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Yury Varonezhtseu on Chernobyl: The Cynicism of The Authorities Outpaces That of The USSR

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Yury Varonezhtseu
Photo: Facebook

The scientist told how people are deceived about the consequences of the Chernobyl accident.

On the 33rd anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, Charter97.org talked to a Belarusian physicist, PhD in Technical Sciences, former secretary of the commission on investigation of causes and consequences of the Chernobyl accident in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Yury Varonezhtseu.

- It has already 33 years passed; it's enough to comprehend the scale of the events happened in Chernobyl. How do you assess the position of the Belarusian authorities on the Chernobyl accident?

- Most of all, I am outraged by the idea widely spread in Belarus: 33 years have passed, there is nothing to be afraid of, everything is clean, the land can be cultivated and food can be grown.

And note: every year this idea is getting more popular. Yesterday BT TV channel aired another propaganda program about Chernobyl. I was shocked: everything said there was a complete nonsense. They call to go back on the territory and live there.

I am familiar with the problem of Chernobyl, as I used to be the secretary of the Chernobyl Commission in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR back in Soviet times, and have developed the issue ever since. Recently, I have been ill with oncology and during chemotherapy I constantly meet companions in misfortune; almost all of them come from "dirty" regions of Belarus.

Even if we take the statistics, the incidence of oncology in Khoiniki district is 2.5 times higher than in Homel itself.

And how can they say that it's not a problem anymore? I do not suffer from paranoia and do not call for panic, but we need to constantly remind: 33 years ago there was the tragedy, and since then we have been living in a specific zone, and we need to obey certain rules in order to stay healthy.

- Do you remember events of April 26, 1986? How did the Chernobyl accident affect your life and health of your loved ones?

- These are pretty vivid memories. Because of my education and profession, I knew what was going on that day. I am physicist by education, and then worked at the Academy of Sciences.

On April 26, my wife told me that a friend of hers, who visited her parents in the Khoiniki district, told about an endless ambulance convoy that was moving towards areas where the nuclear power plant had exploded. At first I was surprised: "There is no nuclear power plant in Belarus".

But then I remembered that the Chernobyl NPP was located on the border with the Ukrainian SSR, and immediately turned on the radio. On the same day, foreign radio stations reported that the level of radiation in the Soviet Union in the area of Chernobyl had risen sharply.

Our institute had R-meters, old enough, but by the evening of April 26 the radiation level increased in Homel. Then I decided to urgently send my 3-year-old son to his parents in Brest. He left there and lived there for two years, and it was a great.

I also immediately forbade my friends and relatives to drink our milk and recommended to take iodine medications. But in fact, such measures were an exception: only me and perhaps, a few dozen other people did something to help their loved ones in Homel.

The authorities did not do what they had to do in that situation. We know about May Day Soviet demonstrations and about the fact that poisoned milk and meat were being eaten for another month; it caused larger territories to be covered with a thin layer of radiation.

- Why did Belarus suffer the most from the accident? Did the Soviet authorities really give an order to allay radioactive clouds over the Homel region so that they would not spread towards Moscow?

- We discussed this topic with the writer Ales Adamovich, who believed so. And our commission in the Supreme Council was investigating the matter. I am not completely sure, but we have not found such facts.

The fact that the clouds in principle were allayed was true. But it happened later. And those were pure clouds: in order to prevent rains over the station and the territory nearby, in order to have time to build the barrier along the river Pripyat. Because if rains had washed away all the radiation in Pripyat, waters would have reached Kiev and the city would have face a disaster.

As for the total deposition of radioactive clouds over Belarus, it was not possible then, because the entire aircraft fleet, adapted to disperse silver iodide, had 4-6 airplanes, and total deposition of clouds in a short time could not occur.

90% I can say that it did not happen, but not because of the humanity of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, but because it was technically impossible. But this is my opinion.

- So why is the territory of Belarus heavily contaminated with radiation?

- There are a lot of factors. But first of all it is related to the peculiarity of spreading of aerosols and larger particles and active weather. Interestingly, there was less precipitation over Gomel itself, because the so-called "big city effect", the heat dome above it, worked. Because of the pressure differential, clouds bypassed the city and it was raining near Viatka.

- In your opinion, what is the main reason for the accident at the Chernobyl NPP? Can such a situation occur at Astravets NPP?

- The main reason is the peculiarities of the reactor design at the Chernobyl NPP. It was a military-type reactor designed to produce radioactive plutonium and not adapted to the needs of the Soviet economy.

The second reason is the human factor. The reactor was operated not by atomic engineers, but by thermal engineers, who had no idea what processes were going on there.

Unfortunately, the same thing may happen at any nuclear power plant, anywhere in the world, including Astravets NPP. The accident in Fukushima is a proof. Therefore, I am completely against the nuclear energy in general, and it's great that Europe refuses this dead-end path of development.

As for Astravets, the human factor is of great importance there. Where will they find good specialists? In Lithuania, such specialists have already retired. Russia is not an option either; the salary level is much higher there. That's why I'm extremely concerned about the BelNPP, and I wouldn't like to see such a dangerous project in Belarus.

- How cynical were the actions of the Soviet authorities on disinformation of the population on the consequences of the accident? How would you compare this with the current policy of the Belarusian authorities?

- The most cynical in the USSR was that this global catastrophe was mispresented as an ordinary fire at the NPP, which was allegedly quickly localized and extinguished. From the very start, the global catastrophe was lowered to the level of an annoying episode, as if such things happen every week. Secondly, the elementary measures that could have saved the lives of many people, simply weren't taken.

The ideological directive was in force - in our country, which is the best country in the world, nothing bad must happen. This directive, which has become even more hyperbolized, is now used by the authorities of Belarus. The same Soviet approach to the consequences of the catastrophe at the Chernobyl NPP, only even more cynical.

- In accordance with the Decree# 259, signed by Lukashenka on July 27, 2017, it is allowed to grow agricultural products and pasture cattle in close proximity to the radioactive zone. How do you assess the consequences of this Decree?

- I cannot understand or explain this from the position of the common sense. This cannot be justified from any angle. In a country where there are about 100 Ha of agricultural land per capita (this is the 3-4th place in the world), taking such laws is an absurdity. This does not fit into my mind…

- However, shouldn't there be any motivation, commercial, propagandist...

- Maybe there is some money aspect. Local bosses want to attract as much finance as possible to the theme of the ''reclamation'' of the radioactive lands, and make money on this. As for Lukashenka… I am a rational person, and I absolutely don't understand this man.

- What would you like to tell your countrymen on the 33rd anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl NPP?

- Don't forget about what happened, don't trust the authorities, because they have buried themselves in lies. You should remember this, and comply with the rules of behaviour in our zone, to keep yourself and your close ones safe. Those rules were set up 30 years ago and they are still timely. As for the authorities, I'd like to tell them: stop lying, stop stealing, and start doing something for the people who live close to the polluted areas.

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