Жанна Крючкова
Founder of the almanac Huxleў, foundation «Intellectual Capital»
Liberal ArtsScience
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CHORNOBYL: bound by one chain, tied with one aim

CHORNOBYL: bound by one chain, tied with one aim
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Guido van Helten. Mural on Chornobyl nuclear power plant reactor / Art United Us

 

I don’t remember what I was doing on Saturday, April 26, 1986, when the largest technological disaster ever — the Chornobyl accident — took place. However, I remember well that a week later, a girl appeared in our class in Odesa, whose parents found a way to take her out of Kyiv. A new student in any class is always a big event.

Some evil irony is that, at that time, we did not realize that our attention should have been drawn to a completely different story. An event that would very soon make people think about the disappointing outcome of civilization, an event that would become one of the most terrible symbols of the XX century.

But do we fully realize what Chornobyl actually became for humanity?

 

THE MYTH OF CHORNOBYL

 

Today is the 38th anniversary of the catastrophe at Unit 4 of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. This event had a super-powerful negative impact on the psyche of entire nations and states, which was associated with a feeling of helplessness due to the inability to cope effectively with a technological disaster containing an existential threat to humanity.

Post-traumatic stress disorder emerged for many decades, the symptom of which was the tendency to escape from reality. Since then, humanity has never gotten past the Chornobyl trauma. If it did, the world would be discussing the events of those days even more.

I remember my interview with Ada Rogovtseva, in which she shared how, in the first days after the Chornobyl accident, her son was sent to Chornobyl — to shoot a chronicle together with cameraman Serhii Bordeniuk.

All summer, they traveled to Chornobyl, flying directly over the reactor. Perhaps this was the reason that at the age of 50, the actress’s son died of cancer. The movie they made is considered to be secret and is still lying somewhere in Moscow. The materials that were not included in the film for a long time were lying around in the House of Officers unclaimed; they were miraculously not thrown away in the 90’s.

They wanted to forget about the Chornobyl because the human being was powerless against it. As a result, a kind of «myth of Chornobyl» was formed in people’s minds. But this is not reality.

 

ABOUT THE WEAKNESS OF GOVERNMENTS

 

Governments, even to a greater extent than ordinary citizens, are not typical in their recognition of mistakes. The Soviet government is not an exception. For decades, the USSR was accustomed to seeking and finding confirmation of its superiority over the world of capitalism. Any failure was considered high treason, as it undermined the foundations of the most advanced social system.

Therefore, the Chornobyl disaster was by no means the first catastrophe of this type. But it was the first, the scale of which was not managed to be hidden from the general public. Until now, very little is known about the accidents at the Mayak plant in 1957 or at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in 1960–70 years. And at the Chornobyl NPP itself, the first accident occurred back in 1982.

The nuclear power industry — is one of the most confidential areas in the world. Governments and corporations are very reluctant to disclose full public reporting on its various aspects. For example, it is known that in 1979, there was a nuclear accident in Pennsylvania, which, before Chornobyl, was considered the largest in history. And the largest non-nuclear technological disaster in terms of the number of victims was the 1984 accident at India’s Bhopal chemical plant.

 

THE YEAR 1941, BUT IN A WORSE VERSION

 

The Soviet press gladly described the failures of the American «nuclear project» and the criminal irresponsibility of the capitalists. In the Union, they were sure that nothing of the kind could happen in the country of victorious socialism. Therefore, the «bells of Chornobyl» were a stunning strike for the Soviet ideology.

Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Prize winner in literature, author of the book «Chornobyl Prayer. Chronicle of the Future», rightly observed: «Don’t write about the miracles of Soviet heroism. They were…Miracles! But first — negligence, carelessness, and then miracles».

And that was the paradox of the Soviet system. Yes, thousands of people sacrificed and displayed incomparable heroism — their feat is worth bowing one’s head before them. But there could not have been so many human sacrifices.

Alexievich’s correctness can be confirmed by the opinion of the hero of the liquidation of the accident at the 4th power unit with the world name — academician Valery Legasov.

In one of the tape recordings dictated by him, there were the words: «At the station — such unpreparedness, such carelessness, such fear. It’s like the year 1941 but in a worse version. With the same Brest, with the same courage, with the same desperation, with the same unpreparedness…»

 

840 THOUSAND MOBILIZED FOR LIQUIDATION

 

Out of 840 thousand people mobilized for liquidation from the whole Union, only twenty-five thousand — those who built the sarcophagus, localized the accident, decontaminated — were involved with real benefit. But everyone got their dose of radiation.

Yuri Andreev, who led the shift of NPP operators on that evil April day, believes that most of the advice that came «from above» was wrong and only increased the scale of the disaster. Sand and lead, which were dropped from helicopters onto the reactor, raised vast clouds of nuclear dust, which was further spread by the wind.

The digging under the reactor, on which thousands of Kyiv miners from metro construction were driven, turned out to be completely pointless.

 

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CONSPIRACY HYPOTHESES

 

Not only in the history of liquidation but also in the causes of the Chornobyl tragedy, there are still a lot of white spots, which gives rise to various conspiracy hypotheses. The point is that the facts refute the persistent view of the terrible fire in the central hall as the cause of the accident.

In fact, it was localized and quickly extinguished by firefighters. The cause of the accident was a malfunction that occurred during routine tests of the protective system. These tests should have been conducted while the reactor was still being assembled, but for some reason, they were never carried out in time.

Andreev claims that the performance of the test program under those conditions made the accident inevitable. It is so obvious to a specialist that it is difficult to consider the accident to be random rather than deliberate. The fact is that the reactor designers knew about the dangerous modes of reactor functioning, but for some reason, the order was given to include them in the testing of protective systems.

We will probably never know whether the accident at Unit 4 was the result of fantastic carelessness or a well-planned sabotage. The mysterious death of academician Valery Legasov, who, on the eve of the second anniversary of Chornobyl, was supposed to announce his results of the investigation of the causes of the Chornobyl disaster, also added fuel to the conspiracy fire.

He was one of the first to arrive at Unit 4 and spent 4 months there instead of the 2–3 weeks required by safety standards. Valery Alekseyevich did a lot for the liquidation of the accident. His name never left the pages of world publications. He was the first to make a detailed 5-hour, 700-page report on the accident at the Vienna IAEA conference. Legasov was an essential and iconic figure, and his opinion was listened to by the whole world.

 

MYSTERIOUS SUICIDE

 

At the end of his speech in Vienna, appreciating his utmost honesty, openness, and professionalism, Legasov received a standing ovation from 500 delegates from 65 countries. Not surprisingly, the West named Legasov Man of the Year and included him in the top ten best scientists in the world. However, despite all his merits, Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, personally and defiantly crossed out Legasov’s name from the list of liquidators presented for government awards.

Someone at the top did not want the world to know the real truth about Chornobyl. In particular, in Sredmash, which was in charge of Soviet nuclear programs, they demanded that the data on the accident must be immediately made secret and that Legasov himself must be brought to criminal responsibility.

But Legasov did not have to be imprisoned. On April 26, 1988, before he could publicly announce the results of his own independent investigation, Valery Alekseyevich was found hanged in his apartment. The official cause of death was called suicide. Many of the tape recordings he had kept were deleted.

 

CHORNOBYL AS AN ARCHETYPE OF CATASTROPHE

 

The explosion at Chornobyl was not just another great tragedy — it became a kind of prologue to the collapse of the «flawless» social order in 1991, a symbol of the inability of the Soviet system. But, in addition to geopolitical symbolism and the shock that the collective self-consciousness inside the country received, Chornobyl had another effect.

After the catastrophe of April 26, 1986, the myth that nuclear power is one of the safest and cheapest ways to produce energy finally collapsed. After Chornobyl, 10 nuclear power plants were frozen in Russia, and in Europe and America, their construction was halted for 16 years. The nuclear power industry was hit with a punch of such power that, according to experts, it only began to recover from it in the early 2000s. But development was again interrupted by another high-profile accident. This time in Japan.

After 2011, comparing the two disasters — Chornobyl and Fukushima — became commonplace in journalism and analytics. But not only is Fukushima associated with Chornobyl, it has become a kind of universal symbol for any catastrophe.

 

«BLACK SWANS» FOR THE GLOBAL SOCIETY

 

Today, under the impression of the shock caused first by COVID-19 and then by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have somewhat forgotten about the global financial and economic consequences of the «black swans» of the past. However, such tragedies never go away.

In 1986, the Chornobyl disaster was on the front pages of newspapers and in the news all over the world. The accident, which happened in a small Ukrainian town, sparked fears around the world that the disaster would lead to global shortages. The cost of most commodities, especially grain, cattle, cotton, etc., rose sharply around the world.

The New York Times called it the strongest shock to the world economy since the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 70’s, when the disruption of oil supplies caused an explosive rise in the energy prices, which immediately affected all markets.

From April 26 to May 19, immediately after the Chornobyl disaster, the Dow Jones index fell to a then-record 77.39 points, or 4.2%.

 

BOUNDED BY ONE CHAIN, TIED WITH ONE AIM

 

There have no longer been «outsider» epidemics and disasters on the planet that have nothing to do with any of us. Kishore Mahbubani, an academic and diplomat from Singapore, has the following metaphor:

«Let us imagine that the 7 billion people inhabiting planet Earth no longer live in 193 separate boats (countries). Now, there are 193 separate cabins on a virus-infected cruise ship. Question: should each of them clean only their private cabins, ignoring the corridors and ventilation shafts outside through which the virus is spreading? The answer is clear: humanity must take care of the global boat as a whole».

In an interdependent world, there are no isolated risks — economic, geopolitical, social, or environmental. Risks provoke and reinforce each other, producing «cascading effects».

The exclusion zone has wiped out 55 thousand square meters, or 10% of the country’s territory, which is comparable in size to Belgium, for example. It was abandoned by 200,000 people who used to live on this territory. In general, up to 8 million people could be exposed to radiation in one way or another — the radioactive cloud covered not only the territories of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus but also reached Germany, Sweden, Italy, and other European countries.

Radiation affected 3 million hectares of agricultural land. Today, the 10-kilometer exclusion zone has been granted the status of a biosphere reserve, which is the highest rank of protected area in the world, according to UNESCO regulations. Experts have calculated that in the Chornobyl zone, the complete decay of plutonium-239, the last radioactive element, will occur only by the year 26,486. That is, it will take 24,500 years for nature to return to its normal, natural state!

Chornobyl reminds us that our society has become global, not just yesterday. And it is becoming more connected every year. It is, therefore, not surprising that the architecture of the global world today requires all people on the planet to interact and harmonize their efforts at a level unprecedented in previous eras.

 


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