a gas mask in a deserted village near Chernobyl, Ukraine
United Nations - XINHUA
With Chernobyl disaster's effects still being felt after 30 years, the United Nations' top officials on Tuesday renewed their commitment to a safer future, underlining the need to draw lessons from the disaster and the remaining problems.
"Today, we remember the human cost of the disaster," Mogens Lykketoft, the president of the UN General Assembly, told delegates attending a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident at UN Headquarters in New York. "We remember those who sacrificed their own lives to prevent this disaster from becoming even worse."
Thirty years ago, the accident, widely considered one of the most severe ones in the history of the nuclear power industry, caused a huge release of radio-nucleoids over large areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, devastating the region's mostly rural economy and uprooting more than 300,000 people.
On April 26, 1986, a series of explosions occurred at the plant located 110 km north of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, resulting in the demolition of the No. 4 reactor and the spread of radiation across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other European countries.
To assist Ukraine in making the Chernobyl disaster site environmentally safe, international donors have established a special fund, which finances security projects in the area.
In 2011, about 780 million U.S. dollars were raised by the donors to build a safe sarcophagus over the destroyed reactor to prevent further leakage of radiation.
On Monday, the international community pledged an additional 87.5 million euros (about 99.2 million dollars) for Ukraine to complete the construction of the ISF2 facility, which is needed for the safe decommissioning of units No.1, 2 and 3 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
"Livelihoods lost almost 30 years ago have yet to recover fully and many affected are still struggling to overcome poverty, exclusion and the stigma of contaminated regions," Lykketoft noted.
The president highlighted that this year, along-side this 30th anniversary, the global community is also marking the end of the Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development for Chernobyl-affected Regions, with a series of activities taking place in the affected countries included a high level conference Monday in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
A photo exhibition entitled "Chernobyl, tragedy, lessons, hope" is also on display at the UN headquarters in New York.
Speaking at the event on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Chef de Cabinet Edmond Mulet said the tragedy of Chernobyl will always be linked with nuclear safety.
"The accident led to a new awareness of safety issues and to major improvements in the regulation of nuclear plants around the world. The Chernobyl disaster also brought the international community together to support the enormous efforts of local, regional and national authorities," he said.
Noting that the most visible sign of current international cooperation efforts may be the New Safe Confinement structure - which is now nearing completion and should make the reactor complex stable and environmentally safe for the next 100 years, Mulet said the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, next month will ask leaders to consider multidisciplinary strategies that include prevention, preparedness and response.
Echoing this message in a statement issued from Vienna, Austria, the director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, said Chernobyl led to a leap forward in global cooperation on nuclear safety, including the adoption of the Convention on Nuclear Safety.
"Countries with nuclear power began sharing information and experience in a way they never had before. The IAEA's mandate on nuclear safety was enhanced. IAEA Safety Standards were expanded," said the IAEA chief.
However, despite these improvements, he said the world was confronted with another serious accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011 following a tsunami caused by a 9-magnitude earthquake.
"In the five years since then, considerable improvements have been made in nuclear safety throughout the world," he added. "But the key lesson from both Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi for everyone involved in nuclear power -- plant operators, governments and regulators -- is that safety can never be taken for granted. Complacency must be avoided at all costs."