Radioactive Wolves, the first episode of the 30th season of PBS’s Nature, documents current conditions in the area that was forcibly evacuated following the uncontrolled radioactive material releases caused when the operators at the Chernobyl nuclear power station conducted a poorly planned experiment and blew up their power plant.
In the absence of human beings, the remaining creatures seem to be doing just fine. I believe that is because it is hard to teach animals to be afraid of radiation; they do not watch many scary movies or news programs featuring breathless commentators interviewing publicity seeking “experts” whose main claim to fame is a lack of actual nuclear plant operating experience. Even long-lived creatures like catfish and eagles show few signs that they are constantly eating contaminated food from an area that has been officially declared to be unfit for habitation.
It should be difficult for a thinking person to watch this show without asking some of the following questions:
- If radiation is so dangerous, why doesn’t it seem to affect other mammals?
- If radiation is so dangerous, why do the plants and animals look so normal and healthy?
- Is there any logical reason to be more fearful of radiation than other risks?
- If radiation is not as dangerous as some people claim, why were so many people forced to leave their homes and livelihoods?
- Who benefits by working so hard to make people afraid of radiation and nuclear energy?
A long time ago, I read a lengthy technical article that provided the details of the events leading up to the explosion. It was difficult to imagine how any trained operator could keep moving down the path that was taken without calling a halt to the evolution to ask hard questions and demand adequate responses.
By the end of the article, I was more than a little suspicious that the politically appointed person driving the actions actually wanted to damage the plant. At the time I could not understand why anyone would do such a thing. That was before I realize how financially rewarding it can be for the establishment hydrocarbon industry to put nuclear energy into a negative light and before I understood just how important selling oil and gas to Europe was to the Soviet Union and how important that activity remains for Russia.
I have read a few articles recently about efforts in Belarus to resettle parts of the evacuated areas, but information about the progress of those efforts is difficult to find. In the post Fukushima world, it is important to learn as much as we can about the measured long-term effect of radioactive materials released into the environment. Reactor accidents are events worth avoiding, but it is becoming more evident that the actual results are within the limits of the risk that is routinely accepted in many other industries.
If that is true, more people should become comfortable with the prospects of using nuclear energy to benefit mankind and to make life more comfortable and prosperous for us all. The reality seems to be that nuclear accidents are not only rare events, but the consequences that result from a rare, but possible, failure are acceptable.
I hope my colleagues in the nuclear business will stop repeating the mantra an accident anywhere is any accident everywhere. We are the ones who make that a self fulfilling prophesy. I also hope that sufficient numbers of key decision makers in government and in the financial/insurance industry will do the math to recognize that nuclear energy related risk is manageable.
Dr. Bernard Cohen – Indoor Radon, Lung Cancer, and the No-Threshold Linear Hypothesis. YouTube video of a talk presented at the 15th Annual Meeting of the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness held in San Diego, California; June 1997. (Please note the discussion about Muller’s fruit fly experiments near minute 10 of the video.)