EIGHTEEN years after the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in Ukraine, as many as 359 Welsh farms are still restricted in moving sheep as a result.

The disclosure was made by Wales Office Minister Don Touhig in a parliamentary answer to Blaenau Gwent Labour MP Llew Smith.

Mr Touhig also revealed that the affected area, in Snowdonia, amounts to 53,000 hectares, the equivalent of 83 square miles or a city the size of Cardiff.

Mr Smith said, “I have been asking questions about this for many long years, tracking the impact the Chernobyl explosion is still having in Wales.

“I have always been an opponent of nuclear power, even in the days when people were saying it would produce electricity that was so cheap it would not even be worth metering it. In fact, of course, it has turned out to be the most costly and certainly the most dangerous means of generating fuel.

“Chernobyl showed how nuclear accidents can not only be deadly to those in the area immediately affected, but have an impact thousands of miles away. I strongly believe that all nuclear power should be scrapped.”

Glyn Roberts, of Ysbyty Ifan in the Conwy Valley, is one of the farmers whose land remains affected by the sheep movement restrictions. He has worked in agriculture since 1977.

He said, “I have two farms, and it’s the one on higher ground that is affected. What the restriction means is that we cannot take lambs to market who have been grazed there unless they have been screened for radiation.

“We have to put red paint on the lambs’ neck and only once it has been declared safe can it be given a tag on the ear which means it is safe to enter the food chain. I have to hire someone to do the painting, but we get compensation from the National Assembly.

“About three or four years ago I had a lamb that was above the radioactivity threshold of 100 becquerels per kilogram. After a few weeks on lower ground it was below the level, showing that it is the vegetation on the upper areas that remains radioactive.

“We don’t know how long this restriction will remain – how long is a piece of string? It’s convinced me that nuclear power is something we can do without. I know there is quite a bit of opposition to wind farms, but I would rather have the beauty of our landscape spoiled than have the risks associated with nuclear power.”

Caernarfon Plaid Cymru AM Alun Ffred Jones said, “I knew there was still a problem, but I’m surprised to hear that so many farms are still affected. It’s incredible that there is still a risk of radiation after so many years. I think it underlines the serious drawbacks that go with nuclear power.

“It does not make sense to produce electricity from nuclear energy and the only long-term alternative is using natural resources like wind.”

Mr Smith was also told that 153 farms in Northern Ireland are in a similar position. At least £13m has been paid out in compensation to British farmers.

Four years ago a research study showed some parts of northern Europe including Wales were not cleaning itself as quickly as had been hoped.

It is now likely to be up to 50 years before all restrictions are scrapped.

Long-term health hazards have emerged slowly from nuclear accident
ON APRIL 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power accident occurred at Chernobyl in Ukraine, then a Soviet republic. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant located 80 miles north of Kiev had four reactors and while testing reactor number 4 numerous safety procedures were disregarded.

At 1.23am the chain reaction in the reactor got out of control creating explosions and a fireball which blew off the reactor’s heavy steel and concrete lid.

The Chernobyl accident killed more than 30 people immediately, and as a result of the high radiation levels in the surrounding 20-mile radius, 135,000 people had to be evacuated.

There have been lasting health consequences. For example, between 1981 and 1985 the average thyroid cancer rate was four to six incidents per million Ukrainian young children (birth to 15 years). Between 1986 and 1997 this rose to 45 incidents per million.