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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

This Beast Took Too Long to Kill

With a ceremonial flick of a switch on Friday, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant will shut down. Forever. Good riddance.

On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl was the site of the world?s worst civil nuclear disaster. Thirty-one people died immediately; thousands more have perished since. Hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Valery Pishchikov-, the Ukrainian Health Ministry official in charge of the Chernobyl aftermath, said last month that one in 16 Ukrainians ? 3.4 million people ? suffers from serious health problems because of the disaster. In both Ukraine and Belarus, hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in irradiated zones that are, by any reasonable standard, not fit for habitation.

Chernobyl will forever remain a symbol of an appalling disaster that, for all its horror, could easily have been far worse.

However, Chernobyl is also a symbol of something else. As glad as we are to see this monster die, we can?t help but wonder: What took so long? After all, the plug is being pulled on Chernobyl just a few months shy of the 15th anniversary of the catastrophe.

The answer is that the world?s half-hearted effort to shut down the plant has been a disgrace and a slap in the face of public opinion. Chernobyl is a symbol of the failure of the international community to cope vigorously with a straightforward problem.

Although virtually everyone has spoken out against Chernobyl-type reactors, 14 of them continue to operate to this day. Experts affirm that the system "raises very serious safety problems."

Very little Western assistance has been dedicated to this issue, and much of what has been given has been frivolously wasted. In March 1999, all 20 members of the European Commission resigned amid scandalous fraud accusations. One of the key charges was that $300 million set aside for improving nuclear safety at Chernobyl-type plants had been "almost entirely ineffective."

Even worse, the West continues to purchase low-cost electricity from the former Soviet Union, sometimes even shutting down its own, safer nuclear plants and subsidizing the operation of these dangerous time bombs.

It?s true that successive Ukrainian governments have played the Chernobyl card in order to get Western attention and assistance. However, this does not excuse the West?s failure to actively engage or even pressure Ukraine to cooperate on this problem or its failure to tackle the problem of potential Chernobyls in Russia. Governments that call themselves democracies should not be so contemptuous of global public opinion.

Even dismantled, Chernobyl remains a symbol that we can?t afford to forget. Those living with its consequences certainly won?t.