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Tonight - is civil unrest becoming civil war? Moammar Gaddafi's forces launch a counterattack on
opposition-held towns. Good evening. Welcome to 'Lateline'. I'm Ali Moore. As the battle between
the Gaddafi loyalists and rebels intensifies in Libya, the international community continues to
debate its options, but the 22-member Arab League, which is trying to find a resolution to the
crisis, has warned against foreign

Libya want to take matters into their own hands, and we feel that there might be a backlash if
there is foreign intervention. This might be used as an excuse to indicate that those who are
revolting, who are opposing, are being supported from outside and that this is not a genuine
demonstration of demands that are coming from Libya.

The Chef de Cabinet of the Arab League, Hesham Youssef, joins us from his office in Cairo later in
the program. First, our other headlines. As the Prime Minister prepares to meet US President Barack
Obama, the Opposition Leader predicts Julia Gillard will find herself at odds with America in her
quest to introduce a carbon tax.

UN to send humanitarian assessment team to Libya

UN to send humanitarian assessment team to Libya

Broadcast: 07/03/2011

Reporter: Anne Barker

Government forces in Libya have carried out air strikes on rebels in Ras Lanuf while the UN has
announced an assessment team which will visit the embattled country.

Transcript

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: Libyan Government forces have carried out air strikes on opposition positions
in the town of Ras Lanuf. The rebels were driven out of Bin Jawad yesterday and had retreated to
Ras Lanuf to regroup. As Government and opposition forces continue to engage each other, the United
Nations has announced a former Jordanian foreign minister will head a UN humanitarian assessment
team which will visit Libya. Middle East correspondent Anne Barker reports.

ANNE BARKER, REPORTER: After a rapid advance west along the coast from Brega, the rebels had
Colonel Gaddafi's home town of Sirte firmly in its sights. But after taking the small town of Bin
Jawad, Government forces responded with a massive counter-attack using helicopter gunships and
heavy artillery.

After fierce ground battles, the rebels were driven back to the town of Ras Lanuf, where they're
now regrouping.

JAMAL AL KARRARI, REBEL FIGHTER: We got thrown by bombs and by snipers from the side roads that we
can't see. I didn't even use my Kalashnikov. I didn't find no target. All I saw is bombs and
bullets and we were trying to escape and come back and I was begging everybody to give me a ride.
It was really scary, man.

ANNE BARKER: The small hospital in Ras Lanuf was stretched, as it dealt with rebels injured in the
Government shelling of Bin Jawad. The Government says its army is now moving east towards Ras Lanuf
and on to Ajdabiya. It's a claim rejected as propaganda by the rebels, who say they still control
Ras Lanuf and all the towns to the east, with more reinforcements being rushed to the frontline.
And while the rebels' organisation is haphazard, there's no doubting their passion.

REBEL SOLDIER (voiceover translation): There are two things. For sure he is watching us now and he
sees us, so we want to tell him two things. We swear we will enter Tripoli. Tripoli is the goal and
after we enter Tripoli, you will see the real Libyan spirit. God willing, we'll hold a celebration
in Green Square.

ANNE BARKER: But taking Tripoli will be a massive task. It's where the Government can still
organise an impressive show of strength. Thousands of pro-Gaddafi supporters packed Green Square,
waving flags and singing the Libyan national anthem. There are reports of some opposition in the
capital, but the Government dismissed the unusually heavy pre-dawn gunfire as locals just
celebrating the recapture of the western town of Misurata. Along with Zawiya, it's one of two towns
in the west that have been the scene of heavy fighting, and with both, there's dispute about who
now controls them. The Government says both towns are under its control, but the Opposition says
it's in charge, although it admits it's surrounded.

The situation in Misurata especially is of such concern the United Nations is demanding urgent
access to the civilian population and the Libyan Foreign Minister has agreed to allow a UN
humanitarian assessment team into the country. At this stage, team members will be allowed into
Tripoli for a meeting, but they hope to use it as a starting point to secure access to other parts
of the country. What influence the team may have and whether it can prevent Libya descending into
what appears to be a civil war remains to be seen.

Anne Barker, Lateline.

British troops red-faced after SAS bungle

British troops red-faced after SAS bungle

Broadcast: 07/03/2011

Reporter: Jon Leyne

A British SAS unit has been released after it was detained by rebel forces in eastern Libya

Transcript

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: There were red faces in Britain over the detaining of a British SAS unit by
rebel forces in eastern Libya. The unit, described by British Foreign Secretary William Hague as a
diplomatic team, has now been set free. The eight men were apprehended while attempting to make
contact with the commanders of the anti-Gaddafi forces. The embarrassing ordeal for London was made
worse by the broadcasting of a phone conversation between Britain's ambassador and a Libyan
opposition spokesman. The BBC's Jon Leyne reports from Benghazi.

JON LEYNE, REPORTER: A surprise return to Benghazi by HMS Cumberland. There's an obvious tension in
the air. Evidence of the prolonged negotiations on board for the release of the British special
forces team, held by the Libyan opposition who now run this city.

I understand a helicopter carrying the group and their equipment landed near Benghazi at 2am on
Friday. They were met by two men, one a British national. Two cars took them to a nearby compound.
They were questioned and asked if they were carrying weapons. Guns, explosives and passports with
multiple nationalities were discovered. At this point, the Britons were handcuffed and arrested.

Later, in a further embarrassing development, Libyan state television broadcast what it said was a
recording of a conversation between Britain's ambassador to Libya, Richard Northern, and an
opposition spokesman.

RICHARD NORTHERN, BRITISH AMBASSADOR: I understand that there has been a misunderstanding and they
have been picked up by the security group who are concerned about their presence and who they are.
And I hope to ask Mr Jalil if he might be able to intervene to help us clear up this
misunderstanding.

JON LEYNE: Feelings are still running high here two weeks after the opposition expelled Colonel
Gaddafi's troops. These signs have appeared across the city, discouraging foreign intervention.
Shortly before sunset, HMS Cumberland left Benghazi with the British men aboard. The situation has
been resolved, though the British Government seems to have seriously miscalculated the reaction to
a helicopter arriving with armed men in the middle of the night.

Arab League calls for peace in Libya

Arab League calls for peace in Libya

Broadcast: 07/03/2011

Reporter: Ali Moore

Chef De Cabinet of the Arab League, Hesham Youssef, joins Lateline from Cairo to discuss the
worsening civil conflict in Libya.

Transcript

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: One of the organisations that's trying to broker a resolution to the conflict
in Libya is the Arab League. Just a short time ago I was joined from Cairo by the Chef de Cabinet
of the Arab League, Hesham Youssef.

Hesham Youssef, many thanks for taking the time to talk to Lateline tonight.

HESHAM YOUSSEF, CHEF DE CABINET, ARAB LEAGUE: It's my pleasure.

ALI MOORE: The Arab League has called for an immediate halt to the violence in Libya. You've said
the Government must respond to the demands of its people. It's a rare criticism from the League of
one of its own. From the Arab League's point of view, what now is the ideal outcome?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, the ideal outcome is for those who are in control in Libya to listen to the
voice of the people and to respond positively and immediately to the demands of the people.

ALI MOORE: And does that mean that the 22 members of the League are united in wanting to see
Colonel Gaddafi go?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, they want to see peace and stability restored in Libya and they want to see
the demands of these people implemented. And they want also to see the bloodshed ending, and this
is what we have been trying to do for the last - since this whole sad episode started, whether in
our efforts here in the League or the efforts in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the
Council on Human Rights. So there are a lot of efforts that are ongoing in order for this sad
episode to end.

ALI MOORE: And for this episode to end though does it mean Colonel Gaddafi must leave and are all
members of the Arab League prepared to see him go?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, the League was ready to see the leaders in Tunisia and Egypt go. Regardless
of the different circumstances surrounding the situation in different countries, if this is the
demand of the people, then it has to be respected.

ALI MOORE: You talk there about the number of efforts being made, but at the same time the Arab
League has rejected foreign interference in Libya. What does that mean?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, the reason for rejecting foreign intervention is because the people in Libya
want to take matters into their own hands and we feel that there might be a backlash if there is
foreign intervention. And this might be used as an excuse to indicate that these who are revolting,
who are opposing, are being supported from outside and that this is not a genuine demonstration of
demands that are coming from within Libya. So, I think it is unanimous in the views of the Arab
countries that the situation should not be altered by foreign intervention.

Having said that, there are all kinds of efforts and ideas to address this situation in the context
of the Security Council. And the Security Council has already taken a decision in this regard,
taking a number of measures against those who are in control in Libya and there are additional
steps that are being considered and consulted on at this point in time.

ALI MOORE: Would a no-fly zone amount to foreign interference?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, it depends on how it is done, because there are different ways to do that. We
have been informed that one of these ways is to have a military attack on the civilian defence
systems and this is something that would be difficult to accept. But there are other ways that are
also possible, including jamming these - electronically jamming these devices, then that would be a
more plausible way to deal with these matters if we reach a situation that requires this to be
implemented. However, at this point in time, we have to indicate that consultations are ongoing in
the Security Council with a number of members of the Security Council as well as between the Arab
League and the African Union and if the situation continues to deteriorate, as we see all kinds of
difficulties in different parts of Libya, then probably this effort will have to intensify.

ALI MOORE: You talked there about an attack on Libya. Are you referring to Robert Gates, the US
Defence Secretary, his comments that a no-fly zone would have to start with an attack on Libyan air
defences? Is that what you reject? Is that what the Arab League rejects?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Yes, we do not believe that foreign military act against Libya at this point in
time is the right thing to do.

ALI MOORE: So at what point can you see efforts having to intensify and some sort of no-fly zone
being put in place?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: No, the efforts are already ongoing. The question is a question of how it can be
done and when it can be done. So - and we believe that any measures of that nature have to be taken
in the context of the Security Council and not in - unilaterally or through any other mechanisms.
And this is something that we insist on at this point in time.

ALI MOORE: How could it be done without, as Robert Gates says, initially destroying the air
defences?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, as I mentioned earlier, it was also mentioned that it is possible to
electronically jam defence systems. So, this is also another alternative that has been indicated to
us. But this will have to be considered by military people who understand how this can be achieved
and how this can be done in a manner that would not affect the interests of those who are
protesting and the Libyan people in general.

ALI MOORE: What about helping the rebels directly - supplying weapons, for example?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, this is something that we have not been considering and they have not
contacted us as well. And it seems that they also - because part of those who have been opposing
the regime are - have been in the Army. So there are parts of the Army that have left the Army and
joined the opposition and joined those who are demonstrating against the regime, so the picture is
really unclear. But we haven't been contacted by them - neither those who are demonstrating or
those who have fled the Army in Libya to ask for specific assistance, except in their needs
regarding medical assistance and to a certain extent food aid.

ALI MOORE: You do say you've not been contacted regarding the supply of weapons, but what about the
recognition of the rebels. The Libyan opposition in Benghazi has established a so-called National
Transitional Council. Would the Arab League consider recognising that council as the legitimate
authority in Libya?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, we have to be contacted and we have to consult with them to see who they are,
what they represent, what the objectives are, and based on what they tell us and the consultations
that we will have with Arab countries, then we can decide on how to deal with this group. But until
this happens, it would be very difficult for us to say how we are going to deal with this issue.

ALI MOORE: In the last 24 hours we've seen troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi launch major assaults on
three towns held by the opposition and certainly the regime seems to be recovering itself around
Tripoli. Do you believe Libya is headed for a protracted civil war? Could it become another
Somalia?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, we hope not. We know that this has taken much longer than we hoped and there
is much more bloodshed than the Libyan people should have suffered. And we are hoping that this
would end well. We wanted it to end, you know, yesterday, not even today. But at the same time, we
recognise that it is difficult and they are being - those who are opposing are facing very
difficult attacks by heavy artillery, heavy weaponry from the regime and this indicates that,
unfortunately, it will take some more time.

ALI MOORE: How much time, do you think?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: I really can't assess at this point in time, but our hope is that this would end
soon, because the price is extremely high in lives of innocent people from Libya.

ALI MOORE: What's the status of the plan put forward by the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, for
a negotiated solution to the crisis? Is that still under consideration?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: We have received this proposal from Venezuela and we have consulted with them and
they are still working on their ideas and suggestions with a number of countries in Europe, in the
Arab world, even in Latin America, but from the reactions that we saw in Libya, because those who
are in opposition have indicated that would - that they do not feel comfortable with what they
heard about the ideas coming from Venezuela and also those who are in control from the current
regime in Libya have indicated that they are not waiting from someone to come from too far away who
doesn't understand the situation in Libya to tell them what is supposed to be done. So, I have to
indicate that it seems that it is facing difficulties from both some forces in the regime as well
as forces in the opposition. So, it remains to be seen how this proposal or suggestion or
initiative would proceed, but consultations are still ongoing to see how this would evolve.

ALI MOORE: Can you imagine Colonel Gaddafi will ever give up power and leave his country
voluntarily?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, did you imagine that this would happen in other places in the Arab world,
particularly in Tunisia and in Egypt? We are living in a different world. After - in the last few
weeks, the world has - in this part of the world has changed beyond recognition. So, we have to
indicate that anything is possible. And, you know, for those who are in authority, if they care
about the blood of their people, I think they have to do the responsible thing.

ALI MOORE: Hesham Youssef, is this a real test of the Arab League's relevance and authority?

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, the Arab League is a reflection of its member states. Is this a test to the
region? Of course it is a test to the region. Is it a test to the Arab League? Of course, because
this is the embodiment of collective Arab will. How the Arab League is going to deal with changes
in this part of the world will affect the future of this organisation. However, I have also to
indicate that the decisions and the positions that have been adopted by the Arab League in relation
to the situation in Tunisia, to the situation in Egypt, to the situation in Libya, are positions
that are unprecedented, because the Arab League has been siding with the demands of the people.
Whether this was the case in Tunisia, the case in Egypt or now in Libya, perhaps also, as things
evolve in other places as well. So this is - these are all signs of changing situations and
changing times.

ALI MOORE: At the same time, Ambassador Mohammed Murad, who was named by Libya to the UN
headquarters but refused to represent the regime, he's criticised the League for a lack of action,
saying, "As usual the Arab League's decisions are weak and late."

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Well, perhaps this time I will somewhat differ, because as a result of the decision
of the League early on to condemn all these actions to demand the end of violence and to suspend
the participation of Libya in the Arab League, paving the way for a Security Council resolution and
a General Assembly resolution and the suspension of the participation in Libya in the Human Rights
Council and trying to provide humanitarian and other kinds of assistance, I think, you know, we
have done a lot of effort. Perhaps it is not enough; because I think we will all have to agree that
nothing is enough until the bloodshed stops. And in this I would agree with my Libyan colleague.
But we also have to indicate that there are limits as to what can be done, not only by the Arab
League, but also by the international community. So, as sad as this may seem, there are limits to
what we are capable of doing.

ALI MOORE: Hesham Youssef, many thanks for being so generous with your time and your insights
tonight.

HESHAM YOUSSEF: Thank-you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Lebanon Demonstrations

And support for democratic change is East. The latest demonstrations have been in Lebanon, where
thousands of protesters marched through the capital.

(All chant) They're demanding an end to the power-sharing arrangement between Christians and
Muslims. Protesters say the decades-old arrangement has caused most of the country's
problems,including corruption, cronyism and the civil war of the 1980s.

Julia Gillard Visits Washington

Julia Gillard is soon to meet Washington, where, among other issues, she'll raise climate change.
While she's taken the politically brave step of moving ahead with a carbon tax, in the US in the US
capital the climate change debate has been relegated in the wake of the global financial crisis
global financial crisis and that's opened up a new avenue of attack for the opposition, as
political correspondent Tom Iggulden reports. She'd have been expecting the presidential-style
motorcade, but this probably isn't the trip Julia Gillard had in mind when she boarded her flight
to Washington.

Oh, there we go. I'm tripping into you there.

Today breakfast with the Australian scam ambassador, a former Labor leader himself, tomorrow
President Obama.

We always get excited always get excited by primeministerial visits.

Tony Abbott's already playing a fly on the wall for the moment when the Prime Minister updates the
President on her carbon tax proposal.

She'll be very politely told that that's not the intention of the US Government, and he'll say to
Prime Minister Gillard they are moving away from cap and trade towards the kind of direct action
which the coalition has as its policy.

And perhaps that's no coincidence. In a country where the conservative side of politics has say in
passing legislation.

I think in the United States right now, cap and trade is dead because of Republican control of the
House.

But the Climate Change Minister says that doesn't leave Australia stranded on the carbon tax.

Despite some of the rubbish that is pedalled on talkback radio, Australia is not leading the way
the way on this.

And that includes America, despite the legislative gridlock in Washington.

There is nonetheless a commitment to carbon pricing and emissions trading in other trading in other
parts of the US economy that are very significant. 10 States in the US have been trading, albeit at
a small price, in the energy sector. California I think has already passed legislation to commence
emissions trading.

But it's not just the federal opposition mounting challenges to the change plan. Rio Tinto managing
director David peefer was a high-profile opponent of the the mining tax.

This tax would reduce reduce the competitiveness of Australia.

And today, in the Australian newspaper, he argued trade-exposed industry should be strongly
insulated from the carbon tax too, a key policy objective must be to ensure that Australian
industries are not placed at a disadvantage relative to international competitors", he wrote.

Look, I agree with Rio Tinto. I think that trade-exposed industries, if they can show they're at a
loss, ought to have that looked at by future governments. What we don't want to see is a program
which allows theoretical loss to be compensated.

The Government and the Greens potentially have, of course, different views about the level of that
assistance and the Government and have different views about the level of that assistance. There
have been a lot of negotiations where there's been different views, but where you've got common
purpose, you will achieve an outcome.

Having come off second best, the last time the mining industry opposed one of the Government's
taxes, Mr Combet might need more than that common purpose to get what he wants. With so many
details of the carbon tax still up in the air, including the actual cost of a tonne of carbon, the
special interest groups will be lobbying hard before the Government the second half of the year.

Activists threaten to block miners in land dispute

Activists threaten to block miners in land dispute

Broadcast: 07/03/2011

Reporter: Karen Berkman

A conflict between a coal seam gas company and land owners west of Toowoomba is threatening to come
to a head as miners and farmers clash.

Transcript

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: A showdown is brewing between a coal seam gas company and landowners west of
Toowoomba who have vowed to blockade drilling teams if they try to access their properties. It'll
be a crucial confrontation between the miners, who say their industry is safe, and farmers, who say
it will leave the Darling Downs a wasteland. Karen Berkman reports.

KAREN BERKMAN, REPORTER: Until now, the battle's been all ideological. Next week it could get
physical, with angry landowners threatening to stand in the way of drilling teams on a rural
residential estate outside Tara on the Western Downs.

PROTESTORS (Chanting with placards): Hands off Tara! Hands off Tara!

KAREN BERKMAN: The protestors say the Queensland gas company plans to start drilling next Monday,
but they'll do everything they can to stop it.

DREW HUTTON, PROTEST ORGANISER: We've certainly got people out at Tara who are prepared to put
their bodies on the line.

KAREN BERKMAN: They're furious that the mineral rights to their land have been sold by the
Queensland Government.

STEVE COLLINS, LANDOWNER: This'll be one of the biggest legalised thefts of private land in the
history of Australia.

KAREN BERKMAN: And they're afraid it'll turn some of Australia's best farming and grazing land into
an industrial wasteland.

DREW HUTTON: This is the most massive change to rural Queensland we will ever see in our lifetimes.

KAREN BERKMAN: Both major parties have refused to impose a moratorium on coal seam gas mining while
the environmental impacts are proven.

LARISSA WATERS, GREENS SENATOR ELECT: I am absolutely flabbergasted that the Government can go
ahead without knowing what the real impacts are.

KAREN BERKMAN: The Mining Minister says the Government can control the burgeoning industry.

STIRLING HINCHCLIFFE, MINING MINISTER: I believe that we've got good arrangements in place,
protections for the interests of landowners.

KAREN BERKMAN: The protesters say it's already running out of control.

DREW HUTTON: We've got about 3,000 or 4,000 now; we're gonna have 40,000 - at least 40,000.

KAREN BERKMAN: The State Opposition is against the blockade and any moratorium.

JOHN-PAUL LANGBROEK, OPPOSITION LEADER: Companies willing to invest and the people in Queensland
who'll be employed in projects like this with the benefit that we can also get to our budget, those
things all need to be balanced.

KAREN BERKMAN: Balance could be redefined over a line in the dirt near a small Queensland town.

Karen Berkman, Lateline.

Nixon stands down

Nixon stands down

Broadcast: 07/03/2011

Reporter:

Ricky Nixon has announced he is standing down as an AFL player manager and will take a leave of
absence to resolve personal problems.

Transcript

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: AFL manager Ricky Nixon has tonight announced that he's standing down as a
player manager. Mr Nixon released a statement saying he's taking an indefinite break to deal with
personal problems. Mr Nixon also revealed that he has a substance abuse problem and will check into
a rehabilitation clinic.

The AFL's Players Association has launched an inquiry into Mr Nixon's relationship with a
17-year-old girl. Ricky Nixon could lose his accreditation if the investigation finds he's breached
his obligations as a manager.

Ukraine considers tourism plan for Chernobyl

Ukraine considers tourism plan for Chernobyl

Broadcast: 07/03/2011

Reporter: Norman Hermant

Ukraine's government is hoping to entice tourists to the still radioactive site of the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster, 25 years on from the tragedy.

Transcript

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: 25 years after the accident that shocked the world, the mere mention of the
word Chernobyl still conjures up chilling fears of the risks of nuclear power. In Ukraine and other
former Soviet republics, the effects of the disaster at Chernobyl are still being felt. The zone
around the nuclear plant remains mostly devoid of human life. But, far from burying this legacy,
Ukraine's Government is now seeking to exploit it. There are plans to dramatically boost tourism to
the site of the accident that many argue hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow
correspondent Norman Hermant has this report from Chernobyl.

NORMAN HERMANT, REPORTER: This is where the trip to the world's worst nuclear accident really
begins: the first checkpoint entering the 30 kilometre exclusion zone around Chernobyl, complete
with a government guide and a radiation detecting Geiger counter. Before too long, you are there,
and the radiation detector tells the story.

Here, readings routinely reach 10 times normal levels. Just a few hundred metres away, behind
tonnes of concrete and steel, lies the remains of reactor number four, one of the most highly
radioactive places on Earth. It all begs the question: just who would want to come here?

The agency that manages Chernobyl believes a lot of people do. A quarter of a century after the
disaster, Ukraine hopes this nuclear cautionary tale can become a bona fide tourist attraction.

OKSANA NOR, DIRECTOR, CHERNOBYL INTERINFORM (voiceover translation): Just for people who are
interested in it and want to see. It's interesting for them to find out. They want to see what
Chernobyl is, to understand what happened there and to understand what danger it poses.

NORMAN HERMANT: Some 6,000 visitors a year already come on semi-official visits. They see a
sarcophagus that covers a great nuclear mystery. To this day, no-one knows for sure what is
happening inside the destroyed reactor.

That's just one reason environmental groups say it's far too early to measure Chernobyl's impact.

ALEXEI PASYUK, NATIONAL ECOLOGICAL CENTRE OF UKRAINE: What you have is the nuclear fuel which was
in the reactor which was producing electricity which was just destroyed. It fell out of the ...
these fuel assemblies and it spread all over and it's kind of a mess.

NORMAN HERMANT: The accident that created that mess had immediate consequences. This is Pripyat, a
town just three kilometres away. 50,000 people lived here, workers from the plant and their
families, a Soviet showcase, evacuated and completely abandoned. Even now, staying here too long
can be a death sentence.

But in the days and weeks after the Chernobyl explosion, hundreds of thousands of workers, such as
Sergey Zaitsev, were sent to clean up the site. His life changed forever. First there was breast
cancer, then pneumonia, then heart problems, all starting within months of his work at Chernobyl.

SERGEY ZAITSEV, CHERNOBYL WORKER (voiceover translation): No-one at the time understood how serious
it was. They even told us what happened there, but no-one actually understood what it was. There
was no specialist as such to tell us what had happened there and how it would affect our bodies.
No-one ever told us.

NORMAN HERMANT: There is still widespread disagreement on the toll taken by the world's worst
nuclear disaster. Some official estimates put the eventual deaths at about 4,000, but other groups
say the real figure is many times greater. One thing that is certain: after Chernobyl, the USSR was
never the same.

What happened here didn't just blow up a reactor, it also blew the lid off the inherent
catastrophic design flaws of Soviet reactors and safety systems. In true Soviet style, the ruling
Politbureau tried but failed to hide the truth from its own people and the outside world, a flawed
system bound to fail exposed for all to see. 25 years later, many view Chernobyl as an apt metaphor
for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1986, as Mikhail Gorbachev contemplated reforms, the Soviet economy was beginning to implode.
The USSR was struggling to pay its international debts and to provide food and basic goods for the
population.

Respected historian Stanislav Kulchytsky says Chernobyl pushed everything over the edge.

STANISLAV KULCHTYSKY, INSTITUTE OF UKRAINIAN HISTORY (voiceover translation): Then, suddenly,
Chernobyl happened, which made a huge hole in the budget and this precipitated the collapse of the
Soviet Union.

NORMAN HERMANT: Today, there is human life within the exclusion zone. Many workers helping to
decommission Chernobyl's other three reactors live in Chernobyl City, 18 kilometres from the plant,
and there are others who choose to stay here.

This couple had a summer home here for years and came as often as they could, even after the
accident. They liked it so much, they decided to move into the exclusion zone four years ago.

IVAN PILIPENKO, EXCLUSION ZONE RESIDENT (voiceover translation): We go to the river with fishing
rods, catch fish, cook the fish soup, well, of course, have a little drink and everything is OK,
just fine. We are not scared.

NORMAN HERMANT: But leaving the exclusion zone, there is a powerful reminder this is no ordinary
day trip. Every vehicle is searched inside and out for exposure to radiation and no-one gets out
without going through a detection scanner.

ALEXEI PASYUK: Just a piece of advice to anyone who wants to make a trip that they have to
understand that there is a health risk for travelling to the zone. Because it's also - there is a
certain level of chance. I mean, there is no guarantee you will have a problem, but that's a
question of whether you will get this piece of dust into your lung or not.

NORMAN HERMANT: Ukraine is hoping there are many more people that are willing to take the risk to
come and see the world's most notorious nuclear wasteland for themselves.

Norman Hermant, Lateline.

And before we go tonight, Newspoll figures released on the Australian newspaper's website are
revealing Labor's primary vote is at a record low, with the Prime Minister's personal standing also
taking a significant significant hit. The primary vote measure is down from 36% before the Prime
Minister's carbon tax announcement to just 30%. The coalition vote is up 4 points to 45%. The Prime
Minister's lead over Tony Abbott and the preferred Prime Minister stakes has halved from 22 points
to just 11 points. Now to the weather. for Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart. Cloudy periods and a
possible shower in Brisbane, morning fog, then sunny in Canberra. Showers and a storm for Darwin.
for Darwin. Mostly sunny in Perth and Sydney. That's all from us. If you'd like to look back back
at tonight's interview with Hesham Youssef or review any of 'Lateline''s stories or transcripts,
visit our website. Also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. I'll see you again tomorrow. Good night.