The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a resolution recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that spread radioactive materials over much of Europe and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their contaminated homes in the worst-affected areas of Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia, according to the U.S. Department of State.

In addition to expressing sympathy for the victims of the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, the resolution calls for support of efforts to address the ongoing adverse health consequences and other effects.

The resolution (House Resolution 703), passed April 4 in a 402 to 1 vote, also supports continued U.S. assistance to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, construction of a facility to store spent nuclear fuel and other efforts to mitigate the consequences of the disaster.

After Chernobyl’s unit 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, more than 600,000 emergency personnel worked to put out the fire that burned in the shattered reactor vessel for 10 days. Workers then built a structure, or “shelter,” of steel and concrete to contain the exploded reactor.  Under such difficult circumstances it could not be constructed to normal standards and subsequently deteriorated dangerously, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) account of events. (This shelter is sometimes referred to as the “sarcophagus.”)

A team of Ukrainian and international experts sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the European Union TACIS program developed a plan in 1997 - the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP) – to convert the deteriorating structure into an environmentally safe system.

The United States has pledged $203 million – making it the largest single country donor - to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which was created to fund the SIP.

The House resolution also urges other countries to continue contributing to the effort to mitigate the effects of the Chernobyl disaster.

“It is important for the international community  - both governments and non-governmental organizations – to remember that Chernobyl is not just a Ukrainian, Belarusian or Russian problem,” said Representative Christopher Smith, one of the resolution’s co-sponsors, in a speech April 5 in New Jersey.

“The fallout will require continued international commitment,” said Smith, addressing the Children of Chernobyl Relief and Development Fund (CCRDF), a nonprofit humanitarian organization.

As always when it comes to humanitarian relief, nongovernmental organizations such as CCRDF are playing a large role in the U.S. effort.

CCRDF, for example, has organized 31 airlifts and 15 sea shipments over the past 16 years, delivering approximately 1,300 tons of medical aid valued at more than $51 million dollars. CCRDF now is launching a Chernobyl 20 Anniversary Commemorative Airlift to bring vital medicines and medical equipment for the children of Chernobyl.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst also has been active, hosting special fund-raising receptions for CCRDF at his residence in Kyiv. Funds from the most recent fund-raiser were used to purchase new equipment for the neonatal intensive care unit at the Kyiv City Children’s Hospital Number 2.

A special General Assembly commemorative session on Chernobyl will take place on April 28 at the United Nations in New York.