This week 24 years ago, untold quantities of lethal radiation began pouring into the atmosphere from the catastrophic explosion at Chernobyl Unit 4. Nearly a million people have died because of it.
And on this horrific anniversary we have now seen the stumble of a very bad climate bill. The events are directly related.
Chernobyl's death toll has been bitterly debated.
But after nearly a quarter-century of industry denial, the New York Academy of Sciences has published Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, the definitive catalog and analysis. Drawing on some 5,000 studies, three Russian scientists have placed the ultimate death toll at 985,000.
The authors include Russian biologist Dr. Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the president of Russia; Dr. Alexey Nesterenko, a biologist in Belarus; and Dr.Vassili Nesterenko, a physicist who was, at the time of the accident, director of the Institute of Nuclear Energy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. The book has been edited by Dr. Janette Sherman, a toxicologist expert in the health impacts of radioactivity.
As Karl Grossman has shown, Chernobyl's death toll stretches worldwide. Its apocalyptic cloud blanketed Europe and blew across the northern tier of the United States. Sheep in Scotland and milk in New England were heavily contaminated, along with countless square miles of land and sea.
Now the brand new Toshiba-Westinghouse AP-1000 design has been deemed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as unable to withstand earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes, and has turned up with a critical generic flaw that could cause it to explode.
Which is where the climate bill comes in.
Widespread reports of what it contained were to be clarified with its planned introduction on Chernobyl Day. But co-sponsor Lindsay Graham (R-SC) abruptly withdrew, apparently amidst partisan wrangling over immigration.
By all accounts this bill included a fossil industry wish-list, with big money for "clean coal," off-shore drilling, a disembowelment of the EPA and much more. With oil fires raging at sea and miners being buried in the coal fields, how this bill would actually solve the climate crisis remains unclear.
What WAS clear were subsidies that John Kerry (D-MA) said would put taxpayers on the hook for at least a dozen new reactors, and possibly far more.
The details are temporarily moot, but the portent is not.
It's precisely that dangerously deficient AP-1000 design that the Obama Administration wants to fund first, for construction in Georgia. America's leaky fleet of 104 aging clunkers meanwhile staggers toward disaster at places like Vermont Yankee and New York's Indian Point, Ohio's Davis-Besse and California's Diablo Canyon.
Chernobyl exploded in a remote backwater of an impoverished region. But by official accounts from Ukraine and Belarus, it did $500 billion in damage just there. Nowhere in the US would the property damage be remotely that small. The near-million death toll would be a mere fraction of how many would die here.
Nothing in any known draft of this now-in-limbo climate bill demands private insurance against such a catastrophe. Nor does it have a solution for what to do with 60,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste, or thousands more yet to come.
Nor does it begin to answer the reality that every cent thrown down the reactor rat-hole could quickly, if used wisely on alternative energy, save far more energy than such a reactor would produce --- if it ever did come on line after the seven-to-ten years it would take to license and build such a boondoggle.
No sane attempt to save the global ecology could ever include more money for precisely the most dangerous, destructive, dirty and deficit-ridden energy technology ever devised.
Let's hope this bill's yank away from Chernobyl Day will take it to the desperately needed safe haven of a Solartopian plan built around renewables, conservation and efficiency.
Neither the planetary ecology nor the US economy can afford anything less.
Nothing else would deserve the label "Climate Bill".
Comment by: GuestWriter (May-5-2010)
I was in France, born near the France/Switzerland/Italy border. I was 10 years old. The French government claimed that Tchernobyl was too far from us to be a danger for us. So, France took no measures to protect its population. It could have been simple: give the population iodine to prevent the thyroid cancer.
The week it happend we were playing outside. No one told us we had to be careful... There were heavy rains in France that week, and this rain went on for several days almost without stopping, which is very unusual here. People who remember this told me because I was too young to remember well.
The rain had horrible effects, as it is supected to have made the radioactivity enter into the soil more easily and deeply. I was even more hurt by the catastrophe because my parents fed me almost exclusively with the vegetables grown in the garden, and maybe they gave me a lot of mushrooms too. I had a genetic predisposition for illness as well, because of my origin. We lived in the Alps, far from the marine iodine.
Soon after this accident, I began to develop Basedow disease. The soil is sill radioactive there; the rest of France has been spared because the toxic rains were in only this area and not in the whole country. It is the reason why I consider myself as a victim of Tchernobyl.
Satirists said: "France: the only country which thinks that the toxic clouds stop in front of the national borders!"
(submitted by StumbleUpon.com friend Perce-Neige)
Comment by: Wavehunter (William Coffin) (May-3-2010) Web site
I remember the nuclear fallout over Scotland. I was studying geography at the time and my teacher said that the radiation would remain in the soil and biomass for many years. I also remember seeing a heartbreaking documentary featuring the work of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line which arranges holidays in the UK for thousands of children from Belarus suffering from leukaemia. Now it's Belarus; next it could be Bel Air, Belfast or Belgium.
The NYAS study from Chernobyl and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill should serve as a hint that US politicians should think again about the flawed Climate Bill they're busily enacting. It may be the only bill corporate America and it's Washington lobbyists will accept, but as we stand on the brink of climate catastrophe any half hearted or fake measures is past will only push us further toward the edge.
Mind you, we should do our bit too. If people don't want nuclear power there's something very simple they can do: use less electricity and buy less junk.
Comment by: speeva (Sevdalina Peeva) (May-3-2010) Web site
In regard to Chernobyl - my father-in-law died from cancer in 1991 at age 45 and my mother-in-law died 2003 age 56 - they were in Ukraina, just 100 miles away from the NPP in that May 1986. They are not included in any statistics as a victims of that disaster. There is still huge non-transparancy in post-soviet block about the real consiquences of Chernobyl. So with all my respect to the scientists I don't believe they are even closer to the real numbers.
Free Press Senior Editor and "Superpower of Peace" columnist Harvey Wasserman is author or co-author of a dozen books including SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030; Harvey Wasserman's History of the U.S.; and, A Glimpse of the Big Light: Losing Parents, Finding Spirit.
With Bob Fitrakis, Harvey has helped expose the theft of the presidency. Their freepress.org coverage has prompted Rev. Jesse Jackson to call them "the Woodward and Bernstein of the 2004 election." Their books include How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008, and What Happened in Ohio?, coming soon from the New Press.
Harvey's widespread appearances throughout the major media and at campuses and citizen gatherings have focussed since the 1960s on energy, environment, peace, justice, U.S. history and election protection.