Nuclear Energy: Risks, Safety and Ethics and How is COVID-19 linked to the Chernobyl Phenomenon?

2021-05-31 10:00

On Thursday, May 20, another online event was held within the project The 14th Ecumenical Social Week. This time we discussed the nuclear energy, its ecological and ethic dimensions for Ukraine and the world.

The experts, who participated: Serhii Plokhii, Professor of the History of Ukraine at Harvard University, Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University; Vitalii Demianiuk, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at the NT-Engineering company, Ukrainian engineer, entrepreneur, public activist, philanthropist; Oleh Pokalchuk, social psychologist and Volodymyr Sheremeta, Head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church Ecobureau.

The event was moderated by Oksana Kulakovska, Director of the Analytical Center and the Kyiv Center of UCU.

“Pope Francis accentuates that we should apply the interdisciplinary approach to the environmental issue. And our Ecumenical Social Week strives to do this. The today meeting is a vivid example of this approach. When a scholar, an engineer, a historian, a theologian and a psychologist sit at the same “virtual table” and learn from each other and give us, the participants, chance to learn and to investigate the issue of the nuclear energy from different points of view” - Pavlo Smytsnyuk, the director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of UCU, addressed the audience.

We discussed the Chernobyl tragedy, its consequences for Ukraine and the world. Serhii Plokhii, the director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University focused on:

“The nuclear clouds of Chernobyl crossed the Iron Curtain without any passport control and became the all European and world event… In the West, Chernobyl is perceived as the reminder that the nuclear energy is extremely dangerous, thus, we should be really careful with the nuclear stations and reactors, we have today.

We have more experience than the others and it is worth sharing, however, being in a dialogue with the world.”


Rev. Dr. Iwan Dacko, the president of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, also joined the discussion, he mentioned that Chernobyl became the starting point of the declaration of the independence of Ukraine.

Besides, we talked over the risks and the safety of the nuclear energy exploitation, overcoming the traumas after the Chernobyl tragedy, that we need to deal with, not due to the refusal from the nuclear energy, but due to the creation of the transparent professional approach and safe-technological sphere in the society.

It was accentuated, namely, by Vitalii Demianiuk, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board at the NT-Engineering company.

“The Chernobyl tragedy gave a push to a profound reconsideration of the safety culture in the sphere of the nuclear appliances’ exploitation and the criteria of this safety… We should focus on how to manage and control the risks of the nuclear energy and how to minimize them. To achieve this goal we need the safety culture development on the technological and institutional levels” - the engineer believes. He also described the new world trends and the modern technologies in this sphere.

Besides, the debaters shared the examples of teaching the environmental consciousness in order to achieve more economical use of energy and lively discussed to what extent is the use of the nuclear energy applicable from the ethic point of view.

“The nuclear energy pursues ethically good and legitimate goals, regarding the production of energy for the human consumption needs and has certain environmental advantages in comparison to other sources of energy, namely, the thermal power stations. On the other hand, the history of the nuclear energy is very rich in terms of accidents at the NPPs, and also at the enterprises for processing and storing of the radioactive waste. Besides, it is characterized by the risks, that can emerge at any moment in the form of a nuclear catastrophe with global social-environmental consequences, as it happened in Chernobyl. Nuclear energy is not a goal in itself, but only the tool for the production of energy for the human wealth and correspondingly it should not threat his well-being. In this meaning, safer tools, in particular, the renewable sources of energy are more important.

From the ethic point of view, we can tolerate it as a kind of a bridge to more sustainable and more responsible energy future and the sustainable development of the Ukrainian society” - Volodymyr Sheremeta, Head of the UGCC Bureau on Environmental Issues, stated.

The researcher also accentuated that every person is called to obtain and apply the appropriate environmental knowledge, namely, in the sphere of the efficient energy management and use. “This should become the part of culture and everyday behaviour. And for the Christians such eco-energy awareness should constitute their testimony of faith in the Creator of the world” - the speaker concluded.

Vitalii Demianiuk is also convinced of the importance of the nuclear energy ethic component: “To achieve the appropriate level of the management and safety culture in the sphere of the nuclear energy, we should take into consideration the ethics, when the culture is based on the level of core values, but not the remuneration and punishment. We should achieve this level of ethics, as it allows the experts in this filed have the responsibility that provides the appropriate safety”.

But the social psychologist Oleh Pokalchuk, on the contrary, outlined three components of the management system: remuneration, punishment and reaction to a mistake. In particular “It is essential to cultivate the understanding of how to parse a mistake. The Chernobyl mistake was investigated by ourselves and the whole world long ago. But its case is not implemented in the manufacturing and management culture. The sharp reluctance to admit even the possibility of one’s mistake dominates everything and paralyses even creative managers”.

The psychologist also drew parallels between the Chernobyl phenomenon and the modern situation with COVID-19: “The Chernobyl phenomenon has caused two things: it has created a large ground for neuroses, that are today intensified, developed and mutated in the Covid manner in the society. At the same time, it showed us the limits of the existence finitude, the existential problem, and proved that it is not as bad for the spirituality of people to be less vain… The world health community draws a sign of equality between the Chernobyl and the Covid situation from both the positive and the destructive perspectives. I unite the Chernobyl and the Covid catastrophes as one long tragic arc over the notes, which, unfortunately, is formative and creates certain patterns of national behaviour, that means a serious challenge for me, we should fight against” - and added: “The new world – new relationships, it is not possible to fight new challenges with old public, social tools”.

At the end, the historian Serhii Plokhii concluded: “For me, similar events show that we can talk about the transformation of the memory about Chernobyl and the society gradually is taking the responsibility not only for the past, but also for the present and the future. As the public opinion will take very significant part in creating namely the nuclear energy”.

The online event gathered the attendees from different cities of Ukraine: Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne, Kyiv, and also such countries – Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the USA.

I would like to remind that this is already the second event within the project The 14th Ecumenical Social Week, which is devoted to the theme of the Sustainable Development this year.

The event was organized in the partnership with the Analytical Center of the Ukrainian Catholic University with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Ukraine and the assistance of the Public Partnership Department of Lviv City Council.

Anna Hrapeniuk

Video in Ukrainian