Friday, 28 March 2008

Forgotten Chernobyl? I haven't

It is as if the entire Government has forgotten the Chernobyl disaster - because it is too inconvenient to tell the public to contemplate a reduction in "living standards". Well, here is a reminder.

From The Guardian:

"When a routine test went catastrophically wrong, a chain reaction went out of control in No 4 reactor of Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, creating a fireball that blew off the reactor's 1,000-tonne steel-and-concrete lid. Burning graphite and hot reactor-core material ejected by the explosions started numerous other fires, including some on the combustible tar roof of the adjacent reactor unit. There were 31 fatalities as an immediate result of the explosion and acute radiation exposure in fighting the fires, and more than 200 cases of severe radiation sickness in the days that followed.
Evacuation of residents under the plume was delayed by the Soviet authorities' unwillingness to admit the gravity of the incident. Eventually, more than 100,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding area in Ukraine and Belarus.

"In the week after the accident the Soviets poured thousands of untrained, inadequately protected men into the breach. Bags of sand were dropped on to the reactor fire from the open doors of helicopters (analysts now think this did more harm than good). When the fire finally stopped, men climbed on to the roof to clear the radioactive debris. The machines brought in broke down because of the radiation. The men barely lasted more than a few weeks, suffering lingering, painful deaths.

"But had this effort not been made, the disaster might have been much worse. The sarcophagus, designed by engineers from Leningrad, was manufactured in absentia - the plates assembled with the aid of robots and helicopters - and as a result there are fissures. Now known as the Cover, reactor No 4 still holds approximately 20 tonnes of nuclear fuel in its lead-and-metal core. No one knows what is happening with it.

"For neighbouring Belarus, with a population of just 10 million, the nuclear explosion was a national disaster: 70% of the radionucleides released in the accident fell on Belarus. During the second world war, the Nazis destroyed 619 Belarussian villages, along with their inhabitants. As a result of fallout from Chernobyl, the country lost 485 villages and settlements. Of these, 70 have been buried underground by clean-up teams known as "liquidators".

"Today, one out of every five Belarussians lives on contaminated land. That is 2.1 million people, of whom 700,000 are children. Because of the virtually permanent presence of small doses of radiation around the "Zone", the number of people with cancer, neurological disorders and genetic mutations increases with each year."

Harrowing eyewitness accounts are collected in Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich, published by Dalkey Archive Press at £13.99


Stephen Glenn said...

While the government may be able to forget it, having visited orphanages, children's hospitals in Ukraine and the main cancer hospital in Kiev I can never forget the human price this routine test turned out to have.

Tristan said...

It was not a routine test. It was an experiment carried out on a flawed reactor design, which the United Kingdom has never used, and naturally never will.

We havn't forgotten Chernobyl, but we now understand it, and why it would never have happened in the UK and why UK reactors are safe (and modern ones even more so).

I am glad people won't stand for reductions in living standards. That will act as a break on the authoritarians who seek to destroy our lifestyles because they disapprove.

Jo Hayes said...

Mm, Tristan, your expert opinion is a great comfort given that you describe yourself as a software developer.

MarkR said...

I personally visited the Chernobyl area for two days in June 2006 with a friend and former resident of Pripyat. We toured the Chernobyl Plant (including the Reactor 4 control room), several of the abandoned villages, and Pripyat. I have posted a photo journal of my trip at:

My Journey to Chernobyl: 20 Years After the Disaster

Auberius said...

For fear of defending Tristan (something I rarely do), I have a Masters degree in Nuclear Reactor Technology and my undergraduate dissertation was on the Chernobyl accident and its implications for modern European and American reactor designs, and I can confidently say that his description of matters is pretty spot on.

Jo Hayes said...

Understanding does not necessarily mean control. It is not enough if we cannot control the reaction when it goes wrong - and we can't. it is an inherently dangerous technology that uses unstable matter. The Chernobyl disaster was due to management failure as much as to a so-called flaw - i.e. that it went into meltdown according to laws of physics but not as people intended. It is not just the Soviet design used at Chernobyl that is dangerous. Three Mile Island was not built to the Chernobyl design. Parts wear out, there are management failures, people make mistakes. Only last July a Japanese reactor - again not of the Soviet design - had a radioactive leak as the result of an earthquake.
Tristan, as far as I am concerned you can do whatever you like as long as it doesn't harm other sentient beings. That restricts your options quite a bit but is not authoritarian. It is the State that is being authoritarian by imposing on an unwilling population a highly dangerous technology which the private sector would never build without State backing.