Day Two - April 23, 2006
Today was the opening session of the conference on Chernobyl entitled, ‘Remembrance for the Future’. A very interesting cultural program started off the conference, and the question was posed by a poet: Chernobyl, is this our past or is our future?
Obviously a resurgence of nuclear power would put the world at greater risk of having an accident like Chernobyl repeat itself. The only good that could come of Chernobyl is for people to realize how incredibly destructive nuclear power can be, even civilian nuclear power, the so-called ‘peaceful atom’ which in fact is the Siamese twin of the nuclear bomb.
The poems also spoke of imagination. No one ever imagined the destruction that Chernobyl caused. Nor did people even think that an nuclear explosion in Kiev could contaminate regions as far off as Wales.
Today I spoke with a German physician attending the conference, Angelicka. She told me that regions that were contaminated by Chernobyl included northern Italy, Austria, Northern Finland and Sweden, Northern Norway, Wales, Southern Bavaria in Germany and the Czech Republic.
High radioactivity was recorded as far away as coastal Alaska.
It is extremely unpleasant to begin to imagine just how vulnerable the world is to a single nuclear accident, and to imagine the true horrors of radiation on human health.
Although there is a 30 kilometer “Dead zone” around the reactor, many areas in Europe remain contaminated and will continue to be for hundreds of years.
Sheep as far away as Wales continue to be quarantined because the land on which they graze is still contaminated.
In fact, new evidence shows that more than fifty percent of the fallout from Chernobyl came down in countries outside the Soviet Union.
A documentary shown this evening entitled “Chernobyl Hearts”, documents children who have been affected by radiation. In one city of Belarus, 20 years after the disaster, only 20% of newborn children are healthy. Approximately 6 million people live in contaminated areas. Children to this day continue to be born with horrible deformities. The passing of time has not dissipated the radiation induced-sicknesses and deformities. One young man in the film had just had his thyroid removed, and three of his friends had also had thyroid cancer.
I met several people today who went to the reactor site yesterday. They were unable to describe to me the feeling that came over them while they were there. What is perhaps most disconcerting is the uncertainty one feels when one looks at the abandoned buildings, the schools abandoned in what seems a mad rush, with dolls, shoes, chairs and books, all left behind, all nuclear waste.
With the nuclear industry pushing for a massive come-back, is Chernobyl enough for us to have learned a lesson and to relegate nuclear energy to our past or is it a hint of our future?...
This conference will certainly put the legacy of Chernobyl at the forefront of everyone’s minds in the hopes of avoiding another similar accident.
Tomorrow will begin the highly debated topic of health impacts of Chernobyl. The World Health Organization’s controversial report put out contradictory numbers. Their press release put the death toll of Chernobyl at 4,000. Another part of the report spoke of 9,000 deaths, and a third part of the report spoke of 12,000 deaths. As a result another report was commissioned which puts the death toll from cancer to between 30,000 and 60,000, many outside of the former soviet union.
Emilie Moorhouse is Sierra Club of Canada's Atmosphere and Energy Campaigner.