Chernobyl compensation in need of review as Welsh farmers suffer

Compensation payment rates for Welsh farmers whose land was contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident must be reviewed, the Farmers Union of Wales has said.

It is almost 20 years since the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.

The explosion on 26 April 1986 threw a cloud of dust into the atmosphere which later fell as radioactive rain on parts of Europe.

The resulting contamination led to widespread restrictions on farming. In North Wales sheep grazing hill land on 359 farms still have to be tested for caesium-137 radiation before they can be sold into the food chain.

Only sheep with less than 1000 becquerels of radio caesium can be slaughtered.

But animals can be retested after grazing non-contaminated land for four weeks.

Currently farmers are paid £1.30 for each animal monitored, a figure that has not changed since testing started on 8914 UK farms in the autumn of 1986.

“The cost to farmers of rounding up, penning and handling sheep from the 53,000ha (130,910 acres) of Welsh upland that is still contaminated has increased greatly over the last 20 years,” said Gareth Vaughan, FUW president.

“Monitoring is a consumer health issue and farmers should be properly compensated for working closely with those who carry out the radiation checks.”

On a visit to Dylasau Uchaf near Betws-y-Coed, farmed by FUW vice-president Glyn Roberts, he forecast that restrictions were likely to be in place for a considerable time in Wales.

Mr Roberts and his brother Eryl, who farms nearby, told him that they would never recover losses suffered when all sheep marketing was banned for several months in 1986.

Testing scheme

They recalled the farmer anger that led to Nicholas Edwards, the then secretary of state for Wales, being held captive in a North Wales hotel until he agreed that a testing and release scheme would be introduced soon.

“They were tough times, but we gradually recovered,” said Glyn Roberts, who explained that his management had adapted with very few lambs turned to contaminated areas.

“But I still have to test around 200 lambs each year and breeding stock from the hill must be marked before moving under licence.

Consumer protection is very important, but we will certainly be glad to see the day when normality returns.”