KIEV, Ukraine — As Ukrainians solemnly commemorated the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident on Tuesday, President Petro Poroshenko said that Russia’s support for separatists in the country’s east posed the threat of a repetition of the atomic catastrophe.
The remarks came at Chernobyl, where an international effort to seal the destroyed remains of the nuclear reactor that exploded in Ukraine 30 years ago is finally close to completion. Remarkably, despite the political revolution and armed conflict that have rocked the country since 2014, it’s close to being on schedule.
On Tuesday, Poroshenko stressed the political importance of nuclear power for Ukraine, saying the country would “neither today, nor tomorrow,” halt nuclear reactors because of the importance of maintaining the country’s energy independence, implying away from Russian gas.
Standing inside a gigantic dome that will soon be installed over the reactor, Poroshenko said that “Russian aggression had undermined the trust of non-nuclear governments in the nonproliferation of these weapons, and threatened the repeat of a nuclear catastrophe in our country.” He noted that fighting had taken place several hundred kilometers from the nuclear power plant in the city of Zaporozhiye.
The completion of the New Safe Confinement, often called the “arch,” could contain the radiation from mankind’s worst nuclear catastrophe for a century, says the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has led the project. But it will also mark a handover to Ukraine’s fractious and underfunded authorities, who are expected to tackle future waste management at their own expense.
That may not reassure Nadiya Makyrevych.
For three decades, she has been living with the consequences of the Chernobyl explosion. She can recall that morning in late April 1986, and the small signs that something was wrong in the workers’ town where she lived. The tinny, metallic taste in her mouth. The way her 6-month-old daughter slept so deeply after breast-feeding.
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