Chernobyl 'still poses risk to UK'

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The Independent Online
Britain remains at risk of nuclear fallout from a suspect reactor still operating at the Chernobyl power station in Ukraine, scene of the disastrous 1986 explosion.

The warning comes from MPs on the Environment Select Committee who visited Chernobyl last April and in a report issued yesterday said they were "surprised and appalled" at the "lax safety regime" still operating at the plant.

The MPs were "dismayed" to see so little progress on closing down the station and said there continued to be a "strong risk of a further serious accident" affecting another graphite moderated reactor - a type built by the former Soviet Union. "Depending on the prevailing winds this country could be among those affected," they said.

Although the people ofUkraine and Belarus have borne the most horrific consequences of the 1986 disaster, the fallout reached Western Europe and even China and North America, and could ultimately be responsible for 30,000 cancer deaths world-wide.

In the United Kingdom alone, the cost of compensating farmers for contamination arising from the explosion has so far been more than pounds 11m. "Enlightened self-interest" as well as concern for populations living closer to such installations, suggest the industry should be a priority for the transfer of Western safety know-how, the MPs concluded in the report Pollution in Eastern Europe.

The committee wants the environment to be declared a priority area for the Know How Fund - the UK's main channel of bilateral technical assistance to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union countries - and called for aid to the environment to be set at no less than pounds 2m a year for the next five years. This would mean more than doubling the present allocation of pounds 2m a year.

John Gordon, a former diplomat, warned that unless the region's problems were tackled effectively, "Western Europe might be faced with further Chernobyl-type nuclear explosions, irreversible poisoning of the Baltic and Black seas, and political instability as east European refugees flee to the West". Underlining the global impact, Professor David Bellamy told the committee: "Of all the threats to the world's environment at the moment, as far as a developed country is concerned, without doubt Russia is the worst."