May 17. 2021. 4:25

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The Brief, powered by NGVA Europe – Remember Chernobyl


When a disaster strikes, humans bury the dead and heal the wounded. Sometimes they draw lessons, trying to limit the damage if disaster strikes again. But not always.

Today (26 April) is the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the then Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, exploded as the result of mismanagement and human errors.

It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, both in terms of cost and casualties, but just as importantly, it also accelerated the erosion processes that led to the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union itself.

In the country I know best, Bulgaria, the regime tried to keep the disaster under wraps, the only reliable source at the time being Radio Free Europe, which the communist authorities tried to jam. The Soviet Union also kept silent.

The first to detect the catastrophe and sound the alarm were scientists in Sweden. So ordinary people were unaware of the risks. My compatriots were happy to bring home fresh salads and vegetables from the markets, completely unaware of their contamination from the nuclear cloud.

At the same time, the top communist elite received special food, free of any products that might have been contaminated. Although we learned about this much later, the outcry was so huge that the Soviet regime was doomed.

By that time, in 1986, no one on our side of the Iron Curtain believed in the communist ideology. For millions of east Europeans, Chernobyl was a clear sign that the Soviet system was a total wreck, having also collapsed in terms of technology (the glory of Sputnik, the first space satellite, and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, had long since faded.)

So people were furious, a few rebelled, and all waited for the system to collapse. Clearly, Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika could not become the palliative it was designed to be.

In the West, the Chernobyl disaster mostly sparked a debate about the future of nuclear energy, which unfortunately didn’t go very far, except in closing down a number of nuclear reactors in the East, using the leverage of EU accession.

Four reactors in Bulgaria (Kozlodui), two in Slovakia (Bohunice) and the entire powerplant of Ignalina in Lithuania were shut down, as they were considered “of Chernobyl type”.

In the countries concerned, the Western pressure was largely perceived as hypocrisy. Chernobyl-type reactors continue to function in Finland, meanwhile.

The collapse of Russian technology was reconfirmed with the 2000 disaster of the Kursk submarine. But today Russia behaves as if it had nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and is trying to sell new nuclear reactors on EU soil.

Indeed, Russia’s state-owned ROSATOM is exerting strong political pressure on Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Finland and Lithuania. It has also built a nuclear power plant on the EU border, just inside Belarus.

Europeans seem to forget the bad things and remember only the good. Moscow has smartly opted to re-use the Sputnik brand for its vaccine, promoted as if it were kryptonite. And it works.

Faced with the vaccine mess in the West, Europeans, at least those in the south and east, are these days queuing up to take the Russian jab.


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The Roundup

“We are saying goodbye to the coal age,” Greece’s energy state secretary told EURACTIV following last week’s announcement that the country’s last lignite plant will be shut down in 2025, three years earlier than planned.

The Czech farmers’ group APF CR has left the EU agricultural organisation COPA, accusing it of showing a “contemptuous approach” and lacking support for small farmers, an accusation refuted by other Czech farmers’ groups.

European Union leaders will hold a face-to-face summit in Brussels on 25 May to discuss the coronavirus crisis, the battle against climate change and tensions with Russia, a spokesman said.

All aspects of the EU’s relationship with Turkey should introduce the question of democratic conditionality, a leading MEP has told EURACTIV.

Germany and the United Kingdom are both angling to become pioneers in the field of animal welfare, with the UK saying Brexit has given it new freedom to boost standards.

Bulgaria’s new anti-establishment party, There Is Such A People (ITN), said on Monday it would not try to form a government despite a surge of support in this month’s parliamentary election, bringing the Balkan country closer to snap polls in the summer

Look out for…

  • Josep Borrell receives Stevo Pendarovski, president of North Macedonia;
  • European Parliament plenary session’