This post appeared on the original blog in 2007.

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Tributes to heroism of Chernobyl firefighters

By Eoin English
THOUSANDS of firefighters who lost their lives in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster were remembered at ceremonies in Cork and Dublin yesterday to mark the 19th anniversary of the accident. They gave their lives to prevent an atomic explosion at the plant which would have made Europe uninhabitable, the Chernobyl Children’s Project said.

Director Adi Roche said fires at the plant could have triggered a nuclear explosion 50 to 80 times the force of Hiroshima.

She paid tribute to the 25,000 “liquidators” who died and the 70,000 who are permanently disabled as a result of making the reactor safe.

While people had a “searing image” of the firefighters in 9/11, nobody had a similar understanding of the heroism of the “liquidators”, she said. She was speaking in Dublin where 19 children, each with a candle and a photograph of a worker, commemorated the men who died.

The Belarussian Ambassador to Britain, Dr Alyaksei Mazhukhou, said 1.5 million people, including 420,000 children, were still living in affected areas.

“Chernobyl remains a great burden for our people and our economy,” he said.

However, the future of recuperation visits to Ireland of children from the affected region remains uncertain.

In Cork, two white doves were released from City Hall during an ecumenical service attended by lord mayor Sean Martin and Ukrainian Ambassador Yevhen Perelygin.

The Greater Chernobyl Cause also announced it is sending an aid convoy to the Ukraine tomorrow. Included is an ultrasound machine that can detect early cancer in patients.

Meanwhile, Ms Roche warned that the consequences of the disaster would not be fully felt for another five decades.

Congenital birth defects have increased by 250% since the disaster, while one-in-four children in Belarus will develop thyroid abnormalities including cancer, she said. Environmentalist Duncan Stewart said the cement sarcophagus that covers the damaged reactor and which contains 97% of the plant’s lethal material is in need of repair, at a cost of €758 million. The Children’s Project called for the international community to help make the reactor safe and rebuild lives.