Chernobyl was lesson in nuclear peril: Gorbachev
The upcoming 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is a brutal reminder of the dangers of nuclear power, proliferation and terrorism, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said on Tuesday.
"The true scope of the tragedy still remains beyond comprehension and is a shocking reminder of the reality of the nuclear threat," Gorbachev said in an essay published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a watchdog organisation on nuclear security.
The April 26 1986 explosion at the Soviet power plant in the Ukraine, caused by an unauthorised test that went wrong, unleashed a reactor fire and radioactive fallout that contaminated swathes of the former Soviet Union and Western Europe.
The death toll ranges from a UN 2005 estimate of 4,000 to tens or even hundreds of thousands, proposed by non-governmental groups.
Environment problems include long-term contamination of water resources and soil and damage to wildlife that is still unclear, while the economic cost has been put in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Gorbachev described Chernobyl as "a warning sign" for countries dependent on nuclear power or keen to turn to it.
"As the global population continues to expand, and the demand for energy production grows, we must invest in alternative and more sustainable sources of energy -- wind, solar, geothermal, hydro -- and widespread conservation and energy efficiency initiatives," he said.
He voiced concern about the risk of terror attacks on nuclear reactors, storage barrels of radioactive waste and fuel-rod pools and of the theft of fissile material.
"While the Chernobyl disaster was accidental, caused by faulty technology and human error, today's disaster could very well be intentional," Gorbachev wrote.
Gorbachev was secretary of the Soviet Communist Party at the time of the disaster.
In his essay, Gorbachev said he first heard of the incident on the morning of April 26 1986 through a report to the Kremlin by the Soviet Ministry of Medium Machine Building.
The ruling Politburo held an emergency meeting but the gravity of the incident remained unclear.
"Initial reports were cautious in tone, and only on the following day, April 27, did we learn that an explosion had taken place at the nuclear power station, at least two people had been killed, and radioactive material had been released downwind," Gorbachev said.