The consequences of Chernobyl reach planetary proportions in space and eternity, to wit, in time. They are truly global, as the radioactive materials from the destroyed reactor were spread all over the planet.
No matter how the estimates of the Chernobyl release of radioactivity differ, their total value is hundreds of times greater than the power of nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The consequences of Chernobyl are eternal, because the genetic changes caused by radiation can be transmitted from generation to generation. Finally, the life span of some radionuclides released into the environment during the crash ranges from several tens to several thousand years. For example, the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years.
Most of the territory of Belarus, the territory of Ukraine up to 9%, as well as 19 regions of Russia, are contaminated with radionuclides. The total number of people affected in these regions is approaching 9 million. As a result of the release of radioactive materials, more than 50 thousand square kilometres of Ukraine are contaminated.
The permanent source of radionuclide flow into adjacent territories is the Chernobyl exclusion zone, 2598 square kilometres, from which the population was evacuated in 1986. It is logical that Chernobyl is rightly called one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century, comparing it with the terror of the times of the civil war and Stalinism, two world wars, the Holodomor, the Holocaust …
At the same time, one cannot fail to notice the differences between the Chernobyl disaster and any other tragic event. Both the sources and consequences of the Chernobyl disaster are difficult to comprehend. This is the case when we are experiencing, trying to understand and overcome a tragedy that does not fit into the usual concepts that have been formed over millennia of human history.
Chernobyl seemed to take us into a new history, where there is a breakdown of established concepts: “progress” and “decline”, “far” and “close”, “past” and “future”, “power” and “powerlessness” …
It also called into question the existing system of values and worldview, traditional models of production and consumption, the correctness of the civilizational path of mankind.
On the one hand, the Chernobyl disaster even more sharply outlined the contradictions between the human right to life and security. But on the other hand, there is the element of permissiveness in the name of ideological thoughts, technological power, global imperial domination, unlimited profits…
The danger of Chernobyl is poorly perceptible, its manifestations and threats have no boundaries in time. It would be a mistake to assume that we have been living after Chernobyl for 30 years. In fact, we have been living NEXT to Chernobyl for thirty years. And it will be with us in three hundred years, and in three thousand, and in thirty thousand.
And this is not that eternity which is passive towards us, like the ancient Egyptian pyramids. As the Nobel laureate Svetlana Aleksievich said: “By Chernobyl, man has encroached on everything, on the whole of God’s world.” The eternity and infinity of Chernobyl are threatening, and will continue to threaten: both us and all life on Earth. This is a disaster which is always … with us.
The lessons of Chernobyl have not been studied, the prospects are illusory
Together with the explosion of the fourth reactor at Chernobyl, both time and space were shaken. A few days after the tragic explosion, its radioactive trail was recorded in America and the Arctic. In two weeks, it was on all continents. Again, as Alexievich says: “The Earth turned out to be so small that it seemed it was not the same Earth that was in the days of Columbus.”
And what did these thirty-three years of life with Chernobyl teach us? Unfortunately, sometimes one has to admit that Chernobyl is a forgotten disaster now.
For 33 years, neither society nor the authorities in Ukraine have made the proper conclusions about how and why the accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, how this event affected the fate of the then USSR, the life of the modern generation, how the consequences of the disaster will affect the right of future generations to live in safety.
The Chernobyl explosion was, to a large extent, the logical consequence of the thoughtless pursuit of the veil of imperial domination, during which man and nature acted only as an unlimited resource, consumables, and nuclear technology was a means of quick victory.
The catastrophe, which unfolded in an atmosphere of criminal secrecy, and then directly affected millions of people, caused a long socio-psychological tension in society and aroused a powerful civic desire for freedom of information and speech.
Full-fledged freedom of speech differed from the gift and dosed from the “Kremlin cabinets of publicity”. There was only one step from freedom of speech to targeted civic activism and the beginning of spontaneous democratization of public life. It is worth recalling that the first public organizations that arose in the post Chernobyl Ukraine were precisely ecological and environmental.
Despite the really colossal administrative, technological, financial and human resources given by the then superpower to overcome the consequences of the disaster, their meaningful and rational use was never established.
Therefore, it was not possible to minimize the scale of the Chernobyl disaster for several years. For many, the truth became clear that the Chernobyl disaster could have occurred equally and lead to such tragic consequences only in a very closed, short-sighted, strictly regulated in its actions, and therefore ineffective, unnatural, doomed to disintegration society.
But it would be wrong to consider the Chernobyl disaster separate only Ukrainian, or only Soviet history. The Chernobyl explosion threw to the surface a mass of unsolved problems in the global nuclear industry.
Chernobyl has a larger, truly civilizational dimension. The catastrophe even sharper indicated the contradictions inherent in the technocratic model of the development of society. This is a model that has a vulgar and materialistic view of progress, prosperity, and development.
The meaning of this form of existence lies in the conditions of the artificially created distance of mankind from its natural roots, with all the imbalances in the plane of human capabilities and responsibility, with a striking imbalance between awareness of spiritual and material values.
But the most important thing is that no conclusions have been reached yet that prompted changes in state actions and public behavior – despite the whole dramatic experience, numerous publications, tons of scientific papers and investigations, billions of borrowed money in the world, flows beautiful words spoken from all sorts of stands …
The world has really changed after the Chernobyl tragedy. Everything except us – indifferent, ignorant, irresponsible, frivolous, lazy – has changed …
Ukraine has been living without a National Program for Overcoming the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster (the old Program has expired) for several years. There are proposals in the offices of bureaucrats about the urgent need to develop a new national Chernobyl program and the search for resources for its implementation. Time is moving inexorably forward, but we are not observing any decisions or actions in this direction.
We just hear another empty promise – a stream of populist words from politicians and officials. The general impression is that the lessons of Chernobyl have not been studied, the prospects are illusory.
It is obvious to everyone that the current state activity to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, which formally exists only on paper, has failed: both in terms of social protection of the victims, and environmental, medical indicators, and environmental safety factors. There is no state strategy for radioactive waste management in Ukraine.
It has become familiar. We create problems, and we entrust their solutions to children and grandchildren. The answer is always the same – officials are busy seeking funds. You can’t save on solving safety and health problems that may get out of control tomorrow.
For example, on the health of children in the villages of Polesie, who still receive large doses of radiation from the consumption of locally manufactured products, mainly milk and potatoes. It’s a disgrace for a state in which politicians cannot find money for clean products for Polesye children, but find enough of it for billboards for self-promotion and expensive limousines …
The ZONE is still fraught with peril
In addition to the Shelter facility, the Chernobyl zone is a place in which a huge amount of concentrated radioactive waste is concentrated, which sooner or later must be reliably buried in deep geological formations. In fact, the creation of objects of the radioactive waste management system in recent years has occurred only for borrowed money. Budget funding is completely absent …
Meanwhile, the Chernobyl 30-kilometer exclusion zone fell into the top ten most environmentally disadvantaged places on the planet today.
Monitoring studies in it indicate that the danger associated with an increase in the concentration of a toxic, very mobile isotope, americium, formed during the decay of plutonium, increases in most of it. But forests regularly burn in the exclusion zone – large areas were covered by fires in the hot summer of 2015. So, according to the data of the Eastern Fire Monitoring Center, last year 10,000 hectares of forest and peat bogs burned in the exclusion zone. Fires were continuing from April to October. But the threat of a significant transfer of radionuclides from the foci and the need to monitor the movement of the radioactive plume began to be discussed only when the smog swept Kiev.
Undoubtedly, rallies with the usual scenario, with the presence of pathetic recitation and “ritual crying” will be held in all cities and villages on the occasion of the next anniversary of Chernobyl. On April 26, we will again have another reason to ask for money from foreign creditors. And again there are almost no practical solutions, no action.
The main lesson we should have learned in 33 years is that we cannot only mourn our fate, walk the world with outstretched hands. We must live with awareness of the real risks and do everything possible to reduce them. They must work twice as active, educate the new generation of a new consciousness, based on the desire to live in harmony with Nature.
Fundamental changes are needed in our value system and lifestyle. Chernobyl does not leave us alone also because we did not get rid of the consumer attitude to Nature. We continue to create a new “Chernobyl” on our land: we destroy the Carpathians with wild deforestation, Polesye with barbaric amber extraction, mountain rivers with hydroelectric power stations, the environment of our cities with ugly dumps …
Finally, the Chernobyl experience teaches us that only truly open and legal, highly educated and highly organized society, responsible to its fellow citizens, their descendants and all of the humanity, can afford nuclear energy. We must form such a society in Ukraine step by step. No one will do this in our place.