04/26/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA - UKRAINE

Chernobyl 25 later: Patriarch Kirill honours sacrifice of clean up workers

by Nina Achmatova
The Russian Orthodox Patriarch presides at memorial service in Kiev for the 800 thousand people who risked their lives to 'clean up' the power plant and villages after the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Conferences and meetings between heads of state, but also religious services in Kiev to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which this year takes on perhaps even greater significance after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia celebrated a Mass last night in commemoration in the Church of Saint Michael Archangel, Darnitsa district, where the monument was erected in honour of clean-up workers, men and employees from across the former Soviet Union who worked round the clock to stem the damage from the explosion. The consequences of the accident meant these men had to clean up the plant, villages and roads, move the contaminated material with their hands, bury tons of waste and radioactive material with shovels and wash the plant structures with water, the buildings of Pripyat (the Ukrainian town where the famous power plant located near the northern border of Belarus) and the houses of the villages.

"These men - Kirill said during the ceremony – gave God the greatest gift a man can make: a life given for others." The president of the Ukraine Chernobyl Union, Yuri Andreev, said that the cleaners were 829 thousand in all. 356 thousand came from Ukrainian territory, of which 219 thousand are still alive.

On the night of April 26, 1986, at 1:23am there was the first in a series of explosions that destroyed the reactor and the building of the fourth unit of the nuclear power station in Chernobyl, today part of Ukrainian territory. The incident became the greatest technological disaster of the twentieth century. At first it was thought due to sabotage, it later became clear that the catastrophe was caused by serious errors of personal irresponsibility of managers and design errors, while running a test: during a simulation of cooling system failure, the uranium fuel rods in a reactor core # 4 really did heat up until their meltdown, with two subsequent explosions, which blasted the lid off the cover and releasing vast quantities of steam containing radioactive particles.

"It has been 25 years since that terrible moment when the silence of the night was broken by the deadly explosion of the reactor core - said the Patriarch - the world has not experienced a catastrophe in peacetime comparable to that of Chernobyl" . The head of the Russian Orthodox Church also recalled that, according to scientists, the damage caused to people and environment from the disaster of April 26 is equal to the destructive power of 500 bombs Hiroshima.

After Mass, at one o'clock and 23 minutes, the Church bell tolled for 25 strokes. The commemoration was attended by 700 people including several cleaners, the Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine. Many brought flowers and lit candles.

From the night of April 26 within a week it became clear that Chernobyl was a problem for the whole world: the gaseous and volatile substances were blown to a considerable height, and their dispersion was global: from Europe to Japan to United States and Canada.

The destroyed reactor was covered with a containment structure, called a 'coffin'. The plant was kept partially running until 2000, when the last reactor was shut down. But Chernobyl is not a closed chapter: cracks have opened the 'coffin' and by 2015, at most, it will need a new roof. During the conference on April 19 in Kiev, the international community released 550 million Euro (ie 75% of the amount needed for the new coffin and deal with the waste), but some doubt that the proposed measure is sufficient.

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