What, in your opinion, is the challenge of Chernobyl? What is your personal experience of surviving and understanding Chernobyl? What struck you then, in 1986? What do you remember and feel today in the year 2020? What are the lessons of Chernobyl, what did they teach?
We found the answers to these questions in the memoirs of the philosopher and professor Victor Aronovich Malakhov:
“… For my generation, Chernobyl is a tragedy in which the stamp of crime is affixed with atomic fire. When the Chernobyl reactor exploded, it was the ninth month for my daughter, my niece would soon have turned five years old. We learned the parental anxiety of that era. We had physicist acquaintances. They were more or less familiar with the situation: in the early days, when the Chernobyl wind was blowing not in our direction, they allowed us to go out into the fresh air with our children. And then on April 30, at about noon, a breathless acquaintance runs to our cozy shady refuge in the Botanical Garden and, waving his arms, shouts to take immediately the children home.
It was a wonderful spring holiday, people were happy with the long line of upcoming weekend and looked at us in dismay, as at eccentrics. We “sat on the phone” at home and, frightened, began to warn friends, but few believed us. We had enough reasons for the fright because, under the first impression of trouble, we confused the micro-roentgens with the milli-roentgen in the heat of the moment, then lived for several hours in anticipation of an imminent radiation sickness.
An apocalypse in the soul
Those few hours were forever engraved in memory: a blossoming spring, a feeling of the beginning of a holiday on the street, and an apocalypse in the soul. The lies and silence of obvious facts on the part of the then power and its channels of information were striking in the following days. The first thing we learned about Chernobyl was a brief TASS report that said neither the scale of the tragedy, but that not a single foreign citizen was injured.
Television treated the population with major May Day reports, showed the smiling faces of fishermen, gardeners and summer residents who, leaving for nature, assured that they “did not believe” in any radiation, but only in Soviet science.
When my wife called in search of the truth to the reception of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, she was told in a metallic voice that nothing special had happened and was advised not to spread panic. Naturally, the conscious concealment of the real state of affairs fueled distrust of any non-specific information, set people up to the worst warnings, and created unbridled horror. And that was bad and dangerous. Among the closest circle of my acquaintances, I know people whose fates were broken by a hasty “flight from the reactor”.
Our family was saved in this regard. Firstly, by the aforementioned friends-physicists, and secondly, by the fact that from time to time we had at our disposal a dosimeter, and we could get at least some, albeit very limited, but specific and definite information. Now, it is difficult to imagine how important it was then, including in the moral and psychological sense. Based on such information, we could decide, in particular, what and how to clean in the house, what things should be thrown away from what “glowed”, when and where to take children, what to feed and the like.
I am sure that since the accident, such information was quite possible to bring to the attention of citizens. In particular, information on the real dose of radiation, and how to prevent the penetration of radioactive iodine into the body. There was nothing particularly cunning or disruptive in such information. Moreover, it could have saved many people’s health and life. But we were fed with silence, which rang with disdain for people.
A look from Ukraine – the doom of the Union was obvious
The fatality of the Chernobyl experience, not least, consists in the fact that at the dawn of the Brezhnev shifts, when possible prospects for the evolution of the whole country gradually emerged, this experience with “utter clarity” showed the complete indifference of the Soviet regime to human destiny and human experiences.
I am convinced that for many of my compatriots, it was Chernobyl which turned out to be a kind of last straw that overflowed the bowl of many years of patience – an event after which it turned out to be impossible to hope for the development of humanistic and democratic principles in the “format” of the USSR.
It was after Chernobyl that the doom of the Union, looking from Ukraine, became apparent. I say this with bitterness: it still seems to me that in the form of the Soviet Union, history has provided us with an extremely important, irreplaceable chance. Now, this chance has been lost forever. As you know, our former large country was a heroic country. It always needed heroes. Chernobyl also spawned entire cohorts of heroes, people who went on a feat risked their lives.
However, there is a feat and an act. The feat is to extinguish a radioactive fire. The act is to overcome explicit and implicit prohibitions, at your own peril and risk, break through to a microphone or television camera and tell people a concrete and understandable truth about what happened.
There were many feats, thanks to the people who performed them. However, were there enough actions? In this regard, I can’t forget about my own unworthy behavior: when I was giving a lecture to a student audience in the first days after the Chernobyl accident, I did not bother to tell my listeners what had happened and what was then for me the most acute experience.
I still don’t know how this could happen. I must admit that the sincere word of the teacher would undoubtedly be necessary at least for some of my students at that time. But I did not say anything.
What has changed Chernobyl in me?
It destroyed my faith in the minds of politicians who, only a day after the accident, decided to evacuate the city of Chernobyl power engineers, where my family also lived. Politicians have a special account. They still have not initiated the creation of nuclear-safe reactors.
They did not force power engineers to solve the problem of reliable and lifelong disposal of irradiated fuel and radioactive waste. And now, instead of drastically solving these global problems, nuclear scientists are deliberately fooling society, belittling the damage caused to it by nuclear technology.
And yet, despite the enormous high cost of such events, I hope for changes in nuclear energy, because I believe that even three decades after the Chernobyl accident, civil society is able to force politicians and energy workers to work more efficiently.
Sometimes, there is a feeling that CHERNOBYL HAS NOT TAUGHT OUR SOCIETY ANYTHING at the historical and moral levels.
This inability to learn comes from a specific relationship with history. There is no comprehension, and most importantly, RETHINKING history.
Chernobyl is the second genocide of Ukraine after the Holodomor. It is naive to believe that during the Soviet regime, society was not able to obtain information. However, many materials, sources, and interpretations have already been published in the post-Soviet period. So what? Did society rebel when it was said out loud that Stalin decapitated the Ukrainian nation, forced it to surrender, destroying its active social groups, and thereby turning it into a “submissive weapon in the hands of Kremlin officials”?
And today, it is said from time to time that the Holodomor is an invention of Ukrainian nationalists. If such amnesia affected the Holodomor, not only a political, social, economic, cultural disaster, but also a demographic catastrophe, almost one century in advance, then Chernobyl amnesia is probably a matter of habit?
Chernobyl Nuremberg or market relations?
As you know, Ukraine subsidizes the Russian nuclear fuel cycle. Market relations are market relations even into the afterlife. Soon, high-level waste should return from Russia to Ukraine. I wonder where? At one time, one could see the inscription at rallies, in a series of national flags: “We demand Chernobyl Nuremberg!”. However, Ukraine did not achieve the symbolic Nuremberg, but also an elementary trial of all those responsible for this catastrophe.
Impunity is a call for new bullying. Yes, Chernobyl is more than 400 Hiroshima bombs … Dead and born Ukrainian and Belarusian children did not manage to make their thousandth crane.
Now, the world is becoming such that it is important not only openness, but also the desire for accuracy. It is immoral and criminal to hush up important information for people. However, it is immoral to replace it with desperate pathetic, ideological pumping. We need to learn to combine prudent sobriety and profound, professional optimism. You cannot live humanly today without this. One must be able to take moral hazard, be able to defend the truth, remembering, in particular, that it can be the best medicine under certain circumstances.
There are many questions
I would like to know where 440 power reactors will go to when the power engineers will spend their resources. Who, how and where will the irradiated fuel be removed, which will already be 600 thousand tons in 2020? A radical solution to this issue is postponed everywhere until a decision has been made to store the irradiated fuel in dry temporary containers.
The decision has been postponed where and how to remove 10 tons of plutonium scattered around the planet after atomic bomb test explosions, after emissions of nuclear waste into the environment, after accidents at nuclear facilities. The decision has been postponed where to put billions of cubic meters of radioactive waste.
Life literally pushes people to actively develop energy with renewable resources such as wind, sun, tidal energy, geothermal energy and so on.
People quickly forget everything. The feat of people in Chernobyl is no exception. We are told that everyone is already tired of reminders of Chernobyl. Such is the way public memory is erased. So, the experience of popular solidarity and sacrifice is lost.
If we follow this logic further, there will be no reason to be surprised when some influential body proclaims that the Chernobyl disaster did not exist, or that the scale of its tragic consequences is clearly exaggerated, that radiation only improves the human population on the planet.
Relying on sanity, we emphasize that 34 years have passed since the tragedy. It’s time to take stock. Sooner or later, the “Chernobyl time” in Ukrainian history must end for life to make sense for future generations. We must finally go beyond the ZONE, having reserved for it the role of a terrible museum of the past.
The first step for this has already been taken. I want to believe that this step is successful. I want to believe that it is forever. Although by leaps and bounds, we are gradually mastering alternative sources of energy. Last year, the first solar power plant at the Chernobyl NPP began operation, a new safe confinement was commissioned. It is a multifunctional complex for the safe conversion of the Shelter object into an ecological system. The future is gradually coming to the Chernobyl NPP and the Exclusion Zone. I would like to hope that this process is irreversible. We have been waiting for it for a very long time.