During his last visit to the exclusion zone in April 2017 Lukashenko said “a tremendous job” had been done to clean up the territory affected by radioactive pollution from the Chernobyl accident in 1986.
In the 31 years since the accident people have not been allowed to live or conduct agricultural business in the affected area. The decree has not yet been published and there are no certain projects announced, but if the plan is realised the country’s experts warn that meat produced in the region would be extremely dangerous for health.
Belarus environmental-protection organisation Green Net referred to the original strategy for exclusion zone management, which said that people should not return to the area earlier than 5-10 half-lives of the elements caesium and strontium, which equates to 100 to 300 years.
Yuri Voronezhtsev, nuclear physicist and one of the authors of the strategy, said that animals grown in the territories would accumulate both caesium and strontium in their bodies. In theory, caesium can be easily removed from the body, but strontium remains in tissues even if before slaughter the animals are fed on clean feed, he said.
“The half-life of plutonium-239 basically amounts to 24,000 years,” he said. “During the decay, plutonium-241 undergoes a transition into americium-241 and this process is very poorly investigated in world science. Nobody can say for sure how americium would pass through the food chain.”
In 2011 the former chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Vladimir Gusakov, said in a letter to the Emergency Ministry that studies showed high contamination density of long-lived radionuclides in the region. He said that “any agricultural activity in those territories will not be possible in the foreseeable future”. The advice was supported by all governmental agencies at the time.
The country’s meat businesses have refrained from commenting on the president’s decision. But the spokesperson of one company, on the condition of anonymity, said that he didn’t believe there would be many companies willing to build farms in the territory of a former exclusion zone. He also suggested the government should assess the impact of the decision as it may badly affect Belarus’ reputation as a meat exporter.
The Belarus Agricultural Ministry was not available for comment.