April is the cruelest month, breeding
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain,
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow…
— T.S. Eliot, The Burial of the Dead
This month marks the 26th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station in Ukraine when it was still part of the former USSR. Until Fukushima, this was the worst industrial accident in history. And the danger is far from over. The hastily constructed concrete sarcophagus designed to entomb the damaged reactor is seriously deteriorating and radiation continues to leak into the surrounding environment. Speaking in 2000, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned, “Chernobyl is a word we would all like to erase from memory. But more than 7 million of our fellow human beings do not have the luxury of forgetting. They are still suffering every day…Their exact numbers will never be known.” (AP 2000). Explosions from Chernobyl’s reactor unit number 4 released a series of radionuclides high into our atmosphere, containing 400 times more radiation than the bombing of Hiroshima. During the last days of spring and beginning of summer these potentially lethal plumes fell over hundreds of millions of the unaware. Silent, odorless, invisible radiation drifted over 40% of Europe, and Scandinavia, as well as territories in Asia including Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Emirates, China, North Africa and North America.
The immediate and most concentrated fallout fell upon Ukraine, western Russia and Belarus. An unusually intense round of forest fires in the course of the following summer served to further spread these dangerously hot particles. Early attempts to ascertain and evaluate consequences to human health and the environment were made especially difficult due to Soviet cover-ups and an overall policy of secrecy. In April of 2011 journalist John Vidal published an account of his visit to the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and Belarus. As a result he challenged any of the pundits now downplaying the risks of radiation to talk to the doctors, scientists, mothers, children and villagers who have been left with the consequences of a major nuclear accident:
“It was grim. We went from hospital to hospital and from one contaminated village to another. We found deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards, pitifully sick children in the homes, adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos, fetuses without thighs or fingers and villagers who told us that every member of their family was sick…20 years after the accident and one still sees many unusual clusters of people with rare bone cancers…Villagers testified that the “Chernobyl Necklace” (thyroid cancer) was so common as to have become unremarkable. (“Nuclear’s Green Cheerleaders Forget Chernobyl at our Peril”,Guardian.co.uk, April 1, 2011).”
Having visited Russia and worked in a trauma clinic there after Chernobyl, I have also seen these horrors. And, I would second John Vidal’s challenge to any who carelessly promote those smooth, corporate controlled media lies of “safe, clean, nuclear energy”. How many glib proponents of “nuclear safety” are willing to confront reality in documentaries such as “Children of Chernobyl “widely available on Youtube.com ?
While radiation is especially dangerous to the unborn and the young, other long term effects have been noted in the form of accelerated aging, decline in mental function, immune suppression, gastro-intestinal disorders, type two diabetes, ocular changes, auditory disorders, endocrine diseases, reproductive cancers, diseases of the blood forming organs and circulatory system. Mental health specialists in contaminated areas of Ukraine Belarus and Russia report an all-pervasive sense of depression and “victim mentality” in these populations. We are fortunate that the largest and most complete collection of data concerning negative consequences of the Chernobyl accident on the health of people and the environment is now available on line: Alexey V.Yablokov, et.al : www.strahlentelev.de/yablokov%20Chernobyl%20book.pdf.
Anyone willing to read the results of Yabokov’s definitive study will see that nuclear power plants carry exactly the same, if not greater, risks to all living things as nuclear weapons. Given the nature of the nuclear power industry and its close ties to the military (nuclear weapons), media and academia, so- called free societies must consider the necessity for independent monitoring of radiation in our air, food and water and the results made freely available to the public. Activists have also recommended independent monitoring of the health of all children born and living within a 50 mile radius of any nuclear facility.
Public access to information about the dangers of radiation and options for minimizing exposure is especially important now in the wake of the March 11, 2011Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Chernobyl occurred in a land locked, relatively isolated region and only one reactor burned for just 10 days. Fukushima, however, happened along the coast of a densely populated country. In the Daiichi reactor complex six reactors were severely damaged, three in total meltdown. All six nuclear facilities have been leaking and spewing deadly radioactive particles into the air, food and water of our entire Northern Hemisphere, for over a year with no end in sight. Mainstream media outlets are silent and target populations in North America and elsewhere remain, for the most part, unaware.