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Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster: 30 years later

Honourable senators, on April 26, 1986, in the small town of Pripyat, Ukraine, an aging nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant exploded during a routine cleaning. The ensuing fire released toxic radioactive particles into the atmosphere, spreading across Ukraine, Belarus and other parts of Europe. Taking action to contain the radiation, employees and emergency workers fought tirelessly to extinguish the blaze and bury the reactor.

The Soviet government reacted slowly to news of the explosion. The town of Pripyat, along with the surrounding area, was evacuated when reports of high levels of radiation emerged from Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. Carrying no personal belongings, nearly 50,000 people exited the city, never to return.

Emergency workers constructed a concrete sarcophagus over the remnants of the reactor. Thirty years later, the town is still abandoned. Visitors have described "a city frozen in time," where buildings stand empty, overgrown with trees and wildlife.

It is regarded as one of the world's worst nuclear disasters, and the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale classifies Chernobyl as a Level 7 disaster — the highest possible classification.

Within the first few months following the accident, 31 brave front-line workers died from the effects of direct exposure to radiation. Among survivors, many have developed serious health complications. Cases of thyroid cancer among those living in Chernobyl-affected areas are staggering. Countless children have been born with severe disabilities, many abandoned by parents who are incapable of caring for them in this condition. The profound human health and environmental impacts of the Chernobyl disaster have yet to be fully understood.

I wish to share an excerpt from the book Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, written by Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel Literature Laureate. Her research emerged from collecting personal survivor accounts.

A female Chernobyl survivor recounted the following:

We lived near the Chernobyl nuclear plant. . . . The day the reactor exploded, my husband was on duty at the fire station. They responded to the call in their shirtsleeves, in regular clothes — there was an explosion at the nuclear power station, but they weren't given any special clothing. . . . They worked all night putting out the fire, and received doses of radiation incompatible with life. . . . Severe radiation sickness . . . . you don't live for more than a few weeks . . . . My husband was strong, an athlete, and he was the last to die. . . . A few months after his death, I gave birth to a little girl, but she lived only a few days.

She goes on to state that it was the radiation that killed her child.

Honourable senators, April 26, 2016, will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion. Let us commemorate the victims of the tragedy, but let us continue our efforts to assist those living in the Chernobyl-affected areas.

World attention has been on containing the expansion of nuclear activity for military purposes. However, the Chernobyl disaster underscores the importance of practising vigilance when it comes to safety within the civilian nuclear sector.

Let us continue to raise awareness about the importance of nuclear safety and always remember those who died and have been affected by Chernobyl.

Thank you.