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Adi Roche 'I'm asking world leaders to help removing and storing Chernobyl's radioactive material'

Let’s show the people of Chernobyl that they are not forgotten, writes Adi Roche.

31 YEARS AGO today, at exactly 01:23 on the morning of April 26 1986, a chain of events in Reactor No 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine led to an explosion spewing deadly radioactive contamination into the night sky.

The blowing winds scattered it far and wide, unfolding at terrifying speed and triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster.


A new word, “Chernobyl”, entered into the history of language, the history of world disasters and the history of the world.

The sun shone, the wind blew, rain fell down and so did the deadly radioactive poison with it. The “war” that has been waged by Chernobyl has and continues to be a silent, invisible but deadly one. No smell, no sight, nothing to forewarn you of danger.

On this day of worldwide remembrance and reflection on the tragedy that is Chernobyl we call to mind the suffering, the silence, the sacrifice and the neglect that Chernobyl’s victims faced on the “front line” of this radioactive horror story.

A beacon of hope

However, this year, for the first time, we have a global beacon of hope that shines bright. The United Nations has listened to our plea for action and has declared April 26 forevermore as “United Nations Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day”.

This special UN Chernobyl Day provides us with the opportunity to reflect on both the human and environmental impact of the disaster which is of enormous significance. These developments are the culmination of 30 years’ advocacy work.

It will tell the victims of Chernobyl that they will not be forgotten, that we understand that Chernobyl remains an unfolding tragedy.

Nuclear accidents can never be undone

There may be an impression that 31 years on Chernobyl is something which happened a very long time ago and no longer poses a threat to the world. But the reality of the situation is very, very different.

The impact of that single shocking nuclear accident can never be undone. Its radioactive footprint is embedded in our world until the end of time and countless millions of people are still being affected by its deadly legacy on a daily basis.

We may never know the full extent of that contamination, we may never be able to prove it, but the tragedy that is Chernobyl is very, very real.

I cannot speak with the authority of a scientist or doctor. I cannot prove my statements with laboratory or field test experiments. I have no medical or scientific academic qualifications to endorse my remarks. I can only offer my witness, my evidence of the heart for what I have seen and heard for the last 31 years.

I’m haunted by people’s stories

I have visited and worked in the Chernobyl affected regions for three decades and I am haunted by the stories of people I have met. Thousands of people have tragically and forever lost their earth, their soul, their community and their history.

This time last year, I returned to the highly contaminated “zone of alienation” that surrounds the Chernobyl plant on a fact finding mission and whilst there, I was asked by some of the men, who heroically fought for months to contain the spreading radioactive fire, to bring their stories and their voices to the global stage.

The highly radioactive fire at Chernobyl was their “Ground Zero”

I wear on this day a Chernobyl Service medal with great honour, deep respect and a deep sense of responsibility. It was given to me by a Liquidator Officer called Valerii Zaitsev, one of the 700,000 “Liquidators” – the soldiers and civilians,  the helicopter pilots, the firemen, the miners and the engineers who were sent into the Chernobyl nuclear conflagration.

For Valerii and his gallant comrades fighting the highly radioactive fire at Chernobyl was their “Ground Zero”.

Like the brave rescue service heroes of New York’s 9/11 the Chernobyl Liquidators, these noble and self-sacrificing men, ought to be rightly honoured and recognised today as the heroes who saved Europe and indeed the world from even greater catastrophe.

The new sarcophagus

A new sarcophagus was moved into place over the exploded reactor in November, however we still do not have the science or technology to progress with the next phase.

I respectfully ask that world leaders urgently use their power and influence to propel forward the vital work that needs to be carried out at the exploded No 4 Reactor and move swiftly to the next phase of dismantling and safely removing and storing hundreds of tons of radioactive material.

This is a project never done before and requiring new thinking and new expertise. This project requires international guidance and we, as citizens of the world, must be vigilant that the safe disposal of this waste is the highest priority.

Let’s show the people of Chernobyl that they are not forgotten, that they are not alone, that they are among friends and neighbours who care and who want to share in their plight and despair. Not just with fine words but with positive and life changing initiatives of action.

Adi Roche is the founder and voluntary CEO of Chernobyl Children International (CCI). For nearly 40 years she has been passionately campaigning for, and is publicly active in, issues relating to the environment, peace and social justice.

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