"It is becoming clearer and clearer that the Chernobyl disaster was even more catastrophic than the antinuclear movement anticipated", said Friends of the Earth spokesperson John Hallam on the fifth anniversary of the disaster.
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Kiev in the Ukraine exploded, releasing around 90 times more radiation than was produced by the Hiroshima bomb. In the following weeks this radiation spread over much of the Soviet Union and Europe.
According to Byelorussian and Ukrainian authorities, radioactive contamination has affected about 10,000 square kilometres inhabited by some 4 million people. It left 3 million hectares of land unfit for farming. About 1 million hectares will not recover for at least 100 years.
Close to the reactor, though outside the exclusion zone declared after the disaster, one in five babies is born with missing limbs, eyes or ears. Cataracts, blood and liver diseases, cancer and collapse of the immune system are common in children as young as three years.
In the wake of the disaster, reactor construction had almost ceased in Europe, and strong opposition to nuclear power had even emerged in solidly pro-nuclear Japan.
Taiwan's nuclear program went on hold after Chernobyl, and Sweden is planning to phase out its nuclear industry by 2010. On present trends, the nuclear power industry may be declining rather than expanding worldwide by the end of the century.
Recent calls to weaken the Labor Party's uranium policy were in effect contributing to the next Chernobyl, said Movement Against Uranium Mining spokesperson Murray Matson.
The Chernobyl disaster had cost the Soviet Union $336-440 billion, more than four times the revenue generated in the entire history of the USSR's nuclear power program, Matson said.
A minority report from the ALP uranium review committee declared: "The overwhelming impression was of an almost total rejection of all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle from Australians apart from those associated with the nuclear industry".
From Adelaide, Ian Hopkins reports that 100 people rallied on the steps of state parliament on April 26 in support of a nuclear-free world.
The rally was organised by Friends of the Earth, who launched an appeal for the children of Chernobyl. It also condemned the ALP Uranium Policy Review Committee's recommendation.
Donations to the appeal can be sent to FoE Nouveau Chernobyl Appeal, PO Box 3231, Grenfell St, Adelaide 5000. n