Tuesday 23 July 2019

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Let us never forget Chernobyl horrors

Wednesday, 15th May, 2019 4:36pm

This month, Sky Atlantic has launched its series ‘Chernobyl’.

The horrifying sequences shown bring the reality of this disaster home to us. We see the liquidators and what they went through, how terrifying it must have been to walk into an inferno which would not die down.

Firemen watched as their friends succumbed to the awful symptoms of radiation sickness without knowing what was happening. They watched the spontaneous incineration of others and the burns suffered due to radiation which was not visible. Their confusion and terror are evident and tragic.

We experience trauma with the characters and the people of Ukraine are no longer strangers but are just like us. We can put ourselves in their place and imagine what it would have been like to lose everything if you were a native of Pripyat.

We live Chernobyl not just as a story, but as a reality and this gives us an awareness of what did happen when a technology represented as controlled and safe showed its true nature.

The arrogance of those in charge of Chernobyl, who did not respect the danger of the technology is obvious.

Unfortunately, that arrogance still exists in the nuclear industry. The only way things can change is if people know what happened.

If the series ‘Chernobyl’ makes us question whether this could happen again and helps us all to be able to think critically, when we are continually told that nuclear power is a clean, safe technology, that can only be a good thing.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster may have happened in 1986 but it will never be truly over.

It lives on in the suffering of not only the Ukrainian population but also of the neighbouring populations of Belarus and Russia.

Those of us in our 40s, remember the fear Chernobyl engendered.

For younger people, to see what happened through the medium of this Sky Atlantic series is vital, so that this knowledge is not lost.

The accident may have been one horrific moment in time. However, its resulting radiation lives on and continues to contaminate.

Let us not forget Chernobyl.

The day

On April 26th 1986, our world changed forever. On that day, there was an explosion in Chernobyl, an obscure nuclear power plant in the remote nation of Ukraine.

We in Ireland knew nothing about it and proceeded in ignorance, as the USSR made every effort to supress information.

Authorities allowed life to go on as normal in Ukraine. May Day processions took place, with citizens enjoying a day off from work and taking the opportunity to enjoy the sun. They had no idea that a deadly enemy surrounded them. An enemy that they could not see, hear, smell, taste or touch. Radiation.

It was only when Sweden detected huge levels of radiation above their own country and blew the whistle that the USSR was forced to inform the world of the disaster.

But this was just the beginning. A radioactive cloud was carried on the wind around the world. Radiation respects no borders and where rain fell, it contaminated the earth as well as the sky. Animals were slaughtered across Europe, as their radiation levels were determined to be too high and dangerous for human consumption.

There is no safe level of radiation but the people of Ukraine were not made aware of this fact and to this day, continue to suffer the consequences. The government allowed children to go outside to play, in areas where rain containing highly radioactive material was falling.

As Kofi Annan, as director general of the United Nations said: “They are still suffering, every day, as a result of what happened 33 years ago. Indeed, the legacy of Chernobyl will be with us, and with our descendants, for generations to come.”

Pripyat

The local city of Pripyat was evacuated not long after the disaster. Buses pulled up and all citizens were ordered into them, not knowing where they were going or why.

Told they would be returning in a few days, they left all possessions behind.

These people would never see their homes again because Pripyat is now in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl and it is forbidden to return.

This will be the case for hundreds of years, as the radiation remains where it fell in the form of ash and dust.

Pripyat stands now as a mute testament to the horrors of radiation. A ghost town.

When Fiona Corcoran, founder of Cork charity the Greater Chernobyl Cause visited, she described the scene.

“I found the pencils and jotters pupils had been using on the day before the explosion. Soviet-era signs still hang from buildings near a rusting fun park and children’s dolls and toys sit forlornly on window sills gazing out across the deserted streets.

“It is haunting to see just how beautiful and pristine the countryside looked with wild horses roaming on the plains, but then I had to remind myself that everywhere around me was an invisible enemy – radiation –which is the creator of death, serious illnesses and deformities.”

At the site of the disaster, Reactor N4 now lies eerily silent but 4 will remain radioactive for 1,000 years. Chernobyl’s legacy of destruction continues.

No help was given to the many victims of the fallout, who are still pleading, up to this day for medical attention and financial aid.

Plight of the liquidators

Some years ago, Fiona met Boris Alishaev, a local fireman, who was one of the first on the scene of the Chernobyl explosion. Boris, his colleagues and other first responders struggled to try to contain the disaster in an horrific inferno, being exposed to fatal levels of radiation. Despite the fact that it was only possible for them to fight the fires for minutes at a time, most of them are now dead.

They are called ‘the liquidators’ and it is now becoming clear, that if it had not been for their sacrifice, the disaster could have been even worse.

Hundreds of first responders died during, or immediately after the disaster.

Most of those who survived have spent their lives suffering from serious health conditions caused by the radiation they were exposed to.

Boris feels fortunate to have survived, but has been abandoned by a state which his team fought hard to protect.

He had hoped that he and surviving colleagues would get some benefits from the Ukrainian government but now says “they are not interested. In Ukraine, you have to pay for medical treatment and it is very expensive. Our salaries are much too small.”

The heroism of liquidators goes unrecognised and forgotten by authorities who want to bury the past. But Chernobyl is a past event that refuses to go away.

Legacy

Some estimates of deaths directly attributable to the Chernobyl disaster exceed 100,000.

Doctors continue to express their concern about the excessive amount of cancers and blood diseases among a new generation of children who live on the edge of the strictly-imposed exclusion zone.

Children with deformities continue to be born in large numbers as radiation causes genetic damage. Chernobyl continues to wreak havoc and destroy lives 33 years later and there is no end in sight.

It is easy for us to try and forget and relegate Chernobyl to the past yet there are two compelling reasons why Kofi Annan stated as Secretary General of the United Nations that this tragedy must not be forgotten.

“First, if we forget Chernobyl, we increase the risk of more such technological and environmental disasters in the future. Second, more than seven million of our fellow human beings do not have the luxury of forgetting.”

Fiona Corcoran as founder of the Greater Chernobyl Cause sees the obvious problems faced by victims of the disaster.

“Our main emphasis is on providing help and life-saving medical equipment for the long-term victims of the disaster, as well as the growing number of children who every day are being diagnosed with cancer, leukaemia and acute respiratory infections.

“Their hopes depend on more modern equipment to deal with cancers and other illnesses. Already, the Greater Chernobyl Cause has donated vital medical equipment, but so much more is needed.”

Chernobyl up to this point is recognised as the world’s worst nuclear disaster. There have been others, like Fukushima.

At the recent Chernobyl Commemoration Ceremony, organised by the Greater Chernobyl Cause, Fiona Corcoran said: “We must ensure that no more Chernobyls ever take place again. The only way we can do this is to make sure that nuclear power has no future, whilst investing in renewable alternatives.

“Those who speak about the benefits of nuclear power should look deeply into the eyes and souls of the innocent victims. The generations of alienated and forgotten people. I am appealing once again to the Irish tradition of spontaneous giving. Even in these hard, economic times here at home, our work with these forgotten people must continue.”

Donations can be made by sending a cheque to the Greater Chernobyl Cause

Unit 2, Southside Industrial Estate, Pouladuff Road, Togher, Cork. Or on paypal through our website www.greaterchernobylcause.ie. Call 021-432376 or 087-9536133 or email info@greaterchernobylcause.ie for more information.

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