukraine, says there is also a problem with what's inside. 'They still haven't figured the way to deal with 180 tons of nuclear fuel-containing mass which is at the core of the reactor, there's no nuclear waste disposal strategy, and 20 years on we can do better than this.'
The sarcophagus, and the tons of nuclear fuel inside of it, are not the only problem.
There are three other reactors, which were put back on line shortly after the sarcophagus was built. The reactor was not turned off until 2000 and only following international pressure.
And Chernobyl has not been decommissioned completely: Ukraine does not have the facilities for the long-term storage of the plants' nuclear fuel.
Oleg Ryazanov is an engineer at the Chernobyl Plants reactor Number One, who monitors the condition of the disabled reactor. He says money is the real issue. 'We have the technology, the people, the knowledge, the desire but we don't have the money.
If the sarcophagus covering the Fourth Reactor collapses, another explosion, though less powerful, is likely to occur. To prevent that, some 28 countries pledged to chip in more than $800 million for the construction of a new steel coffin.
The project is scheduled to be finished by the year 2010.
But even with the new shelter in place, it is estimated it will take from 30 to 100 years to safely get rid of the fuel and debris inside the plant.
Eighty two-year-old Mikhailo Radkevich was evacuated from his village a week after the accident and moved into a new home a few months later. But he didn't like the new house and decided to go back.
'If I was 20, I would have probably gone away from here. But I am 81, where can I go? Where? I have two sons and a daughter in Kiev, and they are asking me to come live with them, but I don't want to. My home is here,' says Mikhailo.
He and his wife eat home-grown vegetables and meat and seem to worry little about radioactive contamination.
'When the explosion happened, everyone started talking about radiation. But it was here before. The wind blew it all to Belarus. Here, its clean,' he says.
More 20 years after Chernobyl Headlines:
USA Today: Chernobyl Issues Live on After 20 Years
NY Times: First at Chernobyl, Burning Still
BBC: Ukraine remembers Chernobyl blast
Financial Times: Ukraine remembers Chernobyl nuclear disaster
The Nation: Remembering Chernobyl
Reuters: Mourners, candles mark Chernobyl anniversary
Boston Globe: Years later, Chernobyl exacts toll
Guardian Unlimited: Hell on Earth
Spiegel Online: Chernobyl Remembered "My Friends Were Dying under my Eyes"
Mainichi Daily News: Ukrainians recall Chernobyl tragedy on mournful anniversary
Turkish Daily News: Chernobyl plant then and now
Khaleej Times: Ukraine marks 20-year anniversary of Chernobyl accident
Euronews Net: Testing of reactor triggged nuclear catastrophe
The Independent: The big question
BBC: In pictures: Chernobyl remembered
Times Online: Stalled: The Chernobyl Rescue Ark