The Telegraph published an article titled Chernobyl: The toxic tourist attraction that is clearly designed to play off of the upcoming (April 26) 25th anniversary of the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. The teaser for the article reinforces that assumption.
As Ukraine prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster next month, its legacy remains as divisive as ever, writes Andrew Osborn.
The article is not particularly well researched, and it includes a number of misstatements that reflect the assumptions and positions of the author rather than an informed effort to revisit an important historical event to learn the available lessons. Chernobyl happened and that is a tragedy for the people it affected, but it was also an opportunity for the world to learn some important lessons. Here is one of the comments that I made on the article in reference to a passage that occurs immediately after the lede.
The following passage should cause a person with a questioning attitude to say “huh?”
“”I absorbed a dose of radiation that should have killed me,” says the former Chernobyl engineer, his eyes welling up with tears. “I thought afterwards that it would only be a matter of time before my family had to fend for themselves.”
Now 60 and the head of an organisation representing 450,000 people affected by the tragedy, Mr Andreyev’s pessimism is understandable.”
It seems to me that Mr. Andreyev has no reason for pessimism, but he might have good justification for anger. He was told that he had received a lethal dose, but it sounds like he is doing okay almost 25 years later. If I were him, I would be angry at all of the lost sleep and worry for no apparent reason.
He probably was forcefully evacuated from his home, yet if he did some research he might find that he and his neighbors could have easily remained and prospered if just a few simple clean up steps had been taken instead.
It is not well known, but many of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still doing quite well considering the fact that their supposedly harmful doses were administered 65 years ago.
High doses of radiation are deadly and can cause very painful consequences. However, there are often many orders of magnitude of difference between those deadly high doses and the doses that fear mongers have been telling people to worry about for many years. Low doses of atomic radiation are a natural part of the earthly environment; scientific evidence collected through hundreds of studies conducted over the past 7 decades are showing that humans evolved some defense and repair mechanisms that reduce the consequences of low doses.
Some of those studies are even showing that low doses of radiation have effects that are similar to low doses of substances like niacin, thiamine, and biotin.
The dose makes the poison. The converse of that is often that low doses are not a poison, but a vitamin.
What I did not mention in that comment, but thought about right after I posted it, was the fact that neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki were evacuated. Both were cleaned up and restored as soon as there were sufficient resources to do so. That kind of response would have been far better for the affected populations near Chernobyl than the action that the political leaders in the Soviet Union took to disrupt and disperse the survivors. Radiation and radioactive materials are not something to be feared; they are something to be understood and properly handled.
Chernobyl should not be used as an excuse for continuing to depend on explosive and dirty fossil fuels rather than moving towards clean, safe and abundant nuclear energy. Considering the importance of selling oil and natural gas to the west to the Soviet Union’s economy at the time of the accident, it is hard for me not to suspect that there was internal political pressure applied to take actions that would inflate the accident’s publicized consequences.
The world needs to learn all of the available lessons from the accident. One lesson that the world should carry away from Chernobyl is to never again build water cooled graphite moderated reactors that do not have containment systems. However, if you already have such a device in operation, never allow it to be operated by lightly trained people supervised by a politically appointed manager under a system where operators have been trained to blindly obey orders, even if those orders violate what little knowledge they have.
And, if for some unforeseen reason you have a slightly unstable device and a crew of lightly trained operators, supervise them well enough so that they do not perform an unauthorized test late at night and put the plant into a very unstable operating condition.
In other words, the chances of repeating Chernobyl are exceedingly remote. Nuclear energy is far better than all other alternatives, even after taking Chernobyl into account. Despite the accusations of those opposing nuclear energy, all nuclear professionals are painfully aware that it happened and caused more damage to more people than it should have.
Channeling the Strong Force (March 1, 2011) – Chernobyl 25th Anniversary Fear-Fest
American Nuclear Society Chernobyl information page