Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chernobyl 20 years on: lest we forget

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. As Boing Boing so succinctly put it:
On 26 April 1986, at 1:23 AM, reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded. The radiation released was over a hundred times more than that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
They also have a good photo of the blast site from 1986.

I was 16 then, and I remember the fear resulting from the blast, and the terrible radioactive cloud that contaminated so much of Europe. In the Southeast Asian country I grew up in, we were relieved to learn that the radiation would not reach us. But it meant that we couldn't buy European dairy products for a long time. Our powdered milk and processed cheese had to come from New Zealand (I remember the Kiwi farmers being quite pleased with this turn of events), and secondarily Australia, for a long time.

To this day, farmers in parts of Wales and England must have their lambs inspected for radiation levels before they can ship them to market. (They hadn’t expected to still be doing this twenty years after the disaster!)

More horrific of course is the impact this nuclear catastrophe has had on the people who survived the fallout and on their children born with deformities and illnesses resulting from radiation exposure.

This morning, Fran Kelly of ABC Radio National interviewed Sixty Minutes' (Oz version) Richard Carleton about his trip to the heart of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. He warns of the poor condition of the material used to contain the radioactive reactor and structures containing it. Basically, the steel is rusting and falling off and the concrete cap crumbling. It will cost millions to fix-up the 'sarcophagus'. (The story is online here, and the mp3 can be downloaded here)

I still can't believe that the Australian establishment (by that I mean the mining interests, the state and Commonwealth governments and the self-anointed pundits who talk it up) is seriously pushing for Australia to increase its uranium exports to India and China to allow them to increase their nuclear energy generation, and that they're seriously contemplating nuclear power stations here in Australia.

No matter that Australia has such abundant sunshine and coastline that solar- and wind-generated power would be hugely cheaper and ultimately safer to produce. No matter that uranium mining invariably displaces Aboriginal people from their land or impinges on their land rights. No matter that the existing uranium mines can't seem to be run safely enough let alone have more or bigger ones (not long ago, workers at an Australian uranium mine found they had been bathing in and drinking radiation contaminated water.

What is scary is that proponents of nuclear power have been using the water crisis (in Australia especially), climate change and CO2 emissions, and rising fuel and coal prices to justify their call for a nuclear Australia.

I only hope that by remembering Chernobyl and its legacy of nuclear poisoning, we can continue to bolster public opinion against the development of a nuclear power industry in Australia or the expansion of uranium mining here.

If you want to know more about Chernobyl and what's happening to commemorate this tragedy today, Boing Boing recommends, "a site dedicated to the long term consequences of the disaster"
there's a list of commemoration activities planned around the world for April 26, 2006. The site also contains historic details, an extensive index of projects aiding survivors, and interviews with people who lived through the disaster. [Boing Boing]
Let's not forget the bitter harvest of this ill wind. Or we'll let it happen again.

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At April 30, 2006 2:21 pm, Anonymous Andrew Rickard said...

Hi Mark,

We've seen quite a bit of coverage about Cher. here as well. Like you my recollection of the events are still really vivid. I think it may have through the fear passed down by our parents as I doubt that I would have been able to grasp the seriousness of the event at that age.

Have you guys had the baby yet?

Hope all is well.


At April 30, 2006 4:34 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Hi Andrew, it's strange what I remember of that time, which is why I blogged about the milk powder import issues the crisis provoked. But I have other sensory memories and a context: my dad subscribed to the Time magazine, and I remember extensive coverage of Chernobyl, and it was also the era of Reagan, Thatcher and the Soviet Union – the Cold War and Nuclear fear were very real. Chernobyl was firmly lodged in that era's context, for me.

And, no further news on the baby...

At May 03, 2006 5:35 pm, Blogger alexx said...

Hi Mark, I found your link on New Matilda.
You're right, we can't trust our government any more, and that's a very sad state of affairs. I remember hearing Hansons maiden speech in Parliament, and wondered why Howard didn't make any comment. Now we know too well. He has made a fine art of following her agenda, and now ther is no stopping him.
We will get nuclear power under the Liberals, and maybe under Labor as well.This is not the legacy we want to leave our children.

At May 07, 2006 3:52 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Alexx, thanks for visiting my blog. I have been rather preoccupied with truth in government for the last year, as you may see in this blog. However, I remain hopeful that we can do something about the Howard government. Our failure to do something - to continue to resist and to demand change - is tantamount to failing in our responsibility to ourselves, and to our children! Hope you visit again. Mark


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