The news that the international engineering clean-up project at Chernobyl is becoming bogged down in bureaucracy and factionalism is depressing. If any undertaking symbolised the new world order, it was the effort by relatively affluent Western democracies to help the Ukrainians dispose of the Soviet regime’s most appalling legacies.
While continued inaction at Chernobyl carries a real danger of further environmental disaster, it would not have the international magnitude of the 1986 catastrophe which perhaps explains the lack of urgency on the remedial projects.
The same attitude is much in evidence in Western approaches to the threatened collapse of both the rouble and the Russian economy. The knock-on effect of the rouble devaluation at the beginning of the week will produce short-term winners and losers in the West. German bank stocks and the mark are likely to suffer due to their relatively big Russian exposure, but their loss should be their exporters’ gain to the detriment of manufacturers in the UK in particular, as investors switch to the more secure pound.
In both cases, the Western assumption seems to be that Russia will remain in a perpetual state of near-crisis, and that we all might as well profit from it as best we can in the short term because the unthinkable is never going to happen.
But Chernobyl was a stark reminder that the unthinkable can easily happen in a country with vast civil and military nuclear resources but insufficient financial ones to ensure that those in charge of them are regularly paid, let alone properly supervised. The engineering industry is used to taking a global perspective. It is time for it to be allowed to get on with the job in hand.