FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Return to Chernobyl

by IRIS CHENG

We have just returned after completing an important mission in Ukraine taking around 70 journalists from 18 countries with us to Chernobyl, nearly 25 years after the nuclear catastrophe. It was one of the largest media trips Greenpeace has organized. These seasoned journalists asked critical and insightful questions, none of them easily moved.

But many of them were deeply disturbed by what they saw and heard often by the mundane details that were mentioned matter-of-factly by the interviewees.

Like every year Ukraine government needs to spend between six to eight percent of the fiscal budget to cope with the consequences of Chernobyl.

Like how tens of thousands of Ukrainian children need to be sent away every year to uncontaminated areas for at least a month, in order to allow the body to get rid of some of the Cesium-137 accumulated through eating everyday food like milk, mushrooms, berry jam and meat.

Like how food sold in every market needs to be tested for radionuclide like Cesium and Strontium.

Like how children of Rokytne get tonsillitis several times a year because their immune systems are compromised by radionuclide. According to deputy head doctor from the District Hospital, two-thirds of the population of 53,000 he cares for is affected by Cesium-137 contamination in food. Rokytne is 300km away from Chernobyl, on the other side of the country.

Like how the local health and sanitary station in some areas need to make maps to tell local communities where the radiation hotspots are and thus unsafe to go.

Like how in school children are taught the practical steps of radiation safety, and do emergency drills with gas masks.

Like how young expectant mothers get advice about what food they need to avoid, in order to minimise radionuclide uptake, which causes deformity in the developing fetus. They need frequent checks and if the fetus develops serious deformity then it may have to be aborted.

Like how it is considered impolite to ask workers building the new sarcophagus about their personal radiation dose. If it reaches the limit then they cannot work, which means they lose their job.

Like how radioactive waste containment and management had become an important sector of the economy, because of the Chernobyl disaster. The original sarcophagus, hastily built in the months after the accident, is meant to only last 25-30 years and now at risk of collapse. Underneath, the destroyed reactor is still on site and cannot be dismantled because of its extreme radioactivity.

The consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster lie in these mundane everyday facts. Life for these communities is brutally distorted, for centuries to come.

However, when I returned from Ukraine, I was hit by another distorted reality.

Nuclear proponents now claim that despite the fact that the situation in the Fukushima nuclear plant is still not under control, despite the massive amount of radioactive water dumped into the sea with unknown consequence Fukushima proves that nuclear energy is safe, because so far no one has been killed by the radiation?

I want them to say that to the doctors and the parents who are told that the state can now only afford to send children away for breaks in clean areas for 18 days per year. Nuclear supporters probably don’t know that it takes 50 days for the body of a child (100 days for adult) to get rid of half of its radioactive Cesium-137.

I want them to say that to the public health officials who are struggling to find funding to continue monitoring food contamination.

I want them to say that to the young woman who told us her favourite fruit is the blueberries from the forests. She knows they are contaminated by Cesium but she cannot help eating them sometimes.

I want them to take human life more seriously. There are 442 nuclear power plants in the world today and the majority are aging. There will be leaks, power outages, human errors, design flaws. The nuclear industry has no solutions to the radioactive waste problem. How many more life-crippling nuclear disasters will it take before the world gets rid of this outdated, dangerous and unnecessary technology?

IRIS CHENG is a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace International, based in Hong Kong.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail