Friday marked the 27th Anniversary of the Chornobyl (Ukrainian spelling) disaster. Apart from the annual honouring of victims, the surreal stories of the suffering populace at the hands of their authoritarian rulers remain hidden – effects which still linger to this day:
It was 25 years ago today that testing of the cooling system failed in reactor #4 of the Chornobyl (Ukrainian spelling) nuclear power station, ripping open the 2,000 ton cover, releasing radioactive particles into the atmosphere:
After the fall of Communism in 1991, Russia became the successor to the Soviet Union, inheriting it’s wealth and nuclear domain. The original Soviet statistics which are still used to this day claim only 30 lives from this catastrophe, but much headway has been made recently from researchers to gain a more accurate understanding of the suffering:
Most recent data say the total Chernobyl death toll comes to over one million people all over the world, and this staggering figure is only bound to grow further, claiming more and more from the future generations. The bulk of the contamination covered the territories of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, but still it only made up 43 percent of the total radioactivity that was released when the multi-tonne reactor cover was blown away by a powerful explosion and the highly radioactive fuel from reactor 4 was dispersed into the atmosphere. Most of the radioactive particles fell out in North America, Africa, and countries in Europe and Asia. These are the data from the book entitled “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” which is to be presented in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, today. The book was written by scientists from countries that have been most impacted by Chernobyl and includes data from a considerable number of studies undertaken in the past quarter-century in many countries of the world.
Russian authorities and the atomic industry not only have not drawn any new lessons from the Chernobyl tragedy, but they have not even learned respect for the victims of nuclear catastrophes in general. There cannot be any respect in a situation wherein the majority of the victims are not even acknowledged. Such is the attitude to victims of the nuclear disaster at the Mayak Chemical Combine in 1957. Instead of apologies and a renewal of historic justice, the government seemingly is waiting for all of the victims to quietly die off. At the end of last year, the State Duma refused to enact a law defining those who were irradiated in utero by the 1957 accident at Mayak as victims of the incident. According to archives, some 2000 pregnant women were inducted to work on the liquidation of the accident, but their children, a small number of which are still alive, now cannot prove the harm their health sustained. From a legal point of view, they cannot be victims of the accident because they had not yet been born when it happened.
The 1957 accident was kept under wraps until 1989 – doctors were forbidden to issue diagnoses confirming a link to radiation related illnesses, which means that today’s victim statistics aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. In the first three years after Chernobyl, the data on those who suffered in the wake of the explosion at the nuclear power station were also extremely distorted and today the Soviet period data is hardly adequate. The maimed figures can be explained either by secretiveness or political expediency, but why has such a disrespectful and cynical attitude toward the victims remained? The answer to that question is almost obscenely simple: money. Atomic businessmen consider it their duty to deny any negative consequences of the nuclear accident, assuming that admitting to problems will tarnish the image of nuclear energy, which will negatively impact business.
An international donors’ conference raised pledges of euro550 million ($802 million) to build a shelter to cover the exploded reactor building for the next century. But that was short of the euro740 million ($1.1 billion) sought for the shelter and a facility for storing spent reactor fuel.
Once the enormous shelter is completed and slid over the reactor building on rails, expected in 2015, workers can begin disassembling the reactor and disposing the hundreds of tons of radioactive material inside. It is still not clear how that will be done or how much it will cost.
“Right now, we don’t have the processes, but we are working on developing them,” Igor Gramotkin, director of the now-decommissioned power plant, told delegates.
the Toronto-based Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund (CCCF) is marking the solemn occasion with the official opening of a special photo essay called Chornobyl: 25 Years Later on Tuesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. at the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation, 2118-A Bloor St. W., second floor.
The exhibit, which runs from April 26 to May 4, features 24 documentary-style images snapped by Leslieville photographer Olena Sullivan.
At first, authorities denied there was a problem. When they finally admitted the truth more than a day later, many thousands of inhabitants simply picked up a few of their belongings and headed off – many of them to the capital Kiev 80 km (50 miles) to the south, never to return. Iryna Lobanova, 44, a civil servant, was due to get married in Prypyat on the day of the explosion but assumed all ceremonies would be canceled. “I thought that war had started,” she told Reuters this week. “But the local authorities told us go on with all planned ceremonies.” Nobody was allowed to leave the town until the official evacuation was announced on the Sunday” – 36 hours later – “following an order from Moscow,” she said.
The disaster and the government’s handling of it highlighted the shortcomings of the Soviet system with its unaccountable bureaucrats and entrenched culture of secrecy. Journalists subsequently uncovered evidence that the children of Communist apparatchiks had been evacuated well before others and some staff died at the plant because they had not been given orders to leave. — The official short-term death toll from the accident was 31 but many more people died of radiation-related sicknesses such as cancer. The total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate even 25 years after the disaster.
a 2009 book by a group of Russian and Belarussian scientists published by the New York Academy of Sciences argued that previous studies were misled by rigged Soviet statistics. “The official position of the Chernobyl Forum (a group of UN agencies) is that about 9,000 related deaths have occurred and some 200,000 people have illnesses caused by the catastrophe,” authors Alexei Yablokov, Vasily Nesterenko and Alexei Nesterenko wrote in “Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe for people and the Environment.” “A more accurate number estimates nearly 400 million human beings have been exposed to Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout and, for many generations, they and their descendants will suffer the devastating consequences.” The authors argued that the global death toll by 2004 was closer to 1 million and said health effects included birth defects, pregnancy losses, accelerated aging, brain damage, heart, endocrine, kidney, gastrointestinal and lung diseases.
Officials say Ukraine is likely to spend billions of euros on confinement upkeep costs before it finds a way to bury the reactor components, perhaps under layers of underground granite rocks
Some argue the downplay of the death toll is an effort to reduce neighbouring aid. And while Ukraine is left with the burden and exuberant cost of the aftermath, why is not the Soviet Union’s legal successor, Russia, not forced to share in the responsibility?
During the evening of April 26, 1986 – 24 years ago – there was an explosion at one of the reactors of the Chornobyl Nuclear Plant in Ukraine, a fact now well known throughout the world.However, even today we do not have a complete understanding or information about the consequences of this disaster then and its ongoing ramifications because the Soviet Union took on a major cover-up of this nuclear explosion.
Moscow, which then still controlled all dissemination of information throughout the Soviet Union, did not announce or warn the people of Ukraine or nearby Belarus of the Chornobyl accident. When European scientists raised an alarm, on the morning of April 28, Moscow initially denied an accident had occurred.
The accident was played down and life went on as usual in the Soviet state. Though, as was later learned, Kyiv’s Communist political elite knew, or had suspicions about the disaster and began to evacuate their families, within the first 72 hours after the explosion. However, millions of people within 100 kilometers of Chornobyl, which included Kyiv, and outlying suburbs and villages, had no information whatsoever.
On April 30, the lead story in Soviet media was about flowers in Ukraine and preparations for the May Day parade. The public was assured that “the air and water around Kyiv was fine,” though we now know the radiation plume returned over Kyiv with increasing amounts of radiation.
Not until May 5 – 10 days after the explosion – and only after public outcry from Europe and government pressure from the West did the Kremlin admit to the completely uncontained nature of the explosion and the extent of the radioactive disaster.
However, Soviet authorities held steadfast to their decision that no Western aid – none – would be sent to Ukraine. American doctors were allowed to fly into Moscow to assist there, but none were allowed into Ukraine. These aid efforts were reported and highlighted in the West but the disparaging treatment of the people of Ukraine, the people most affected, never seemed to trigger any genuine official or media outrage.
Eventually, significantly more than a year after the nuclear explosion, Western aid finally was allowed into Ukraine. No one will ever be able to define adequately the human cost of the unnecessary delay.
This information is important to place into context, not only to the reality and the implications of this reality within Ukraine, but to add a critical perspective to the history of the American’s on-again, off-again infatuation with Moscow and our frequently myopic Russo-centric attitudes and policies.
If ever there is a country that has had both a reason and a determination to be nuclear-free, it is Ukraine. Ukraine’s actions did not stop with declarations, but continued after independence. Ukraine acted upon its declaration: officials sought a way to dismantle and dispose of aging nuclear missiles. As mentioned earlier, in the early 1990s, the last people Ukraine trusted with anything that could endanger the lives of the people of Ukraine were the power elite in Russia, under the direction of the Kremlin. Ukrainian officials wanted to turn over Ukraine’s warheads to the United States and said so many times, on many occasions. Moscow, however, vehemently protested Ukraine’s position, insisting that the warheads be delivered to Russia.
The death toll from the Chernobyl disaster is not well documented. Officially there were 56 fatalities, mostly from radiation poisoning after the event. However, a cover-up by Soviet authorities has spurred much speculation over what the long-term effects of the incident are. Outbreaks of cancers and birth defects have been blamed on the Chernobyl disaster but never scientifically substantiated. [Wired]