Ukraine Plans to Develop Land Around Chernobyl

DOE Delays Livermore Director Decision

* Ukranian health officials recently expressed concern about its government's plans to begin developing land surrounding the site of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, due to the high levels and high risk of thyroid cancer in the area. The number of Chernobyl-related cancer cases in the Ukraine has been constantly increasing since the 1986 nuclear accident, which released large amounts of iodine-131 into the environment. In 1986, only 119 cases of thyroid cancer were reported in the Ukraine, as compared to 3,022 cases last year.

A nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded and sent a radioactive cloud covering much of Europe. The plant was permanently closed in the year 2000, and land within 18 miles of the plant has long been closed to outsiders. However, as many as 3.3 million Ukranians were affected by the accident, including 1.5 million children. Reports say that the Ukranian government has earmarked $396 million to help those impacted by the accident.

Redevelopment of the land around Chernobyl was suggested earlier this year when the United Nations (or UN) urged development of infrastructure near Chernobyl, rather than continued humanitarian efforts. Officials say that the plan will focus on economic development and soil analysis and management in the area. It is estimated that it will be approved by the parliament this year.

Spokesperson for UN secretary Kofi Annan said, "... the UN in cooperation with the Ukraine [and neighboring countries], has initiated a shift in emphasis of the [UN] approach away from emergency-type assistance of the past years towards a long term developmental approach, which would include the empowering of people and their communities ..."

Nevertheless, Chernobyl victims are skeptical about the plan, stressing the needs of the individuals affected rather than economic development. Oleksiy Zaiats, physician in the town of Korosten, located 62 miles west of Chernobyl, said, "Everybody has been definitely affected, and the thyroid problem can affect everyone."

*The Department of Energy (or DOE) has delayed its announcement for the new director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The delay was announced after it was revealed that the nominee, Ray Juzaitis, of Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL), had once supervised Wen Ho Lee.

The University of California (or UC), which operates both Livermore and LANL for DOE, announced last week that they had made their final decision, but rescinded the announcement moments before the UC regents were to vote on the matter. Consequently, no candidate was named. However, a Los Angeles Times report said that DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham called off the vote upon learning that UC's candidate had formerly supervised Wen Ho Lee in LANL's applied physics division. Although Abraham has previously approved UC's decision, he had not yet learned that Juzaitis had any connection to Wen Ho Lee.

We Ho Lee, a Taiwanese citizen, was working in the applied physics division when, in 1999, he was accused of espionage and was fired. Although he eventually pleaded guilty to mishandling information, he was never charged with espionage.

DOE spokesperson Jeanne Lopatto said that UC jumped the gun in making a decision without agreement from DOE, although DOE must concur with whomever UC chooses to head Livermore. She described the incident as "miscommunication."

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