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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Chernobyl voices: Vladimir Usatenko
Vladimir Usatenko

Vladimir Usatenko
Engineer and former member of Ukraine's parliament
Conscripted to work on the Chernobyl sarcophagus

When the Chernobyl catastrophe occurred, the first report was incomprehensible to me, because of the over-confident tone adopted by the country's leaders.

I quickly understood that something awful had happened, something beyond comprehension.

When I was conscripted, it was not as a specialist, but as raw labour for use in the most contaminated areas.

There were very many cases where we simply did not want to do the work - we saved ourselves by destroying the video cameras they used to control us
Most of us doing this work were very experienced, highly qualified workers - while the people in charge were simply professional leaders, who had never done anything with their hands and had little understanding of what needed to be done.

Many of the tasks they tried to explain to us simply did not make sense.

Time of war

There were very many cases where we simply did not want to do the work. We thought it was pointless, and we saved ourselves by destroying the video cameras they used to control us.

Then for a long period we just did nothing, and found places where there was some defence from the radioactivity, which preserved for us at least some chances of life in future.

We could not refuse the work, because the military prosecutor was watching us closely and we were under military law. And it was in reality a time of war.

Later I was elected to the Supreme Soviet (parliament).

In 1994, I proudly announced in parliament a concept for the regulation of nuclear safety and the management of the nuclear industry in Ukraine. Out of this came a number of laws placed restrictions on nuclear energy.

The main principle of these laws was to make it impossible to bequeath the consequences of exploiting these technologies to future generations. Everything should be resolved during the life cycle of each nuclear installation.

If you build it, you should make it fully safe within its life cycle.

When the installation closes, you should already have the financial mechanisms for cleaning up after yourself.


Unfortunately the government does not yet understand that these laws must be put into effect.

For me Chernobyl was a fantastic lesson, a huge school, where I learned to understand people.

In the end I understood that in reality, our world is a big supermarket where you can do what you want, if you do not stop to think that the cash register is located near the exit. It's not in vain that the sarcophagus is in fact shaped like an old shop's cash register.

Everyone should understand that everything will end with a sarcophagus just like this one - and that is the best case scenario - if we continue unthinkingly with our existing, absolutely ineffective ways of using and producing energy.


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