Chernobyl nuclear plant closing

Tuesday, June 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Visiting Clinton calls shutdown of deadly facility a 'hopeful moment'

KIEV, Ukraine - The ill-fated and still-dangerous Chernobyl nuclear power plant will finally be shut down Dec. 15, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma announced Monday.

Using a visit by President Clinton as a forum for the announcement, Mr. Kuchma said that closing the plant "was not an easy decision for us" but was a logical next step.

And Mr. Clinton, standing at Mr. Kuchma's side at Marinsky Palace, said it was a "hopeful moment" and a time to remember those who suffered from the world's worse nuclear accident, which occurred in 1986.

The leaders toasted each other with champagne to mark the announcement.

Mr. Clinton, finished with three days of meetings with Russia, stopped in neighboring Ukraine on his way home after a weeklong tour of Europe.

Arriving in midafternoon, he spent a few hectic hours meeting with Mr. Kuchma and addressing a huge crowd at St. Michael's Square in old downtown Kiev.

Mr. Clinton did not mention the Chernobyl announcement in his speech but dwelled at length on the virtues of democracy - a theme also of an earlier address to the Russian Parliament in Moscow.

"You must build a free and prosperous Ukraine," Mr. Clinton told the tens of thousands of flag-waving Ukrainians who filled blocks around the square.

"Do not give up," he said. "Keep on fighting."

The president said Ukraine has a rightful place among the nations of Europe and pledged that the United States would "keep the door to the trans-Atlantic community of democracies open to Ukraine."

A Chernobyl view

Mr. Clinton flew aboard Air Force One within sight of Chernobyl, about 60 miles north of Kiev, on his way from Moscow. When he landed, he went directly to the presidential palace where Mr. Kuchma announced the closing of the final reactor.

Nearly three dozen people died when one of the reactors melted down and blew up April 26, 1986. As many as 135,000 nearby residents were evacuated from their homes, and radioactive particles fell over much of Europe.

Thousands of other cancer deaths, perhaps as many as a 15,000, have been attributed to the disaster.

The United States has been helping finance the dismantling of the final reactor, which has become a top priority of the 15-member European Union and other nations.

On Monday, Mr. Clinton said the United States would provide an additional $80 million for Chernobyl cleanup and for further safety measures at Ukraine's other nuclear power plants.

Mr. Kuchma had repeatedly delayed Chernobyl's final closure while waiting for Western aid to build two other reactors, costing about $1.2 billion.

In Moscow on Monday, Mr. Clinton met briefly for a third straight day with Russian President Vladimir Putin and made a courtesy call on former President Boris Yeltsin at his dacha. "He's in good spirits, happy," Mr. Clinton said about Mr. Yeltsin.

In his 45-minute, televised address to the Russian Duma and Federation Council, Mr. Clinton struck the familiar international chords of his presidency: democracy, globalization, global warming, trade and the spread of ethnic, racial and religious violence.

Presidential advice

"A strong state should use its strength to reinforce the rule of law, protect the powerless against the powerful, defend democratic freedoms, including freedom of expression, religion and the press and do whatever is possible to give everyone a chance to develop his or her innate abilities," Mr. Clinton said.

Russia has entered a new phase, he said, in which it needs outside investment, not more outside aid. "What Americans must ask is not so much what can we do for Russia, but what can we do with Russia to advance our common interests and lift people in both nations," he said.

Members of the Russian parliament never applauded during his speech, and only politely at the end. Several dozen seats were empty. And Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist member of the Duma, among others, was critical of the president.

"It's a shame. It's a shame," he shouted from the Duma floor as Mr. Clinton finished. "Why are you applauding for him?"

Outside, across the street from the Duma, several dozen protesters also complained about Mr. Clinton's visit.

"Yankee go home! Yankee go home!" a knot of Communist demonstrators yelled, a few carrying the old red hammer-and-sickle flags of the former Soviet Union.

Other protesters demanded that the United States pull its troops from Europe.

In his address, Mr. Clinton spoke directly to two issues that continue to stir controversy in Russia - the U.S.-led war against Yugoslavia to free Kosovo and the Russian military campaign in Chechnya.

"I know you disagreed with what I did in Kosovo," he said, "and you know that I disagreed with what you did in Chechnya."

Agree to disagree

He said his "question in Chechnya was an honest one and the question of a friend, and that is whether any war can be won that requires large numbers of civilian casualties and has no political component bringing about a solution."

In Kosovo, he said he had wondered "whether we could ever preserve a democratic and free Europe unless southeastern Europe was part of it and whether any people could ever say that everyone is entitled to live in peace if 800,000 people were driven out of a place they had lived in for centuries solely because of their religion."

The keys to resolving conflict throughout the world are similar, he said: "majority rule, minority rights, guaranteed participation in decision-making, shared economic and other benefits."

Mr. Clinton repeated several times, in several ways, that he had no intention of telling the Russian people or their leaders what to do.

Nonetheless, he had plenty to say.

"The United States wants a strong Russia," Mr. Clinton said, "a Russia strong enough to protect its territory, while respecting that of its neighbors; strong enough to meet threats to its security; to help maintain strategic stability; to join with others to meet common goals; to give its people their chance to meet common goals."

In many respects, his speech paralleled others he has given during his presidency to foster democracy around the world.

In Russia, he said the time had come to diversify the economy and to fight crime and corruption "so that investment will not choose safer shores."

"You should be part of making the rules of the road for the 21st century economy," he said.

And in a reprise of his remarks Sunday at a news conference with Mr. Putin in the Kremlin, Mr. Clinton said the national missile-defense system he was considering deploying in the United States would not undermine the balance of nuclear power or Russia's "strategic stability."

Mr. Putin, fearing such prospects, opposes any changes in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would allow Mr. Clinton to proceed unencumbered with a missile-defense system to shield the country from threats from North Korea, Iran, Iraq and other "rogue states." But Mr. Clinton said Monday that he was looking to compromise.

"The question is not whether this threat is emerging. It is," he said. "The question is what is the best way to deal with it."