Thank you for asking me to join you here tonight. I would like to first take this opportunity to pay tribute to the victims of Chornobyl—the many men and women who lost their lives and their livelihoods to the tragic events that transpired 25 years ago today.
In particular, we honor the emergency workers who were the first to respond on that fateful April morning when an explosion in Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chornobyl triggered the most serious nuclear accident the world has ever known.
As clouds of radioactive smoke billowed across large portions of the Western Soviet Union and Europe, these men and women struggled valiantly around the clock to mitigate a humanitarian disaster. Their heroic sacrifice—and the abandoned town of Pripyat—together serve as a powerful reminder that the events of Chornobyl must never be forgotten.
In the 1990s, when I was Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nonproliferation and National Security, I visited Chornobyl and saw with my own eyes the ruins of Pripyat’, the 30 kilometer Exclusion Zone surrounding Chornobyl, and the reactor site itself. The sight was shocking. But I was glad to see the degree of international cooperation already at work to reverse the environmental impact of the disaster and to ensure that the other three reactors at the site would be safely shut down.
Twenty-five years later, this international cooperation continues. The United States—in concert with our G-8 partners and the international community—remains committed to helping Ukrainians bring the damaged Chornobyl nuclear facility to an environmentally safe and secure condition.
Since the late 1990s, the United States had given some $240 million to Chornobyl nuclear safety projects. Last week at the Chornobyl Pledging Conference, a delegation from the United States led by former National Security Adviser Brzezinski, pledged a further $123 million towards completing the construction of a new safe confinement shelter to cover the aging sarcophagus and a storage facility for spent fuel at the Chornobyl site.
In addition to this assistance, the U.S. has invested millions of dollars in nuclear safety, health, and non-proliferation programs in Ukraine. This partnership has helped Ukraine become a leader, both in nuclear safety, and in non-proliferation, as evinced by Ukraine’s historic decision to give up nuclear weapons back in 1994 and President Yanukovych’s decision just over one year ago to get rid of Ukraine’s stocks of highly enriched uranium.
Ukraine has shown its leadership on nuclear security and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Not only has Ukraine chosen this leadership role on reducing the chances of nuclear terrorism, but Ukraine has chosen a path towards the peaceful use of nuclear technology. As part of the HEU agreement, the United States is building a neutron source facility that Ukraine will use to advance nuclear science, including nuclear medicine, that will bring practical benefits to the Ukrainian people and the whole world.
As we remember this anniversary, we, like people all across the world, are following the grave situation at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. The events at Fukushima, just like the events at Chornobyl and Three Mile Island, remind us once again that nuclear safety recognizes no boundaries.
We can best pay tribute to the victims of these tragedies by learning from each event and using that knowledge to ensure the safety and security of nuclear energy now and in the future. Meanwhile, we proclaim our solidarity with the people of Japan as we help them rebuild.
It is my hope that the story of Chornobyl strengthens our collective resolve to ensure that nuclear safety remains at the forefront of our efforts as we continue to define the role nuclear power can best play in our energy future.
I am confident that Ukraine will continue to be a leader in these efforts.