TED Case Studies

Chernobyl and Trade

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          CASE NUMBER:        228  
          CASE NAME:          Chernobyl Nuclear Accident


1.        The Issue
     In the early morning of April 26, 1986, workers at the
Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located twenty miles north of
Chernobyl, Ukraine, U.S.S.R., began shutting down safety and
cooling systems in order to run a turbine experiment to test an
emergency turbine shutdown scenario.  The shutdown of these
systems inadvertently caused the reactor of the plant to
overheat, resulting in an explosion which tore the roof
completely off of the plant's reactor four.  The explosion
ignited fires in various parts of the plant and sent a huge
radioactive cloud into the atmosphere.  This radioactive cloud
drifted over much of Europe, dumping large amounts of radioactive
nuclides onto the Ukraine and most European countries.  The
Chernobyl explosion quickly became the worst nuclear power
accident in history.  The immediate effect of the blast was 31
dead from radiation poisoning, with a still unknown number of
deaths that may be caused by long-term radiation sickness.  The
accident also caused unquantifiable economic losses for the
U.S.S.R. and Europe, and weakened both the Soviet government and
the global nuclear power industry.

2.        Description

     The genesis of the now-infamous explosion at Reactor Four of
Chernobyl nuclear power plant began only a day before the actual
explosion on April 25, 1986.  On April 25, plant technicians
began to reduce power levels in the plant in order to run an
experiment with the reactor's main turbine.  The plant's
technicians wanted to see if, whether, in the event of a power
cut, the declining momentum of the turbines could generate enough
electricity to power the pumps for forty or fifty seconds before
the standby diesel generators took over. Early on April 26, the
actual experiment began by stopping power to the main turbine. 

     the flow of the water that normally cooled the reactor
     was reduced and certain safety devices were disengaged. 
     The reactor immediately began to overheat dangerously,
     but since the emergency cooling system had been shut
     off some twelve hours earlier, there was no backup. 
     Within seconds, there was a tremendous power surge that
     caused two explosions, blew the roof off the reactor
     building and ignited more than 30 fires around the
     plant.  The damaged reactor core and the graphite
     surrounding it began burning at temperatures as high as

The tremendous explosion from the reactor sent a radioactive
"plume" of radionuclides into the upper atmosphere, where they
began to drift westward towards the rest of Europe.  According to
Segerstahl "from 26 to 28 April, a high-pressure area over
northeast Europe carried the plume northward, at first affecting
the U.S.S.R., then later northeast Poland and Scandinavia where
radiation monitors in Sweden and Denmark indicated abnormally
high readings.  The triggering of these monitors was the first
indication in Western Europe that a significant nuclear accident
had occurred".  

     Although reports about a possible Russian nuclear disaster
began to trickle out in Western newspapers, the Russians denied
that any such explosion occurred.  However, the Soviets had
quickly sprung into action immediately following the explosion. 
Soviet firefighters using military helicopters finally managed to
extinguish the blaze in reactor four by dumping between 5,000 and
6,000 tons of boron, lead and other materials onto the reactor
core.  Twelve days after the accident, the final fire was
extinguished.  In addition to fighting the blaze, the Russians
began evacuating villages within close proximity to Chernobyl
within 36 hours after the blast, including the entire town of
Pripyat, the city closest to the Chernobyl plant.  According to
Zhores Medvedev, the total number of towns and villages evacuated
was 186 (2 towns and 184 villages), some as far away as 80km
west, north and north-west of the reactor site.

     The total number of people evacuated from these towns runs
as high as 180,000.  Once the reactor fires had been
extinguished, the Soviets began the work on entombing reactor
four.  The did this by constructing a cement and lead
"sarcophagus" around the reactor.  The Soviets accomplished this
task using a combination of manually operated cranes and robot
machinery to construct the massive sarcophagus structure around
the reactor.  By November 15, 1986, the Soviet newspaper Pravda
reported that construction on the sarcophagus had been
successfully completed.  

     The international implications of the disaster were severe
for both the Soviet Union and Europe. For the Soviets, the
disaster represented a major embarrassment for a regime that was
not only in the throes of a struggle with the United States, but
that had only recently began a much publicized campaign of
perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness).  The
disaster also had the effect of closing down future construction
of nuclear reactors in the Soviet Union.  For Europe, both
Eastern and Western, the Chernobyl catastrophe had two results. 
First, the catastrophe had the effect of causing wide-spread
agricultural loss in a wide variety of countries, up to two years
after the explosion.  A wide variety of agricultural crops and
grazing animals, were found to have absorbed large amounts of
contaminants (through rain water or grazing in affected areas),
and deemed unsuitable for human consumption.  Chernobyl also had
the effect of stopping, at least temporarily, the construction of
nuclear power plants in many European countries (although many
chose to resume construction, years after Chernobyl, of plants
that had been abandoned after the accident).

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     ESTONIA case
     IRISH case
     RUSSNUKE case

     Keyword Clusters

     (1): Trade Product                 =    Utilities [UTIL]
     (2): Bio-geography                 =    Temperate [TEMP]
     (3): Environmental Problem         =    Pollution [POLA]

4.        Draft Author:  Marc Guess

B.        Legal Clusters

5.        Discourse and Status:   NONE and NONE

     The Chernobyl nuclear accident did not produce any type of
legal challenge aimed at the Soviet Union for the disaster.  As
Chris Park pointed out in his Chernobyl study; "The ultimate
question facing all parties who have suffered as a result of
Chernobyl is "Who will foot the bill?".  Logically the Soviet
Union should offer to meet the compensation costs incurred by
governments across Europe.  On May 16, 1986 the European
Parliament urged EEC ministers to evaluate the damage caused by
the accident and then present Moscow with a bill.  There are no
reports that any country had done this within the following two
years, and similarly no signs that the Russians were volunteering
to pay".  However, a legal challenge may have been impossible
because the Russians did allow for IAEA inspection of the
Chernobyl site during the period of containment, and also briefed
the IAEA leadership during May and June of 1986 about the status
of the site cleanup.  Although neither the IAEA inspection nor
the Russians relative openness concerning details of the disaster
relieved them of responsibility for the disaster, it did lessen
international criticism.  This relative openness, as well as
other nations unwillingness to attack the Soviet Union too
directly at such a vulnerable moment, resulted in no legal

6.        Forum and Scope:   RUSSIA and MULTIlateral
     At least twenty-six nations, including the Soviet Union and
its (then) Republics would have been affected in some degree, by
the radioactive plume that originated in Chernobyl.  All twenty-
four countries recorded heightened levels of radiation as a cause
of the accident, as well as some form of economic loss as a
result of the radiation.  All of these nations are members of the
United Nations, where any legal challenge or discourse concerning
the disaster would take place.

7.        Decision Breadth:   26 Countries

     Because the radioactive plume from reactor four crossed
borders, a variety of international organizations became involved
in the investigation, assessment and cleanup that resulted from
the disaster.  Organizations involved included the United Nations
General Assembly, United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP),
the European Union (EU).  Important in assessing the process of
the disaster was the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),
and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which
conducted wide-ranging computer simulation exercises about the
path and effects of the radionuclide plume from Reactor Four.

8.        Legal Standing:   TREATY

     The nation responsible for the Chernobyl catastrophe, was,
at the time, bound by two agreements that could have effected the
safety of the Chernobyl plant.  First, the Soviet Union was a
member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose
job it is to regulate the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as
well as to monitor the commercial use of nuclear power (in order
that it not be used for proliferating weapons-making capability). 
Under its IAEA obligation, the Soviet Union did live up to its
requirements.  Between August 25-29, the Soviet delegation to the
IAEA provided a detailed report to that body outlining the
disaster and the steps taken to contain the breached reactor
core.  Under IAEA membership, it was not required to do more.  As
Sergestahl pointed out "The IAEA can only verify information
submitted to it on national nuclear programs.  It cannot demand
access of information, and thus does not have anything like the
powers of an international policeman".

     The other legal treaty that may have bound the Soviet
government legally to the Chernobyl disaster was the Treaty on
the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which was signed
on July 1, 1968, and to which the Soviet Union was a party to. 
However, the NPT sought to work through the IAEA, as it states in
its preamble, where signatory nations are shown as "Expressing
their support for research, development and other efforts to
further the application, within the framework of the
International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards system, of the
principle of safeguarding effectively the flow of source and
special fissionable materials...".  In any case, no legal case
was made against the Soviet Union concerning Chernobyl under the
cloak of the NPT, and in fact no nation made a serious attempt to
have its inspectors tour the facility.  Considering what an
embarrassment the disaster had been for the Russians, it is
unlikely that any government would have pressed such a case.

C.        GEOGRAPHIC Clusters

9.        Geographic Locations

     a.   Geographic Domain   :    EUROPE    

     b.   Geographic Site     :    [WEUR] and [EEUR]

     c.   Geographic Impact   :    UKRAINE

     Areas affected by the radionuclide plume from Chernobyl
 include the Soviet Union, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Norway,
Denmark, West Germany, East Germany, Luxembourg, France, Belgium,
Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia,
Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain,
Portugal, England and Ireland.

10.       Sub-National Factors:   NO

     All of the countries affected possessed their own regulatory
structures for dealing with nuclear power.  While many of the
Western European nations follow standards agreed upon by the EU,
they are responsible individually for regulating their own power

11.       Type of Habitat:  TEMPerate

D.        TRADE Clusters

12.       Type of Measure:   N\A

13.       Direct vs. Indirect Impacts:   DIRect

14.       Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact

     a.   Directly Related    :    YES  FOOD

     b.   Indirectly Related  :    YES  [SPLA]

     c.   Not Related:        :    NO

     d.   Process Related     :    YES  [HABIT]

15.       Trade Product Identification: [UTIL]

     Energy generated by nuclear means varies from country to
country.  Most major industrialized countries have some sort of
nuclear power infrastructure.  In the U.S., the use of nuclear
energy as commercial source of energy essentially froze after the
Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979.  In Europe however,
nuclear energy plays a larger role in civilian power needs.  In
France, for example, it is estimated that as much as 75% of power
needs are met by nuclear-generated energy.  It is important to
note that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant served almost
exclusively Russian/Ukrainian power needs at the time of the
disaster.  The Soviets also exported nuclear reactors of the
Chernobyl type (the RBMK-1000) to several Eastern European
countries, including East Germany and Poland.

     In other European countries, the use of nuclear power is
also extensive.  Despite the backlash against nuclear power that
followed Chernobyl, the economic costs of rejecting it as a power
source over the long-term were too high.  The Contemporary Review
noted in 1992 : "After Chernobyl several countries, such as
Sweden and Switzerland, voted to phase out nuclear power as soon
as practicable.  But when they looked into alternatives they
realized that they were even less attractive.  Coal is seriously
polluting, and is contributing to acid rain and to the greenhouse
effect.  Oil will become more expensive, and it is politically
undesirable to rely on it.  Hydroelectric power is already used
to the practicable limit in most European countries, and the
renewable sources such as wind and solar are not credible as
large-scale sources.  So the resolutions to phase out nuclear
power are being quietly forgotten".
16.       Economic Data

     Despite the fact that most authorities on the Chernobyl
accident agree that the total costs associated with the disaster
run into the billions of dollars, finding the economic data to
quantify losses is more difficult.  Concrete economic data on the
economic loss caused by the disaster was never made public by the
secrecy-obsessed Soviet government.  Even in the West, there
remains (largely academic) debate over the real costs of the
catastrophe.  In both Eastern and Western Europe, where the
Chernobyl fallout required neither medical intervention nor
evacuation and resettlement, agriculture bore the main direct
economic cost of the accident.  For the Soviet Union, the
losses include not only agricultural and livestock loss, but also
costs involved with medicine, evacuation, decontamination and
resettlement of persons displaced by the accident.

     Officially, Soviet estimates for the cost of the disaster
run from anywhere between 8 to 10 billion rubles.  Using the then
official Soviet exchange rate of $1.60 for one ruble, this would
put the economic cost of the disaster at roughly $16 billion.
However, most outside estimates are much larger.  Yury Shcherbak,
a green leader in the Ukraine, estimated "that crop losses from
contaminated land will run between 57 and 84.5 billion rubles by
the year 2000.  Shcherbak also estimated the cost of power not
generated by the destroyed reactor will run at least 67 billion
rubles, and another 35 to 40 billion will be spent on
resettlement costs, extra payments to radiation victims and
decontamination work.  He also assigned  10 billion rubles more
as losses on nuclear reactors that have to be closed and on
improving safety controls for those that stay open".

     In Europe, losses were much more modest, yet still caused
extensive loss to those countries that relied heavily on
agricultural exports.  Polish representatives to the IAEA meeting
in Vienna on August 25-29, 1986 reported that the EC ban on food
imports from Eastern Europe (a ban instituted by the EC shortly
after the explosion) had resulted in a financial loss to Poland
of about US $40 million.  Swedish officials estimated that "the
accident cost Sweden at least $144 million in ruined agricultural
products, and also threatened the livelihood of the Lapp nomads
who lived in central Sweden".  In Britain, "over 4 million sheep
were restricted from sale or slaughter.  One million more were
still affected and banned from the market two years later".  
Peter Gould estimates that compensation payments to British
farmers by the government for livestock loss were as high as $10
million dollars, and payments were still being made a year after
the disaster.

     Gould also reported that although most of the Turkish tea
crop was badly contaminated, Turkish officials played down the
radiation levels because replacing the tea would have costs
millions in hard currency that the country did not have.  He
reported that the Austrian government paid out at least $80
million to its strawberry farmers because the entire strawberry
crop was badly contaminated and had to be abandoned.17  A variety
of other crops were destroyed or discarded because of radiation,
including green vegetables in Italy, spinach crops in the
Netherlands, etc.  Estimated losses from Poland, Britain, Austria
and Sweden alone total $274 million dollars.

     Total trade losses have never been compiled, but Boris
Segerstahl noted that "As a whole, exports for 1986 were 13%
below the average for the preceding two years and the following
years".  Despite the noticeable drop in the export level for
1986, it is still unclear whether Chernobyl was responsible, and
Segerstahl goes on to say that the drop could be attributed to
economic factors that existed before Chernobyl. 

17.       Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness:  LOW

     Nuclear power in the Soviet Union was established in order
to fulfill primarily domestic needs.  Little to no power
generated by the Chernobyl plant was "exported" abroad.  Thus the
effect of a "trade restriction" on Soviet nuclear energy exports
would have been minimal.  However, the Soviets did export their
reactors to different parts of the Eastern Bloc.  Sales for most
of these reactors (including the RBMK-1000 model found at
Chernobyl) were made on a barter/trade basis through COMECON, the
Eastern Bloc trade association.  After Chernobyl, demand for
Soviet reactors disappeared, which could be considered a "trade
ban" or "trade restriction" of sorts.

18.       Industry Sector:    [UTIL] and [EMACH]

19.       Exporter and Importer:   N\A

E.        ENVIRONMENT Clusters

20.       Environmental Problem Type:   [POLA], [POLS], [POLL]

     The Chernobyl blast succeeded in rendering large areas of
landuninhabitable because of the high levels of radiation/nuclide
pollution that saturated them.  The area within a 30km radium
area of Chernobyl was estimated to have been polluted with as
much as 20MCI (microcuries) of fission and transuranic
(plutonium, neptunium and curium) isotopes.  Such high
radiation levels will leave agricultural land within that zone
uninhabitable and useless to agriculture for at least a
generation.  In addition to the 30km zone, the Soviet government
set up "orange zones" in several areas around Pripyat, Chernobyl,
Chechersk, Kiev, Slavgorod, Vetka, Vyshkov, Zlynka, Novosybsk and
Krasnopol in the R.S.F.S.R. and Byelorussian S.S.R..  Most of
these orange zones have been declared unfit for cultivation, and
will remain off limits to cultivation and settlement well into
the next century.

21.       Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

     Name:          MANY

     Type:          MANY

     Diveristy:     MANY

     Various types of species suffered disproportionately from
the fallout from Chernobyl's nuclear plume.  Among those species
affected were the fish of the rivers located near Chernobyl,
Moose and Reindeer populations in Scandinavia, etc.  In addition,
the livestock population of the Ukraine, particularly cattle and
pigs, suffered heavily.  Large numbers of calves born in the
agricultural regions around Chernobyl suffered from birth defects
and Moscow News reported that large numbers of "freak" calves
were born with various types of genetic mutations and variances. 
In addition, most beef from cattle in the central Ukrainian
farming region was reported to suffer from radiation levels that
rendered it dangerous to consume.

22.       Resource Impact and Effect:   HIGH and SCALE

     The immediate impact of the Chernobyl disaster was high upon
some species.  The radioactive plume that rained down upon
Scandinavia had a particularly hard effect on the reindeer and
moose population in the highlands of Finland and Central Sweden. 
For example, in Sweden, over 14,000 Moose were captured and
exterminated because of the extremely high levels of caesium
(radiation) found in their system.  Even when a species was not
directly contaminated, high levels of radiation in foliage
effects the food chain.  In Sweden and Norway, for example, a
lemming might eat berries and seeds covered with caesium fallout,
and since small animals can eat their own weight in food quickly
the caesium can concentrate to high levels, even in areas of only
moderate fallout.  Then the lemming might be caught by a
gyrfalcon or snowy owl so that the caesium concentrated in its
flesh is eaten by the bird.  This same problem would be
prevalent in the fish populations affected by the fallout.  In
addition, scientists have yet to quantify the long-term effects
on animal and fish populations in areas that were exposed to
heavy fallout. 

23.       Urgency and Lifetime:    MEDium and 100s of years

     Although the Chernobyl disaster did not directly threaten
any animal populations existence, the effects from prolonged
exposure to radiation may proved harmful to most species in the
long-term.  Because complications and cancer from low or moderate
exposure to radiation take so long to mature, the real effects of
the Chernobyl blast on human and animal populations may take
years to show.  According to one American biologist, deaths
related to Chernobyl induced cancers will only begin to show over
a fifty year time span.

24.       Substitutes:   ALTER and CONSV

     Over the past twenty-five years, Europe has moved further
and further towards dependence on nuclear energy as a primary
power source to fulfill energy needs.  As was mentioned in part
15, the Europeans have found most other energy sources either too
polluting, expensive or impractical.  Nuclear power in Western
Europe also has a much more impressive record of safety than any
other region in the world. 

F.        OTHER Factors

25.       Culture:  NO

26.       Trans-Border:  YES

     The trans-border significance of the Chernobyl disaster are
obvious, and yet no legal or diplomatic framework has been
established since Chernobyl that would adjudicate cross-border
nuclear pollution cases.  Because most nations tend not to see
civilian nuclear power in the same way they might see military
nuclear energy, the legal trans-border aspects seem to have been
largely ignored or forgotten since Chernobyl.

27.       Rights:   NO

28.       Relevant Literature

The Economist.  "Not just a nuclear explosion", April 27, 1991.
     Feshbach, Murray and Friendly, Alfred.  Ecocide in the
     U.S.S.R.. Basic Books, New York, (1992).

Gould, Peter.  Fire in the Rain.  Johns Hopkins University Press,
     Baltimore, (1990).

Hodgson, Peter. "Chernobyl After Five Years".  Contemporary 
     Review. (July, 1992).

Lewis, H.W..  "The Accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
     and Its Consequences".  Environment. (November, 1986).

Medvedev, Zhores A.  The Legacy of Chernobyl.  W.W. Norton
     Company, New York, (1990).

Miller, E. Willard and Miller, Ruby M.  Environmental Hazards. 
     ABC-CLIO, Inc., Santa Barbara, (1990).

Mould, Richard F.  Chernobyl: The Real Story.  Pergamon Press, 
     Oxford, (1988).

Park, Chris C.  Chernobyl: The Long Shadow.  Routledge, London,

Read, Piers Paul.  Ablaze.  Random House, New York, (1993).

Sergerstahl, Boris, ed.  Chernobyl: A Policy Response Study.  
     (Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1986).

Serrill, Michael S.  "Anatomy of a Catastrophe".  Time Magazine. 
     (September 1, 1986).

Thompson, Gordon.  "What happened at Reactor Four".  Bulletin of
     Atomic Scientists.  (August/September, 1986).

Williams, Dillwyn.  "Chernobyl, eight years on".  Nature. 
     (October 13, 1994).


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