Turkey joins efforts to clean up after Chernobyl amid protests against nuclear plants
Turkey has pitched in efforts with other 43 countries to clean up the remnants of the Chernobyl disaster, exactly 30 years after the world’s worst nuclear accident killed thousands.
But the 30th anniversary of the catastrophe was also marked with protests in the country’s Black Sea region, where locals suffered the most from the outcomes of Chernobyl, against Ankara’s plans to build new nuclear power plants in the area.
On April 26, 1986, a sudden surge of power during a reactor systems test destroyed unit four of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, at the time a part of the Soviet Union – currently in independent Ukraine, releasing massive amounts of radioactive material. More than 200 tons of uranium still remains inside the dilapidated reactor, after it spewed radioactive clouds reaching as far as the United States and China after a failed test.
Amid lingering fears of new leaks from the aging structure, covered with concrete in order to reduce the risk of further releases, a total of 44 countries launched an initiative to jointly fund the construction of a giant new arch that could keep the site safe for at least a century.
The remains of the nuclear plant, which still harbor the risk of radiation release three decades later, will be disposed of by 2065 with the help of 3,000 workers.
Around 60 percent of the region will again be inhabitable within the next 30 to 60 years, Ukraine’s Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry has said, adding that the risks of the plant had been reduced by some 10,000 after being scrubbed of radioactive fuel.
The cleanup is currently in the second stage, due to end in 2022. During the third stage between 2022 and 2045, experts will survey the radiation levels of the reactors and in the last step, through 2065, the nuclear plant will be fully decommissioned.
Amid news of Turkey’s contribution to efforts on cleaning up after Chernobyl, anti-nuclear protesters took the streets of the Black Sea province of Sinop and rallied against fresh projects to construct nuclear power plants.
A member of the Platform Against Nuclear Energy (NKP), Murat Şahin, addressed rally participants and said plans to build nuclear plants in Sinop and Mersin were an attempt to earn unjust income.
“On the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl, we took the streets side-by-side, shoulder-by-shoulder, as those who defend nature as opposed to nuclear [energy] and life instead of death,” Şahin said. “We will not permit the construction of a nuclear power plant in any part of the country, not in Sinop, not in Akkuyu [Mersin].”
Main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Sinop deputy Barış Karadeniz reiterated Şahin’s point, underlining that they did not want a “massacre of the environment” anywhere in Turkey.
The group dispersed following performances by local artists and musicians.
When the disastrous explosion took place at Chernobyl 30 years ago, Soviet officials hesitated in warning the public or neighboring countries, including Turkey, about what happened at Chernobyl. It was two weeks after the accident that the U.S.S.R. agreed to inform the public, albeit only partially.
Similarly, Turkish government officials denied that radioactivity coming from Chernobyl would affect the natural habitat in Turkey.
Cahit Aral, then the industry and trade minister, was one of the government members who said there was no radiation in Turkish agricultural products, especially black tea, which is grown in the Black Sea region. In order to prove his point, Aral drank tea in front of journalists and said: “Believe it like you believe in your religion, there is no radiation in the tea. It is harmless.” Environment Minister Doğan Akyürek also seconded Aral, by rubbing tea on his face.
In 1987, the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK) also announced that the amount of radiation found in tea was harmless.
According to World Health Organization, 600,000 people were affected by high levels of radiation in the region after the accident. Five million people still live in radiation risk areas in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
Although the Turkish Health Ministry has not confirmed that Chernobyl has increased cancer cases in Turkey, according to a 2006 report by Turkish Chamber of Physicians, 47.9 percent of deaths in the Black Sea region are caused by cancer, a trend highlighted by local folk/rock singer Kazım Koyuncu, who campaigned against nuclear power in Turkey before succumbing to cancer in 2006.