Field of Memory

Show me a fantasy novel about Chernobyl – there isn’t one. Because reality is more fantastic. (Svetlana Alexievich, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster)

The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our thinking. Thus we are drifting toward catastrophe beyond conception. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive”. (Albert Einstein)

The nuclear industry is waging a war against humanity”. (John Gofman, M.D. Ph.D. former Manhattan Project scientist and Associate Director, Lawrence Nuclear Laboratory, U.C. Berkeley 1963-1969)

Social traumatologists, media, politicians and terrorists know that individual, family and social traumas tend to occur on the anniversary of previous and unresolved traumas. Over the years and in several of my books, I have explored biological researcher Rupert Sheldrake‘s idea that places also have “fields of memory” that can play a role in traumatic repetitions. One of those places is located in war-torn northern Ukraine; at the site of their damaged reactor Unit Four at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. As the world now knows, despite initial efforts of a cover-up, (while this area was still part of the former USSR); on April 25,1986, something went terribly wrong. For some reason now lost to history, the site’s nuclear engineers decided to turn off the safety systems in their uncontained reactor in order to “see what would happen”. As a result, there was, in fact, a lot to see, which we will continue to see and feel, far into our foreseeable future and possibly even far beyond that. (St. Just, Trauma: Time, Space and Fractals, 2012)

A steam explosion, graphite fire and nuclear meltdown-event, expelled a volcanic release of highly radioactive particles into our planetary atmosphere carrying levels of radiation 300 times greater than our fire-bombing of Hiroshima. As a result, those of us here and visiting in our entire Northern Hemisphere have been experiencing an ongoing international human and environmental catastrophe. During the immediate aftermath of this nuclear folly, more than 400,000 citizens in the nearby town of Pripyat were uprooted from their homes. Given only three hours notice, these evacuees were unaware that they would never be able to return to what became a 30 km (18.6 mile) exclusion zone.

Over the course of the following summer, an unusually intense round of forest fires served to further the spread of highly radioactive isotopes.

At the time, much of this catastrophe was new and unexpected since there had never before been a radiological disaster of this magnitude. Unfortunately, this nightmare scale has been necessarily updated. While Chernobyl ranked seventh at the top of an existing scale for nuclear accidents, a new category was needed since the disaster at Japan’s seaside, Fukushima Daiichi complex with four damaged reactors, (three in meltdown); spewing ongoing leaks into the air, ocean and underground water supplies. As a result, Fukushima now seriously out-ranks Chernobyl with an intensity rating of eight. (, August 13, 2012) Let us hope, pray and rise up in protest, so that there will never be the necessity to update this scale to anything like a nine or even a ten.

The site chosen for Ukraine’s first nuclear power plant has a long, dark history of fiery death and destruction. The plant was named for the nearby town of Chernobyl which dates from the 12th century onward , which was in turn, named for another kind of plant. In Ukrainian, the herb called chornobyl with the botanical term Artemesia vulgaris has been confused with its close cousin Artemesia absinthium, a bitter herb with medicinal properties use to flavor absinthe and vermouth, also known as wormwood. Mary Mycio, addresses this confusion in her “In Wormwood Forest” (September 9, 2005), since both herbs are common to the Chernobyl region. Shortly after the 1986 disaster a religious meme appeared warning that the name Chernobyl translates to wormwood thus fulfilling biblical prophesies in the Book of Revelation; as this herb is a frequent biblical symbol for bitterness, calamity and sorrow. In reality, the Russianized Chernobyl from the Ukrainian chornobyl, translates as “mugwort” and not it’s botanical cousin wormwood. In Medieval Europe mugwort was used as a protective charm.

Prior to the 20th century, the Chernobyl region was inhabited by Ukrainian and Polish peasants and a relatively large number of Jews. The Jewish population suffered greatly from fiery pogroms where whole villages were burned to cinders and inhabitants raped, beaten, kidnapped and slaughtered. These pogroms were especially severe in 1905 and again from 1919-1920. The region also suffered from mass killings during Stalin’s ruthless collectivization campaign and the horrendous famine that followed. The local Polish community was forcibly deported to Kazakhstan in 1936 during Stalin’s Frontier Clearance.

The Chernobyl region was also the site of some of the most heinous Nazi atrocities in 1941 and was occupied by the German army until 1943; during which time the entire Jewish population was systematically murdered. (Norman Davies, Europe: A History, 1996).

In the years since the April 1986 nuclear disaster, the highly contaminated surrounding forests have been subjected to a series of fires, due to climate change and drought in 1992, 2002, 2008 and now in 2015. Extensive woodland death, due to radiation, has created an excess of tinder with dry leaves; and trees that desiccate but do not decay; thus giving rise to further nuclear devastation via radioactive wildfires. These dying, mostly pine, plantations surrounding the exclusion zone, cannot be decontaminated and are considered to be too dangerous and expensive to clear. (Kevin Kamps, Russian Insider, May 6, 2015). When ignited, they spread deadly radioisotopes through smoking foliage, pine- needles and cones, as well as air born pollens which continue to cycle through the planetary ecosystem.

This latest iteration in Chernobyl’s long fiery fractal of destruction erupted with yet another wildfire that broke out in April, 2015, exactly on the 29th anniversary of the initial fire and explosion. Arson is suspected, in view of the date and the fact that this conflagration broke out on both sides of the nearby River Vuhz. While information was hard to come by, for political and other logistical reasons, satellite images revealed that tree-top flames and strong winds combined to enable a rapid spread of wildfire over some 10,000 hectares of contaminated areas around and within the exclusion zone. As the fire spread toward the power plant’s crippled installations, flames reportedly came within 3 miles of buried nuclear waste. (, April 29, 2015).

Ukrainian police, National Guard and firefighting units were all on high alert while government officials insisted that everything was under control. Such a statement is hardly credible, given video footage of their brave front line firefighters manually batting down radioactive flames, with sparse equipment and for many without any protective gear whatsoever. Nevertheless, it was announced that these exclusion zone fires were out in early May, without mention of the still smoldering, airborne, potentially death-dealing smoke. As the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risks, Dr. Christopher Busby explains:

“The potential danger in this fire comes from radioactive contaminants that burning plant materials have absorbed through a process of bio-accumulation. At least some deadly contaminates would have been incorporated into the woods. In other words, they land on the ground in 1986 and they get absorbed into the trees, plants and then all of the biosphere. And when they burn, the toxins just become re-suspended. It’s like Chernobyl all over again. All of that material that fell on the ground will now be burned up into the air and available for people, and all living things, to breathe and absorb. (, April 2015).

“The exact trajectory of this latest fire-generated radioactive plume, will depend upon which way the winds blow; and these can be expected to circle our planet every 40 days or so. Residents downwind from the immediate fallout, are advised to remain indoors and avoid contact with subsequent rainfall.”

The unfortunate truth remains, that Chernobyl‘s latest wildfire crisis is a natural part of what is now a centuries-long disaster-cycle which will continue to repeat over and again.

The crippled Unit Four reactor continues to leak lethal toxins, and the hastily-built sarcophagus currently in place is seriously cracked and rapidly deteriorating. Efforts to replace this faltering containment structure have stalled due to lack of funding and Ukraine’s political unrest and instability. If and when this massive new structure is completed and in place, it too will have to be replaced, because these radionuclides will remain dangerous, in some cases, for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years. As long as we have these long-lived hot particles, they will simply cycle through our planetary ecosystem and be taken up by plants and other living things and then released through fires for further and ongoing deadly recycle.

So now, Ukrainian officials, dutifully reading from the by now, all too familiar and spurious, international, nuclear industry playbook-script, assure all concerned that this fire is out; problem solved, radiation levels are not increased in the affected area and there has been and will be no danger to human health. (Please go back to sleep). If you are reading this blog, chances are that you have heard these self-serving bromides parroted by the minions of this much too powerful, death-dealing, nuclear industry. To add to the insult of our collective intelligence, there is a nuclear-industry funded YouTube documentary, gone viral, purporting that the radioactive Chernobyl exclusion zone has become a kind of idyllic wildlife renewal refuge. As long as a trusting public is willing to swallow this toxic swill, these death dealing, time-bomb, perpetual death machines, will continue to infest and threaten our planet.

It is well beyond time for us to face the fact that nuclear power, in any form, is not and never was “safe”, clean, nor inexpensive. Such Neo-Orwellian statements have been categorically proven to be utterly false and diabolically manipulative. Moreover, it is my conviction that no technology that has been weaponized can ever, truly be either life-positive or “safe”. Instead of holding clandestine symposiums about how to safely” dispose of our deadly nuclear waste, how about people being invited to explore the self-destructive mind-set that found it somehow necessary to create these death-dealing, radioactive horrors?

Probably it is not news that our current, life threatening predicament has to do with a misguided, anti-life, mindset that created these nuclear threats to all life upon our planet and that any far reaching solutions are absolutely not to be found anywhere within the realm of any military, industrial , energy magnates.

Perhaps it is too much to hope for in these increasingly dark and difficult times, and still I have a persistent vision that there exists, now or somewhere in our near future, something like an alchemical technology that has the ability to transform these deadly nuclear particles into a more life-positive form. And, I also feel, that this will not be possible until we can find a way to choose and authentically embrace a more peaceful and inclusive frame of consciousness toward ourselves, each other and all living things. Meanwhile, to whatever degree possible, it is probably best to stay out of the rain.

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