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U.S.: Chernobyl Legacy Is One Of Suffering

Washington, May 2 (RFE/RL) - The legacy of Chernobyl is one of continued suffering for millions of people, U.S. Vice President Al Gore says.

And Gore and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton say it is the duty and moral obligation of all people who love freedom and democracy to help the people of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine overcome the effects of Chernobyl.

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor complex in Ukraine was the site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident. It happened on April 26th, 1986. Thirty-one people died. Thousands were made sick by exposure to radiation. The monetary costs in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine - the three former Soviet republics that got the worst of the accident - are in the thousands of millions.

On Wednesday, the U.S. paid tribute to the victims and to many of the private and public organizations which have tried to ease the suffering. Mrs. Clinton hosted a ceremony at the White House that was attended by the ambassadors of the three nations, senior U.S. officials and congressional leaders and representatives of dozens of humanitarian organizations.

"President Clinton is determined to do whatever this nation can to overcome this tragedy," Vice President Gore said. "Much work needs to be done and many challenges lie before us."

In praising the humanitarian organizations, Mrs. Clinton cited the courage and dedication of doctors and nurses and other public health workers, civil servants and military personnel, and ordinary people who have given time and money to help.

"In striving to save and protect the children of Chernobyl and their elders, they have responded to one of the world's worst environmental catastrophes with the best effort the world has to offer," said Mrs. Clinton. "Their advice and initiative have led to constructive U.S. Government programs to supply medicines and treatment for those who continue to suffer."

This compassionate work, she said, "has earned our lasting admiration and gratitude." Mrs. Clinton, however, said relief and sustained medical care are not enough. The full impact of the disaster may never be known, she said, making it critical for the U.S. and its allies to help Ukraine to not only close Chernobyl for good but help it develop a safe and vibrant energy sector.

"We must not rest until Chernobyl is remembered not only as a tragedy, but also as a signpost on the road to a safer world," Mrs. Clinton said.