This blog is a little different in that the killers aren’t individuals but under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Soviet Union. The USSR knew very well the dangers of building a nuclear power plant near a highly populated suburb in Pripyat, Ukraine. Further, the authorities were well aware that there were insufficient safety controls in place that could have prevented the tragedy that occurred on April 26, 1986. The Chernobyl Disaster remains the worst nuclear power plant explosion in history in terms of cost and deaths. To this day, Chernobyl is largely uninhabited and the effects of the nuclear disaster have affected generations of victims and their descendents across Europe.
April 26, 1986 started out as a day like any other for the workers in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant and the inhabitants of Pripyat. People went about their business and at the plant, workers conducted a systems test at reactor number 4, close in proximity to Pripyat.The test was risky as it required the shutting down of a coolant system in the event of a power surge. This was precisely what happened. There was a sudden, unexpected power surge, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted, a much larger spike in power output occurred, which led to a series of steam explosions. The coolant system was insufficient due to a one-minute power gap that management had been trying unsuccessfully to correct. The resulting fire sent a massive plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area, including Pripyat. Many of the workers remained in the plant to try and rectify the emergency. The explosion was so powerful that it blew the 2000 ton steel lid off the top of the core.
The Chernobyl power plant had been in operation for two years with failing test results that would allow the plant the capability to ride through the first 60–75 seconds without the cooling system in place during a loss of electric power. The station managers wished to correct this at the first opportunity, which may explain why they continued the test even when serious problems arose, and why the requisite approval for the test had not been sought from the Soviet nuclear oversight regulator. An initial test carried out in 1982 yielded insufficient results. The system was modified, and the test was repeated in 1984 but again proved unsuccessful. In 1985, the tests were attempted a third time but also yielded negative results.
The nearby city of Pripyat was not immediately evacuated. The Soviet was busy preventing news leakage of the explosion to the world and it postponed evacuation. The townspeople went about their usual business, completely oblivious to what had just happened. However, within a few hours of the explosion, dozens of people fell ill. Later, they reported severe headaches and metallic tastes in their mouths, along with uncontrollable fits of coughing and vomiting. To expedite the evacuation, residents were told to bring only what was necessary, and that it would only last approximately three days. As a result, most personal belongings were left behind and remain there today. From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Many cities became an eerie ghost town.
Paliska, the closest town to Pripyat and directly in the path of the first radioactive clume, was asked to take in evacuees which they did. They were promised that the situation wasn’t very serious and that it was only a matter of days before the people of Pripyat would return home. The evacuees had no idea that they were relocated to a place that was already heavily contaminated. In the night however one woman who lived across the hall from the head of the District Executive Committee, witnessed him quietly removing himself and his family in the night out of the town. She asked for a travel pass for herself and her children and the reply was “everything is normal here.”
Shortly after the accident, firefighters arrived to try to extinguish the fires. The immediate priority was to extinguish fires on the roof of the station and the area around the building containing Reactor No. 4 to protect No. 3 and keep its core cooling systems intact. The fires were extinguished by 5:00, but many firefighters received high doses of radiation and later died.
First on the scene was a Chernobyl Power Station firefighter brigade. They were not told how dangerously radioactive the smoke and the debris were: “We didn’t know it was the reactor. No one had told us.” One surviving firefighter commented “we had no idea about radiation. Even those who worked there had no idea….then those boys went up on the roof…and I never saw them again.”
Only on 28 April, after radiation levels set off alarms off in a nuclear power plant in Sweden, over 1,000 kilometres from the Chernobyl Plant, did the Soviet Union publicly admit that an accident had occurred. At 21:02 that evening a 20-second announcement was read in a TV news program. The extent of the announcement reads as follows:
There has been an accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One of the nuclear reactors was damaged. The effects of the accident are being remedied. Assistance has been provided for any affected people. An investigative commission has been set up.
31 deaths are directly attributed to the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers, many whom weren’t volunteers but were plucked off the streets and forced to participate. An UNSCEAR report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008. The Chernobyl Forum has predicted the eventual death toll could reach 4000 among those exposed to the highest levels of radiation (200,000 emergency workers, 116,000 evacuees and 270,000 residents of the most contaminated areas). This number is a total death toll prediction, combining the deaths of approximately 50 emergency workers who died soon after the accident from acute radiation syndrome, nine children who have died of thyroid cancer and a future predicted total of 3940 deaths from radiation-induced cancer and leukemia.
Along with many deaths, children were born with serious mental and physical deformities after the disaster.Throughout the European continent, in nations where abortion is legal, many requests for induced abortions, of otherwise normal pregnancies, were obtained out of fears of radiation from Chernobyl, including an excess number of abortions in Denmark in the months following the accident. In Greece, following the accident many doctors were unable to resist requests from worried pregnant mothers over fears of radiation. Although it was determined that the effective dose to Greeks was much lower than that which could induce embryonic abnormalities, there was an observed 2500 excess of otherwise wanted pregnancies being terminated, probably out of fear in the mother of radiation risk.
The after-effects of Chernobyl were expected to be seen for a further 100 years, although the severity of the effects would decline over that period. The United Kingdom was forced to restrict the movement of sheep from upland areas of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and northern England. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster in 1986, a total of 4,225,000 sheep had their movement restricted across a total of 9,700 farms, in order to prevent contaminated meat entering the human food chain. Farmers lost their living as a result of their soil and fool being contaminated by the Chernobyl fallout.
Although the Soviet offered to replace local food sources for healthier food to its inhabitants, they could not. The Soviet economy was in crisis. A chronic food shortage resulted from the disaster. The government couldn’t afford to feed or evacuate the local populations. Five years after the explosion, farmers were encouraged to grow radioactive-contaminated food on their farms, which in turn, caused their cattle to produce contaminated milk and meat. The contaminated food produced on farms were secretly distributed to markets throughout Kiev. Farmers and their families admitted “we eat everything…all our own produce….the children too. And the grandchildren….how else are we to survive?”
The first official explanation of the accident attempted to deflect blame from the Soviet’s operation of the plant. The explanation, later acknowledged to be erroneous, was published in August 1986. It effectively placed the blame on the power plant operators. A group known as the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group (INSAG), on the whole also supported this view, based on the data provided by the Soviets and the oral statements of specialists. In this view, the catastrophic accident was caused by gross violations of operating rules and regulations. “During preparation and testing of the turbine generator under run-down conditions using the auxiliary load, personnel disconnected a series of technical protection systems and breached the most important operational safety provisions for conducting a technical exercise.”
In an analysis of the causes of the accident, deficiencies in the reactor design and in the operating regulations that made the accident possible were set aside and mentioned only casually. Eventually, the truth about the lack of safety in the defective system and poorly designed reactors were revealed to the public.
The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, slowing its expansion for a number of years and forcing the Soviet government to become “less secretive about its procedures”. So serious was the government coverup of the Chernobyl disaster that many believe it “paved the way for reforms leading to the Soviet collapse”. The photograph to the left shows an infant born with hydrocephalus, a condition which results from an excess of spinal fluid in the brain, causing the skull to enlarge as the infant grows. It was once known as water on the brain. It causes convulsion, tunnel vision, and mental disability.
The radioactive fallout from the explosion would eventually affect both hemispheres of the world. It settled wherever it rained. Poland, Austria, Romania, Finland, and Sweden.”(2) The day after (30 April), it hit Switzerland and Italy. By 2 May, it reached France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Great Britain, and Greece. The next day, Israel, Kuwait, and Turkey were contaminated. Then, over the next few days, “radioactive substances” were recorded in Japan (3 May), China (4 May), India (5 May), and the US and Canada (6 May). The radioactive spew from this explosion was “200 times greater than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.” Not one person was safe from this catastrophic nuclear explosion; and “65-million people were contaminated. “[i]t will take millennia to recover…[before an area] as large as Italy, will return to normal radioactive levels in about 100,000 years time.”
The world’s media continues to ignore the myriad of social costs to the world, the staggering medical consequences of systemic radiation poisoning, and the enormous tragedy of genetic malformations. The nuclear industry touts the“safety” nuclear power. Given this global economic collapse, there are neither enough financial or technological safeguards available today or long-term to protect humanity from the current levels of radioactive toxicity
Before the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviets aimed to create a whole new town of Pripyat. Their methodology was to lure new citizens based on the creation and maintenance of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Viktor Brukhanov, the 35-year-old Director of the plant, was charged with making Pripyat as attractive to Soviet workers as possible, regardless of the nuclear dangers. Citizens were lured to Pripyat with inexpensive housing, regular salaries, and all the perks that were generally not available to the majority of Soviet citizens. Pripyat “was soon considered one of the prime locations for young workers [the average age was 26] in Ukraine and the surrounding area” that had “shopping centers, sports facilities, schools…and an amusement park.” The city provided an abundance of well-stocked food supplies and “goods that were difficult to get in other areas of the country.” This resulted in”the race to complete [the reactor] within the unrealistic deadline resulting in parts that were “hastily built on the grounds of the plant” and that “were not specifically approved by the original designers.” Of course the Soviets were also in a race against the U.S. for the construction of the world’s first successful nuclear power plant. This aim may have been influenced in part due to the U.S.’ successful completion of the world’s first moon landing.
In his own words: Me and my co-workers got a pay raise for getting the reactor done so fast. It was time for the second test on April 26 1:22 a.m we started by shutting down the first turbine. They shut it done, and that is where it went wrong. Power in the reactor began to rise rapidly. The reactor reaches 100 times full power, which broke the containment tubes, and caused the top shield of the reactor to blow up… Everyone went on living their lives but more and more cases of cancer, radiation poisoning, etc were popping up everywhere. Hospitals were filling up faster than they handle, people were starting to worry….Everything does not go without punishment and it was time to be punished. I was put on trial along with a few others. The court said that I was guilty and I myself can not say I’m completely innocent. Thousands were either dead or sick because of my poor design. I was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but got out in five. The Chernobyl disaster is truly a nuclear nightmare. I will soon not be here much longer I have been diagnosed with cancer. In my few finally seconds left to live I wish to say that I’m sorry for the disaster I have caused… .
The diary entry emphasizes the supposed role of the designer and the workers involved in Reactor 4. It is a personal account of how the Soviet government blamed everyone but itself for the disaster. Bryukhanov went to his grave tragically believing he was entirely responsible for the Chernobyl disaster when in reality, many factors that were directly the responsibility of the Soviet government were involved.
The level of corruption and criminality that pervades governments and corporate business are off the scale. The history of the nuclear-warfare industry exists to make profits. Nuclear energy is a significant hazard. The public has the right to know and to demand that nuclear corporations become more forthcoming about the dangers of nuclear energy. It has the right to insist on necessary safety controls that should be in place to prevent another disaster from happening. The only answer is to keep asking questions and to insist on financial reparations for damages done to lives and property. Maybe then the laws that regulate the control of nuclear power plants and the necessary safety controls to prevent further disasters will improve our chances of surviving increased radioactive fallout. Of all the killers detailed in this blog, the Soviet government and the Chernobyl disaster has been by far the most evil and the deadliest.