- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Come see the glow
A seemingly insurmountable problem like nuclear contamination requires a creative approach, and U.N. officials think they have found one in the latest efforts to assist the survivors of Chernobyl.
Oh sure, it sounds like something out of a U.N. version of "The Producers," where unscrupulous bureaucrats come up with a scheme so implausible that donor governments will line up to fund it.
But the researchers at the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance seem quite earnest about it.
A 75-page report on the overall situation in the region a swath of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine describes the effects of the accident at Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor and the persistent hardships faced by survivors 16 years later.
It notes that "little attempt had been made to exploit the reduction of human disturbance to the ecosystems and cultural landscape in a positive way" and calls on authorities in the region to examine "the possibilities for promoting specialized ecological tourism."
In short, the area around the crippled power plant has been allowed to return to nature or whatever nature becomes after it is permeated by radioactive cesium.
"It sounds odd, but the restricted areas have actually developed over the last 16 years or so into an extraordinary environmental opportunity," Kalman Mizsei, the UNDP's Chernobyl specialist, told reporters last week.
"The natural environment has returned there. It is a huge area that is very natural, with lots of wildlife and unique types of animals."
Leaving aside sci-fi images of 6-foot-tall, two-headed squirrels, there is no question that Chernobyl has transformed the vicinity.
About 6 million people were affected by the accident on April 26, 1986, including many who developed thyroid cancer and other radiation-related illnesses.
So far, Chernobyl has been an isolated incident. The United Nations says the risk of another accident at any of the 400 operating power plants is "highly unlikely."
But that's not the only risk out there. Today, a lot of people are thinking worrying, actually about how to cope with what seems a more likely scenario of sabotage: "dirty bombs" spiked with radioactive material, potentially used in terrorist attacks.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects most of the planet's nuclear power plants and issues guidelines on safety, since September 11 has stepped up warnings about the likelihood of attacks on such generating facilities by suicide bombers.

Tibet group nixed
A well-known Tibet advocacy organization will be blocked from attending the upcoming U.N. conference on sustainable development after China last week blocked consideration of its application.
The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet was denied accreditation after Beijing said the group advocated splitting the territory from China. The development conference, a follow-up to the Rio conference on the environment, will be held in Johannesburg this year. It is expected to draw more than 60,000 delegates, including heads of state.
Tibetan groups participated in the last major U.N. conference, against racism and xenophobia, but they are routinely shut out of international gatherings.

Rep. Hall to FAO?
The Bush administration is poised to name Rep. Tony P. Hall as the next U.S. representative to the Rome-based U.N. food and agriculture programs, according to Washington scuttlebutt.
The Ohio Democrat has traveled to North Korea and other famine spots on fact-finding missions, and he is the foremost proponent of hunger issues in Congress.
At one time, Mr. Hall, 60, was expected to replace Catherine Bertini, an American, as head of the World Food Program (WFP) at the expiration this year of her second term.
Washington has not had a Rome-based ambassador to the WFP or the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since George McGovern, a former South Dakota senator, resigned in October.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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