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UKRAINE: Coping with Chernobyl


When Ukraine gained independence, the new nation also shouldered major responsibility for dealing with the consequences of the world's worst nuclear power accident.

The Chernobyl accident took place more than six years ago in the then-Soviet republic, 100 kilometers north of Kiev, Ukraine's capital. But a map of cesium 137 contamination monitored in the weeks following the accident shows that Kiev received far less long-lived fallout from the accident than did areas north of the reactor site-especially territories between Gomel and Cherikov in what is now the independent state of Belarus. The area immediately surrounding the accident, where fallout was heaviest, included about equal sections of Belarus and Ukraine. Another heavily contaminated area stretched into the Russian republic to within 200 kilometers of Moscow.

But the political repercussions of the accident were stronger in Kiev than in either Moscow or Minsk. The accident, and what Ukrainians perceived as the Moscow government's botched and callous handling of its aftermath, played an important role in the Ukrainian independence movement. Now the sovereign nation of Ukraine has taken the lead in calling for a new infusion of international aid to deal with the lingering consequences of the tragedy.

Ukrainian Parliament Deputy Vladimir Yavorivsky, a noted writer and independent thinker, formed and heads a committee in the legislative body to cope with the issue that still dominates Ukrainian consciousness. In a late June interview with the Bulletin, Yavor­ ivsky emphasized the need for technical assistance and funds from abroad. In a booklet he wrote laying out the enormous tasks still presented by the reactor accident, he noted that "all this must be done by an economically exhausted Ukraine fighting for its sovereignty." Yavorivsky was just back from the U.N.­sponsored Earth Summit in Brazil, where he said he had stirred considerable interest in the plight of Chernobyl victims and obtained some offers of help-although nothing concrete.

­ Relocation. A million people are still living in the 30-kilometer zone around the accident site. Yavorivsky and others believe this area should have been completely evacuated immediately after the accident, and that living there presents a continuing hazard. But relocating residents takes money. This year the parliament has only 85 million rubles, or about $800,000, to spend on all Chernobyl-related needs.

Although Kiev was affected relatively less than other areas, the city has been thoroughly monitored and a number of scattered hot spots have been located. The problem is severe enough that officials have urged parents to send their children away from the city during the summer months rather than subject them to the risk of playing in contaminated areas. But few parents of the city's one million children have the money to send them to summer camp.

­ Waste. Debris from the accident- a million tons of concrete, metal, and other contaminated material-was buried temporarily in 800 holes dug near the site. Geologists claim to have found secure sites for permanent burial in Ukraine, but the government has no money to construct permanent sites.

­ The sarcophagus. The destroyed reactor itself still presents considerable hazards. In the explosions, only half of the nuclear material in the reactor was expelled into the surroundings. The other half is still in the reactor building, located in the reactor itself or scattered about the building in highly radioactive chunks. The building was entombed in a concrete-and-steel structure in the weeks following the accident, and the state of the radioactive material is monitored as closely as possible. But it is impossible to monitor all the chunks. Last summer, Yavorivsky said, a chain reaction began in one of the areas. Fortunately, a monitor was close by and picked up the increased radiation, and technicians were able to control it.

The sarcophagus began cracking soon after it was built and must be strengthened or replaced. To complicate matters, the sarcophagus is also sinking into the earth, and the ground water level in the area is rather near the surface, Yavorivsky said. "The Moscow regime's solution was to build another sarcophagus on top of this one," Yavorivsky said. "That would have made the problem worse."

Yavorivsky's committee doesn't have any better ideas, however. In early July it announced a competition among world scientists to come up with a solution to the failing tomb.

­ The operating reactors. Two reactors at the site are now operating. A third had been operating until it was shut down last summer. The government has decided to shut down all the reactors, which are identical to the fatal Unit 4, by the end of 1993. Yavorivsky thinks that is not soon enough; his committee would like to see them shut down at once.

He points out that 180,000 people worked to decontaminate the area sufficiently to run the reactors. "Now we are paying compensation to those people for radiation exposure," he said. "The cost of the compensation is higher than the value of the electricity produced by those three reactors."

But reliable statistics on the accident's effects are still elusive. Ukrainian officials blame Moscow's ineptitude and secretiveness, but the new government has its own credibility problems. Two researchers from Kiev Polytechnical Institute claim that rising death rates in Kiev point to far more severe effects than the International Atomic Energy Agency predicted in its post-accident evaluation and report. Yet even now, they say, complete figures on death rates in the city are unavailable. And the researchers, biologist Elena Stoyanova and physicist Alexei Stoyanov, say that mortality figures for those who worked on putting out the fires and cleaning up the site have never been released.

Little wonder that a Kiev Water Authority report issued last spring on radioactivity in the city's reservoir evoked skepticism. According to the Radiation Programs Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has set up several monitoring projects in Ukraine, Water Authority officials found elevated levels of contamination in the water-but less than they expected. Unfortunately for the authority of the water officials, the public does not believe the data.

The new government will have to gather and present its statistics conscientiously, if only to persuade donors to up the ante. Since the time of the accident, the United States, Germany, and other nations have provided a steady but modest stream of humanitarian aid, mostly powdered milk and medicine, to affected areas. Now Yavorivsky and others believe the time has come to tackle the expensive technical and human problems posed by the accident. But the aid requests are still informal appeals for outside help, with few specifics attached in terms of cost or equipment needed, let alone reliable statistics or even descriptive details on numbers of victims and the health problems they may be experiencing.

Meanwhile, one Kiev city council deputy is conducting his own aid campaign for the people of his district, picking up support wherever and in whatever form he can find it. Sergei Kiselev, a journalist, took advantage of a recent trip to Germany to direct several truckloads of medicine to his district-one of Kiev's hot spots-and to a village in the heavily irradiated Zhitomir region. And he inspired San Francisco's Ukrainian community to send 10 eye specialists to Kiev last January, where they examined 3,000 children and elderly people and provided free glasses and eye care to those who needed them. The patients included 300­400 children from the 30-kilometer zone who were hospitalized in Kiselev's district at the time. Their eyes, the doctors said, were normal.

Nancy Myers, who directs special programs at the Bulletin, visited Ukraine in June.

UNITED NATIONS: A man, a plan, now what?


Some have greatness thrust upon them; the United Nations has it written on its birth certificate. So it is not surprising that the U.N. Charter is regularly invoked by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to justify and legitimize the numerous proposals he made to deal with the problems of war and peace in his report, "An Agenda for Peace."

Issued in June, the report outlines Boutros-Ghali's sweeping plan for dealing with a range of security issues from preventive diplomacy to the use of military force to "post-conflict peace-building." And it gives U.N. member states ample opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to an international order based on the charter's principles.

Initial reaction to the report focused on Boutros-Ghali's call for a permanent stand-by military force to insure "the credibility of the United Nations as a guarantor of international security." While the proposal is dramatic, it is not radical. As he points out, the U.N. Charter envisioned such a force, though a muscular United Nations was blocked by the realities of the Cold War.

The Security Council-which had requested the report at its heads-of-state-summit in January-said it would examine Boutros-Ghali's recommendations "in depth and with due priority." Other responses were equally cautious; most governments retreated behind generalities, while Washington's only comment was that it was "studying" the plan. The United States has never looked warmly on the "available troops" idea, though France and several other countries, mostly European, had gone on record in January as being willing to supply troops.

While the stand-by military forces proposal got the headlines, the bulk of the report stressed non-military structures for preventive diplomacy and new "post-conflict peace-building," which Boutros-Ghali defined as preventing a crisis recurrence-a nonviolent mopping up operation. He recommended the creation of demilitarized zones before a conflict erupts, and the acceptance of the International Court of Justice's jurisdiction "without any reservation." Boutros-Ghali also suggested greater "preventive deployment" of peacekeepers in existing or potential trouble spots even if one party says no.

But is it possible for military force, rather than diplomacy, to become an "international norm"? Undersecretary-General Vladimir Petrovsky, who oversaw the writing of the report, said: "The thrust of the report is to use, first of all, all the arsenal of political and diplomatic efforts which are contained in the U.N. Charter. . . . Military means are mentioned but they are the last resort."

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's call for strengthened early warning systems in cases of threats to health or to the environment implies a more assertive role for the United Nations in gathering information (none call it "intelligence") from all sources.

The "Agenda" also calls for more involvement by regional bodies in peacekeeping, reflecting the U.N. Charter's dictum that such bodies "shall make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes . . . before referring them to the Security Council." Since assuming office in January, Boutros-Ghali has fought the emerging trend to look to the United Nations as the court of first resort. And, not so incidentally, regional efforts would also take some of the logistical and financial pressure off the United Nations.

"An Agenda for Peace" outlines an ambitious and costly scheme presented at a time when the United Nations cannot pay for its current peacekeeping operations. The U.N.'s chronic shortage of funds is caused largely by Washington's $550 million arrears for the regular budget and $119 million for peacekeeping-although Washington is up to date on its payments for the Yugoslav and Cambodian operations. Boutros-Ghali revived a series of 1991 proposals made by his predecessor, Javier Perez de Cuellar, designed to put the United Nations on a firmer financial footing. (See June 1992 Bulletin.) Boutros-Ghali's recommendations to keep peacekeeping solvent would have to be agreed to by the General Assembly; the Secretary-General cannot make these decisions unilaterally.

Other fund-raising proposals that Boutros-Ghali mentioned but did not endorse include a tax on arms sales, a levy on international air travel "which is dependent on the maintenance of peace," tax exemption for private contributions made to the United Nations, and a change in the scale of assessments for peacekeeping operations. Boutros-Ghali noted that the U.N.'s financial foundations grow weaker every day, enfeebling its political will and practical capacity.

Lurking behind the proposals for strengthening the U.N.'s peacemaking and peacekeeping capacities is the implication of expanded Security Council powers-the council is, after all, responsible for peacekeeping functions. It is already the strongest body in the United Nations; implementing the "Agenda" proposals would enhance this strength, accentuating the unrepresentative nature of the council and the strength of the five nations with veto power. This lop-sidedness has long been criticized as undemocratic; a more powerful council would surely feel pressure to reform. Boutros-Ghali could reasonably avoid the issue, because the Secretary-General has no authority over the council. But the member states do not have that option.

At the January Security Council summit, a number of non-permanent members, such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe, argued for expanding the council and eliminating "special privileges"-in other words, the permanent five veto power. Japan, in its first year of a two-year council term, has suggested a 1995 deadline (the United Nation's fiftieth anniversary) for restructuring the council. Italy and Canada have also put forward restructuring plans.

Restructuring is an issue difficult to avoid. In little more than a year, the United Nations has admitted 20 new states in the most explosive growth of "new" countries since the decolonization of Africa in the 1960s, when the number of member states reached 122. Today, 178 flags fly in front of U.N. headquarters.

As the Forty-seventh General Assembly reconvenes this month, the "Agenda" and its numerous implications will receive its first real scrutiny. Whether it is treated as a blueprint for the reinvigoration of the United Nations or as a document destined for a file cabinet will be a clue as to the scope of the U.N.'s role for the future.

Jim Wurst, a journalist who covers the United Nations, is editor of Disarmament Times.

THE COLD WAR: High-flying spies


Russian president Boris Yeltsin startled the American public in June when he reported that Soviet forces had shot down nine American planes over Soviet territory during the 1950s. As of August 1, 1953, he said, a dozen Americans were in Russian prisons, labor camps or psychiatric hospitals. Yeltsin was just trying to be helpful in the continuing search for evidence of Americans missing in the Vietnam War, but his statement brought back memories of the coldest part of the Cold War.

Old Cold Warriors responded with tight-lipped equivocations. Former CIA Director Richard Helms said, "I remember occasional trouble with reconnaissance aircraft that strayed over Soviet territory . . . but I don't remember numbers like that."

Helms's denial aside, before the advent of reconnaissance satellites, airmen from the United States and other countries flew intelligence flights against the former Soviet Union every day. These extensive aerial intelligence programs are worth recording before their story is lost to the mists of time.

The U-2 affair of 1960, which occurred when the Russians downed Francis Gary Powers in his U-2 spy plane, came at the end of the period, when U.S. intelligence had already begun to turn to satellites. That incident, as well as another that year involving an RB-47, are well known. But the origins of the aircraft programs in the period after 1945 are largely ignored.

Immediately after World War II, Americans became so convinced that there would be no more war, military gear was virtually abandoned. A year after the end of hostilities, 70 percent of the navy's electronic equipment had become inoperable; the air force (still part of the U.S. Army at the time) was in even worse shape.

The Cold War changed all that. The military was ordered to gather intelligence about the Soviet Union, and air intelligence began with so-called "ferret" flights-aircraft missions that attempted to record and analyze the signals of enemy radars and electronic equipment.

The earliest operation of this type seems to have been one in 1947, code-named "Passionate." On these flights, photographs were taken only when they did not interfere with the primary mission. Dedicated aerial reconnaissance flights began in 1949. Airborne interception of communications traffic was conducted on an experimental basis in 1952, and it became a spy program in its own right in 1953.

Unlike the later U-2 program, all of the early flights followed the borders or coasts of the Soviet Union, and were thus called "peripheral reconnaissance." The State Department required planes to maintain a 40-mile distance from the Russian coast. But these restrictions impeded the intelligence effort; neither adequate photography nor good signal interception was possible. In the end the restrictions were changed, not the spy programs.

In 1950, new guidelines provided that planes would fly no closer than 20 miles to Soviet borders except when flying past heavily defended areas, where the restriction was increased to 45 miles. Sensitive areas would be reconnoitered only under cover of darkness or inclement weather, when no Soviet fighters were capable of operating; certain geographic restrictions were also instituted. These ground rules existed under combined pressure for relaxation from intelligence collection units and agencies.

When aerial overflights began, the air force established a standard cover story to be used if any crew were forced down over Soviet or adversary territory-that the plane had been on a weather data-gathering mission. This 1947 decision would be questioned in 1949 and again in 1952. From time to time, air force officers pointed out that the cover story would fall apart when crews faced good interrogators, especially if the Russians could examine any aircraft wreckage.

Proponents of a new cover story suggested that crews should say they had been on long-range navigation training missions, or that the flight had been conducting surveys of radio signal propagation. The radio signal cover story was rejected on the grounds that international agreements required sharing the results of such studies, thus ultimately unveiling the cover story. (When Francis Gary Powers was shot down, Washington used the "weather mission" story, first concocted in 1947, with a singular lack of success.)

The peripheral reconnaissance program was no secret to the Russians. By January 1948, the Soviets had enough information to file a formal diplomatic protest of a flight they tracked over the Chukotsk peninsula in the Soviet Far East. The United States rejected the protest on the grounds that no territorial violation had occurred-even though its own investigation showed that existing State Department rules had probably been broken. The first recorded instance of Soviet fighter interception of a U.S. spy plane was on October 22, 1949. The crew, in a Far East air force RB-29 on "Oversalt" mission 105-A, took photographs of the Russian plane that buzzed them.

Not long after, a navy plane lost over the Baltic on April 8, 1950, became the first aircraft actually shot down. (Some accounts put it 13 miles inland over Latvia.) There were many aircraft losses, but two are particularly notable. The June 27, 1956, loss of a C-118 over Soviet Armenia was significant because the plane, a militarized version of the Douglas DC-6, happened to be the personal aircraft of Allen Dulles, then director of Central Intelligence. The situation was already tense because a U.S. helicopter had been shot out of the sky earlier that month over East Germany. The C-118 had carried senior CIA aides to Europe on an inspection trip, and it was in Turkey when it was diverted for some extracurricular spying. The plane was forced down and nine persons were captured. If CIA chief Dulles relished the situation, he must have been embarrassed by it as well.

The other loss, on September 2, 1958, was an EC-130, also shot down over Armenia. Six men were killed, and 11 prisoners were taken. The EC-130 incident figured in the Cold War propaganda struggle after the Soviets released a transcript of the plane's broadcasts to prove its spy mission.

Attempts at overflying Russia-as distinct from the peripheral missions-began with the introduction of more capable cameras. Early peripheral missions used 30-inch focal length instruments, which gave way to 100-inch cameras, but neither type could see more than a few miles beyond a border or coastline. The United States introduced high-altitude cameras in 1952. High-altitude spying also offered the best chance of evading Soviet detection, especially in areas where defenses depended on visual observations. The British also took advantage of the high-altitude benefits in modified Canberra bombers (B-57s in U.S. terms). Between 1955 and 1957, the United States used a B-36 mothership/RF-84 photo-ship combination. By then, the U-2 had more or less introduced the era of modern aerial photography.

Recent news accounts about missing Americans suggest that up to 50 airmen may be unaccounted for from the Cold War reconnaissance missions. Interested observers have made other loss estimates, all much higher. One source records a total of 38 incidents between 1950 and 1966, with 26 aircraft shot down or forced to land, and 108 airmen killed and an unknown number missing. Another report gives a total of 225 airmen killed or missing from 1950 to 1967. A third puts losses at between 100 and 200, while yet another source estimates that at least 32 aircraft were shot down between 1950 and 1984, including four Nationalist Chinese U-2s. This source estimates that 140 U.S. servicemen were killed.

Such numbers may seem high for a peacetime program. On the other hand, scattered data for European missions indicate that one ferret program that operated from 1950 to 1951 averaged nearly daily flights. Allowing for other programs and for global operations, it seems reasonable to estimate an overall sortie rate of more than a flight per day. The number of flights puts the losses in better perspective-except that all occurred during a peacetime activity.

Truly, aerial reconnaissance became one of the most dangerous practices of the Cold War. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower both tried to regulate the activity, calling halts when major incidents occurred. But demands always remained for additional intelligence of the kind that sparked the spy flights in the first place. It was inevitable that some Americans would be shot down, and perhaps the high costs of humans and hardware helped drive the transition to satellite reconnaissance in 1960 and later.

John Prados is the author of Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush (1991).

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