MOSCOW (Academician Yevgeny Velikhov for RIA Novosti)

When the Chernobyl tragedy happened on April 26, 18 years ago, one of my friends in the USA sent me a cable where he wrote that iodine pills must be immediately issued to children. I immediately called Vice-Premier Ivan Silayev to tell him about that recommendation. I was invited to the session of the State Commission and accompanied it to Chernobyl, though I am a physicist and specialise in different problems. But along with others I participated in the elimination effort of the aftermath of that terrible tragedy.

Today, 18 years after the tragedy, I would like to share some of my views with you. First, the consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy were greatly exaggerated all this time. No medical documents prove that Chernobyl had a serious effect on public health. The medical statistics of the Kurchatov Institute [formerly the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy] shows that the 600 researchers of the institute who have been working, one and off, in Chernobyl in the past 18 years are in good health.

One more thing to note: Chernobyl demonstrated the country's inability to cope with such problems, though there had been a similar tragedy before - an explosion and radioactive emission at the Mayak chemical works in Chelyabinsk, Urals, in 1957. By decision of the Soviet authorities, the Mayak tragedy was kept under a tight lid, along with the analysis of the tragedy and conclusions drawn from it by the best specialists and scientists of the country who studied its causes and consequences. As a result, society was not prepared for Chernobyl.

Regrettably, the time that has elapsed since it shows that nobody needs the Chernobyl experience, which was not classified. Nobody in the world analysed it and drew conclusions from it, which is very bad because it is truly invaluable. It can be used to create a behaviour model for such situations. Regrettably, man-induced disasters at nuclear power plants can happen, though much has been done to make nuclear power engineering a safer business since the Chernobyl tragedy. We should also take into account the current political situation in the world, in particular the looming threat of terrorism. There may be a truly tragic situation with radioactive pollution.

It is a paradox but the Chernobyl experience is not being used in Russia, too. At least, we do not keep it handy, which would be logical. The only section of the population that has learned the lesson is the nuclear power scientists. Since Chernobyl, the RBMK reactors (the first ever created in the Soviet Union for nuclear power stations) have been modernised and made safer, and they keep working to this day. This means that they could have been made safer before the tragedy, and it is the nuclear power engineers who are to blame for the failure to do it.

One major drawback of the reactor was that the human factor could provoke fatal consequences. Another weak element was the inadequate systems of reactor control and personnel training. A chain of inadmissible actions by Chernobyl operators on that tragic morning provoked the explosion at the fourth block. Regrettably, accidents also happened at the first nuclear power plants in other countries.

No industry can be made fail-safe, yet today we can reliably guarantee nuclear reactor safety. We also guarantee that, should an accident happen for some unfathomable reason, it will not lead to the evacuation of the people or any other consequences harmful for the health and welfare of the people.

In the past ten years, Russia has not built a single nuclear power plant, yet the output of electricity at the existing nuclear power plants has grown from 12% to 16% of the total. This positive result was attained thanks to the improvement of management, modernisation of nuclear power plants, and several other factors. Since mineral resources (oil, gas and coal) are finite and humankind's energy requirements are growing, nuclear energy, which has no discernible rivals so far, has a bright future. In fact, the planet's further progress is not imagined without it.

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