Ukraine: media riddles around the phosphorous cloud

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

The available information about the phosphorous cloud following the railway accident in the Ukraine last Monday is becoming more and more cryptic.

The political involvement of most media and other factors are causing contradictions among official sources that are making press work extremely hard. Moreover, no one is permitted to enter the accident location. The site of the accident was closed to visitors following the injury of three TV journalists who got too close.

Location of the cloud

Map highlighting Lviv, the site of the derailment, in the Lviv Oblast.

TV channel Novyj Kanal translated a telephonic interview with officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, during which the existence of any cloud whatsoever was firmly denied. Immediately after the interview, a press conference by the mayor of Kiev, Mr. Leonid Chernovezkij, announced that starting next Monday a daily report about the movements of the cloud will be available to the population. The service will be provided by the Kiev administration.

In an interview with TV channel UT-1, an officer of the ecological service admitted that they have no real data about the area closer to the accident, because not even government officers are permitted to reach it. The officer said that most data about the hypothetical movements of the cloud (if the cloud exists) are made based on computer simulations they receive from Russian vendors, because no such simulation model is currently available in the Ukraine. The closest available on spot measures are taken in areas located several kilometers away from the epicentre.

Removal operation

In the same press release, the Mayor of Kiev also announced that no transport of any dangerous material will be allowed in the town area. The removal by railway of the phosphor containers involved in the accident was originally planned for today. It is unclear how Kiev’s transit refusal may affect this operation, or whether the mayor has the authority to block national traffic on the railways.

According to the Press Manager of the Ministry for Emergency Situations, Mr. Igor Krol', four containers will be lifted and put back on the rails today. Five containers have already been righted. However, weather may affect the operations, as violent storms and very strong winds are expected in the area. This is going to introduce a serious risk factor for the phosphor that still remains on the ground. The contaminating products are currently insulated from the air by means of pillows made of air and foam; a strong wind may cause new emergencies by even just partially removing such insulation structures.

Health consequences

Various TV channels report one of the firemen who first arrived on location to be in very critical conditions. The channels give no exact figure about the number of people seeking help in hospitals, the media simply report the flux to be uninterrupted. A medical doctor in a TV interview for Novij Kanal said people are mostly in panic, but not really ill. At late evening a press release from the Ministry for Emergency Situations gives the following figures: 184 people, among them 52 children, 14 people belonging in the emergency squads who managed the accident, 3 medical operators that went to assist people in the polluted area.

Polemics are mounting about the way in which the emergency has been managed. The president of the Ozhidov village Council (the worst hit village) declared in a TV interview for Novij Kanal that they were immediately forbidden to drink water, but never were given any medicine or fresh water, neither were they told what they could use for first aid.

President says "no cloud"

The President during the Orange Revolution which brought him into power.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

President Viktor Yushchenko issued a couple of official communications about the "absence of any need to declare the accident area as ecologically damaged" and added that he has the intention to invite Polish experts on location, to have an independent verification. He invited the population of the affected area "not to frighten foreign investors". The passage of the president to the "no cloud" front may prelude to a less contradictory official information.

Yushchenko issued an official call to speed up the closure of the Chernobyl atomic power plants on July 20. Immediately afterwards, he left the country with his family for an unofficial visit to Poland, which will be followed by an official visit to Germany. He is expected to travel to Germany on the evening of July 21.

The Ukraine Procuror General, Mr. Aleksandr Medvedenko, declared to the press that he has visited the accident site together with the President, and that all necessary measures are being taken, both for the cleanup of the accident and the defense of the civilian population. He notes that "it takes courage to work there, for the personnel of the Ministry for Emergency Situations". He announces that a complex cycle of medical care is being planned for about 1500 children of the affected area.

In the same interview, the Procuror General announced that the Government of Kazakhstan will accept the phosphor still remaining (the goods were originally from Kazakhstan). However, in the same time period, the director of Kazphosphat (the vendor of the materials) declared in an interview to the newspaper Segodnja that he gathers that "the phosphor will be stocked in the Ukraine, because it makes no sense to transfer it back. Moreover, you can hardly imagine that Russia would accept the passage of such a dangerous damaged load on their railways".

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