CHERNOBYL AND FUKUSHIMA
17 March, 2011
CHERNOBYL AND FUKUSHIMA

Nowadays Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant and Ukraine’s Chernobyl are compared as symbols of nuclear catastrophes. In both cases power plants exploded, killing people, producing fire and threat, even if their causes were different.

The Chernobyl blast was man-made and could be prevented while Fukushima triggered by unconquerable forces of nature. And their aftermaths were even more different. Japan met the challenge with openness, responsibility, and resolution. I cannot say that about the Chernobyl tragedy which I witnessed in 1986 in

the nearby Kiev. Due to secrecy people were left in ignorance of its danger. Everybody celebrated the 1st of May, then the Russian Orthodox Easter weekend while television broadcast a local international bike race in Kiev. Both the bikers and the public had no idea they shouldn’t be out on that sunny day exposed to radiation. In Pripyat, where the Chernobyl Power Plant personnel lived, trucks traversed the streets spraying water to calm the radioactive dust while ignorant kids were ‘bathing’ in sprays. And when belated evacuation began, it was carried unexpectedly and hastily: Family members were seized in different places by force and driven out separately by buses. It took months to find each other in evacuation, in faraway prescribed locations. Just like cattle! The highly contaminated 30-kilometer zone around Chernobyl was declared forbidden, but elderly farmers said they’d “better die at home” and refused evacuation, or returned from it secretly. I spoke with some of them eight years later while visiting the Zone. (My report was published by The Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1995.) They were cowing contaminated milk and cultivating poisoned vegetables. About 400 buses were mobilized to evacuate people from Chernobyl. For days they were passing through Kiev, leaving contaminated dust; later they were buried, but not cleaned, bringing poison into the underground water and eventually getting to the Black Sea. Radioactive dust was spread by winds and rainfalls all over Ukraine, Belarus, parts of Russia etc. But while in neighboring countries contaminated crops were burned, in the USSR orchards and plantations were harvested, except for the Zone. Iodine, presumed to be the best remedy against radiation, immediately disappeared from local drugstores (in neighboring Poland it was distributed for free by the government!) together with red wine, recommended by doctors but also absent. Numbers of deaths and hospitalizations rose dramatically but doctors were ordered to register all cases, even of thyroid cancer and leukemia, as resulting from unrelated causes.  Mass media did not report on Chernobyl for many days, while foreign radio broadcasts were jammed, and if one mentioned Chernobyl, radioactivity and the like in telephone conversations, the line was immediately disconnected. All radioactive counters were immediately confiscated from specialists at the workplace. (These instruments had never been on sale or in private use) and government, industrial and research employees had to sign a secrecy pledge, not to reveal the truth with friends and families. But when the truth was disclosed, people in thousands rushed to railway and air terminals, to run away from the deadly threat. But no tickets were available. I witnessed infuriated crowds storming trains... all booked by the Big Shots. (It took me fantastic effort to evacuate my family to Moscow.). Kievians, many with kids on their shoulders, demonstrated loyalty to communism during the May demonstration without knowing their kids were exposed to mortal radiation, while dignitaries’ kids had been evacuated to Artek, the Black Sea resort, days before. When Ukraine learned that, even the most stubborn guys brainwashed by propaganda got sober. Chernobyl cleared their eyes. The disintegration of the USSR began.

 

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