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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(August 22, 2003) The Ukrainian cabinet of ministers has drafted a law that will permit up to 1,500 families to return to live in the so-called exclusion zone, or the region with a radius of 30 kilometers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which unit-4 exploded in 1986. Until now, the 30 kilometers zone has been so heavily contaminated that it was unsuitable to live. The Ukrainian Parliament will decide whether to pass the law when it reconvenes in September (1).

(591.5537) NIRS/WISE Ukraine - Previously, this area was completely off-limits to resettlement due to its high level of contamination of radioactive cesium-137 (and other radionuclides), stated to be above 40 Curies/km2. Currently 450 - 600 people, mostly pensioners, are living in this region illegally, according to the United Nations.

Up to 4,600 people are still waiting to be resettled in Ukraine, of a total 350,400 people who were evacuated or resettled from 1986 to 2000 in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia due to the disaster (2).

The proposed changes in the classification of the exclusion zone will allow the construction of roads and buildings to accommodate people wishing to move back to the area. An Associated Press report cited unnamed experts who claim that the law is needed to normalize regions no longer contaminated by radiation and to spur economic development and investment in the zone (3). However, it is not clear what type of development will occur, since farming and logging are both not considered safe or economically viable.

Only two months ago, in June, Chernobyl engineers admitted that the current covering of the damaged plant - known as the sarcophagus - is decreasing in stability. A new covering, the so-called Chernobyl Shield, is not to be completed until 2007. A collapse of the current sarcophagus could send radioactive dust throughout the exclusion zone, according to officials (4).

(1) Reuters, 13 August 2003
(2) The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, UNDP/UNICEF, 25 January 2002
(3) Associated Press, 14 August 2003
(4) Associated Press, 20 June 2003

Contact: NIRS/WISE Ukraine at