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Belarusian nuclear
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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Nuclear energy is safe if past mistakes are avoided

Written by
Ken Brockman, an experienced professional in nuclear energy, held senior positions at U.S. agencies and bodies engaged in designing nuclear reactors and supervising their operation. As an IAEA expert he took part in the development of international standards for nuclear reactors and nuclear cycle installations. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his research in nuclear safety in 2005. He donated the money (over $1 million) to North African countries to build children’s recuperation facilities. At present Ken Brockman is a senior nuclear safety consultant at a company specializing on nuclear safety solutions for companies using radioactive materials. The scientist came to Gomel to mark the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. This way he wanted to demonstrate solidarity with Belarusian people. Besides, the expert has a number of friends here, including fellow scientists. There was one more reason to come to Gomel: Ken Brockman was named the Honorary Doctor of the Gomel State Medical University. A solemn ceremony of presenting a diploma, badge and certificate was held at a session of the scientific council of the university on 25 April. Following the ceremony the scientist agreed to answer questions of a BelTA journalist. Mr Brockman, let me give you my complements on receiving the title of the Honorary Doctor. My first question is: Do you have plans to cooperate with the university? This is my second visit to Gomel. Last year when I gave a lecture for students and the teaching staff of the university, I was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge and competence of the audience, though radiation safety is not their major. Back then we discussed the reasons and aftermath of the Fukushima accident. Some views and ideas that I heard were very interesting. I was also surprised by the efforts of the Belarusian government to improve the healthcare situation in the Chernobyl-affected areas. The university graduates will help local residents to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl aftermath. Therefore an idea came to my mind to help the university improve the training of future doctors. I have plans to set up an association that will embrace doctors of sciences, representatives of the U.S. Department of Education, and medical professionals. We will send them to Gomel to build partner relations with the university. The ultimate goal is to raise the quality of training and its recognition. Next time I go to Gomel, I will bring experts with me. How are you feeling here, in Gomel? Does a specialist like you, who knows exactly what “radionuclide” stands for, have some sort of radiophobia? I feel fantastic. I love local cuisine. In general, I prefer organic food. I know that Belarusians have high standards for quality and cleanness of the local produce. It is really so. Thus, there are no phobias whatsoever and my wife who is accompanying me on this trip is collecting the local recipes so that we could cook the same dishes when we are back home, in America. How can you evaluate the programs and measures to protect the people from the Chernobyl-hit regions, from the point of view of science? So far I am not familiar with all the programs and measures that have been implemented to reduce the impact of radiation. I am planning to carefully study them in the next year or two. However, I know that one of the priorities of the President's policy is to provide maximum assistance to the people living here. And what I saw was impressive. For example, the National Center for Radiation Medicine and Human Ecology. I believe that this is the world-standard approach to dealing with radiation. Equipment, R&D, personnel, labor management, foreign specialists (we met several surgeons from other countries there), everything is great! The recuperation program for children who go abroad for 6-8 weeks deserves every praise. This is one of the most important programs. I know that many children from the Mogilev and Gomel regions spend summer vacations in the State of Georgia, about 100 miles from where I live. We will visit them in America and invite into our home. My opinion is that the Belarusian authorities are doing the right things in the development of healthcare and recovery of people. As an IAEA expert, are you familiar with the new nuclear power plant project in Belarus and how do you evaluate it in terms of safety? Thanks for a very direct question. I was involved in this project and carefully studied it from the moment when the decision was made to start building the nuclear power station. We analyzed whether it would be appropriate for Belarus. And the more information we received, the more we were inclined to give the green light to the project. First of all, we need to point out the technologies which will be used in this project. Russian technology is one of the leading technologies in the world as far as engineering is concerned. Furthermore, the level of engineering will be enhanced with the high quality computers which are to be supplied from France. These two important components will result in perfect combination. And the fact that the project will be implemented by two Slavic countries will ensure good communication unlike the situation in Iran for example where engineers have to work using 5 different languages. In my opinion the future nuclear power plant will be compliant with all current European requirements. In a word, Belarus is moving in the right direction and everything is proceeding smoothly and gradually, encountering no issues. IAEA experts have always been known for their integrity and adherence to principles. Are there any disagreements or misunderstanding between you and Belarus’ partners? I cannot recall any big disagreements over the past two years of work. Everything has been smooth. However, as in any big undertaking, there are things that require more attention. Anyway, any disagreements should be taken as a positive factor. Because they make the sides compare their positions and find a solution. The main thing here is to keep these disagreements from turning into conflicts, to keep them constructive rather than destructive. It must be said that we have one important uniting factor. Both the Belarusian authorities and IAEA aim to protect the population of the country and use this energy for the people’s benefit. I think that all possible disagreements will be successfully resolved. As for cooperation between Belarus and Russia, disputes cannot be excluded here as well. You know two brothers can fight sometimes but they always remain brothers. What is your outlook for the future of nuclear energy on the global scale? We must admit that the renaissance of nuclear energy in the early 21st century started declining after 2010. At the same time I believe that the interest in this area will be increasing. Today our major priority is to ensure environmental protection. I believe that nuclear power will keep its place in the global energy supply system for the next two decades. Nuclear power can be used only on one condition, i.e. we need to learn the lessons of history and never repeat the mistakes of the past. When we build a nuclear power plant, the first thing we should focus on is safety, and only then its economic benefits. As an RS specialist, do you think solar radiation can be an obstacle for the manned mission to Mars? I do not think that there will be any difficulty with radiation protection technologies during the mission. The question is whether we need to spend all these huge resources on the mission at all. Perhaps, we need to take care of our planet first, and only then embark on the Mars mission. If it were me to decide on the project, I would suggest “bringing order into our yard first”. Valery Sidorchik
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