Medvedev spoke alongside Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich at a solemn ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine when a reactor exploded, sending radiation billowing across Europe.
The ceremony, at which the two leaders paid homage to the clean-up workers and victims of the 1986 accident, took on added significance amid efforts by Japan to control the crisis at its Fukushima plant, damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.
A jarring note came from Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko whose country suffered as badly as Ukraine from the Chernobyl disaster. Touring border areas in his own country affected by the Chernobyl accident, Lukashenko described Yanukovich as a “lousy” leader for leaving him out of Chernobyl anniversary events at the behest of European Union leaders.
The crisis at Fukushima and what happened at Chernobyl 25 years ago meant new rules had to be developed on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and safety, Medvedev said.
“Today, I sent proposals to (world) leaders ... aimed at guaranteeing the necessary development of nuclear energy in the world while preventing at the same time catastrophic global consequences,” the Russian leader said.
But Medvedev, who may run for a second term in the Kremlin in an election next March, also put the emphasis on the need for governments to come clean in the event of a nuclear accident.
“The duty of a state is to tell the truth to its people. It must be acknowledged that the (Soviet) state did not always behave correctly,” he said.
“In order for such tragedies never to be repeated we must all be honest, we must provide absolutely exact information about what is going on,” he said.
His words amounted to an acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Moscow since the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was then a part, delayed announcement of the full scale of the Chernobyl accident for some days.
But they could equally be taken as veiled criticism of Japan’s handling of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant which was hit by a March 11 earthquake followed by a tsunami.
On April 26, 1986, the No 4 reactor at the Chernobyl plant exploded and caught fire after a safety test experiment went badly wrong. The blast sent radiation billowing across Europe.
A total of 31 people died immediately but many more died of radiation-related sicknesses such as cancer, many of them in what is today Belarus.
Last week the world community, spurred by the crisis in Japan, pledged €550 million to help build a new containment shell over the stricken Chernobyl reactor.