Ukraine against nuclear weapons but needs atomic power - president
(Adds details of the accident and its consequences)
KIEV, April 26 (RIA Novosti) - The Chernobyl tragedy led Ukraine to abandon its nuclear arsenal, but the country needs nuclear power as its main energy source, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych said on Monday.
Ukraine witnessed one of the world's worst man-made disasters at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 1986 when a plume of radioactive fallout was released into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area, including the western Soviet Union and most of Europe.
"Ukraine was the first to feel and realize the danger originated from the peaceful use of atomic energy and it was, perhaps, one of the reasons for our country to voluntary give up its nuclear weapons," Viktor Yanukovych said in a statement marking the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a unique event and the only accident in the history of nuclear power industry where radiation-related fatalities occurred.
The accident destroyed the Chernobyl 4 reactor, killing 2 plant workers almost immediately and another 28 people within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning. However, various international bodies estimate that another 4,000 to have died of thyroid cancer shortly afterwards. Several million more people are believed to have been exposed to different degrees of radiation.
Vast areas, mainly in the three then-Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, were contaminated by the fallout of the explosion. More than 300,000 people were relocated after the accident. However, 5 million people still live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine classified as "contaminated" by radioactive elements.
The disaster is thought to have released at least 100 times more radiation than the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in WWII.
Ukraine became a non-nuclear nation in 1996 when it sent the last of its 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantling.
"We have also set an example for the world community by recently adopting a resolution on the turning over of our remaining reserves of highly enriched uranium," Yanukovych said on Monday.
At the same time, the Ukrainian president reiterated the country's need for nuclear energy supplies.
"Whether we want it or not, Ukraine's energy future is impossible without the nuclear energy industry," Yanukovych said.
In 2007, nuclear energy supplied 47.5% of Ukraine's electricity production of 195 billion kWh. Ukraine plans to build 11 new reactors by 2030, almost doubling its current nuclear power capacity.