Lessons from Chernobyl: remembrance, greater nuclear safety and sustainable energy is still on the agenda

Dr. Alexander Belyakov (ELP 2001)

The end of April is a tragic time for many people who were affected by the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy in 1986. Unfortunately, this ongoing crisis is often lost among today’s challenges. Therefore, 27 years later, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reminded the world: “The countless women, men and children affected by radioactive contamination must never be forgotten”. The UN remembers Chernobyl. What about the ordinary people on the streets? I had the unique opportunity to learn more on April 26 in downtown Toronto, Canada. As a member of the Advisory Board of the international non-profit organization, Chernobyl Foundation, I joined an annual fundraising event at Dundas Square. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness about Chernobyl issues and to fund-raise for a blood donation network in Ukraine that serves sick children. The organizers increased attendance by bringing a “replica” of the nuclear reactor’s shelter, Sarcophagus, to the square and by giving a chance to win a trip to Chernobyl for those whom donated online through the Foundation’s web-site. With average daily traffic of 62,100 pedestrians and 55,500 vehicles, Dundas Square offers interesting opportunities to learn more about public opinion and fundraising support of Torontonians. Toronto is the financial heart of Canada with many banks and other wealthy organizations. Nevertheless, a major interest in the Foundation’s event came from ordinary people. The most touching experience for me was with the donations from a Japanese street-musician, youth and the homeless donors. People in need were offering help, but the affluent and wealthy preferred to ignore the fundraising efforts. Is the Chernobyl crisis really forgotten? Was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster’s reminder not enough to learn more from the Chernobyl consequences? Going back to the UN Secretary-General’s commitment of the UN system to stand by those affected by the Chernobyl disaster, and to work for greater nuclear safety and sustainable energy worldwide, I consider everyone’s involvement in this process. In the framework of sustainability thinking we also pay attention to inclusiveness. The global nuclear disasters should not leave us indifferent to challenges of history. After all, there is no future without a past.