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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Twenty Years Since The Chernobyl Disaster

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the explosion of Reactor Number Four of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant near Chernobyl, Ukraine. The explosion and fallout spread radiation worldwide and has claimed nearly ten thousand lives so far. The disaster left a large "exclusion zone" of the most contaminated areas around the power plant; access to this area is limited, and it includes several vacant towns as well as the large city of Pripyat.

To me, the accident is a frightening reminder of the consequences of technological over-development. While the exclusion zone is small compared to the total amount of habitable land on the planet, it is immense compared to the size of one person. The number of deaths also is frightening. If the Western way of life requires such monstrosities as nuclear power plants, that way of life risks destruction of life itself. How can anything as superficial as the Western way of life be worth that risk?

The disaster also illustrates that Soviet communism's own obsession with technology and ignorance of ecological impact mirrored that of Western capitalism. Without ecological and long-range historical perspective, no society is sustainable.

Here are some links related to the disaster:

Excellent photos from the exclusion zone

Despite Mutations, Chernobyl Wildlife Is Thriving - Kate Ravilious (National Geographic News)

Survivors remember Chernobyl (News24)

Kidd of Speed: The famed website of Elena, who chronicles her motorcycle rides through the abandoned areas around the reactor.

Wikipedia article

For a book-length account of the disaster, I highly recommend Piers Paul Read's Ablaze! His detailed account covers the technological failure of the reactor as well as the social dynamics at the power plant and in the Soviet government in which the disaster was embedded.


Michael M. said...

The motorcycle story is riddled with misrepresentations. See here and here.

Joe said...

It's really scary just how many people are supporting nuclear power today.

While its true that at Chernobyl, the Soviet regime made a lot of mistakes and that the reactor set-ups in the U.S. have more failsafes, still we had the near-miss at Three Mile Island in 1979.

Have people already forgotten these incidents, in the rush to get alternatives to foreign oil? Even some young environmentally-conscious people seem to support nuclear power, but I'm just not comfortable with that.

Invest in renewables instead - wind and solar especially. Hydro has its own sets of ecological problems.