Today marked the twentieth anniversay of the diaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. In the early hours of April 26 1986, an explosion occurred in the number four reactor that sent radiation over vast areas of Europe. Radiation spread as far afield as Sweden and England, and severely contaminated vast areas in the territories of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia within the USSR. Chernobyl is located in present day Ukraine. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant began operation in 1978. It was considered a model plant in the USSR. The plant was finally closed in December 2000.

Chernobyl opened my eyes like nothing else: it showed the horrible consequences of nuclear power, even when it is used for non-military purposes. — Mikhail Gorbachev”

Photo of Reactorblock 4  by Alexander I. Salmygin

The number four reactor is now surrounded by a concrete and steel sarcophagus. Boing Boing has a story from the US’ NPR about plans to build a new sarcophagus over the existing one:

The ruined Chernobyl nuclear facility still contains some 200 tons of radioactive fuel. A “sarcophagus” — a steel and concrete shell built soon after the disaster to contain the radiation is increasingly unstable. Engineers plan to slide an enormous Quonset hut-shaped cover over a breached reactor to keep more radiation from reaching the atmosphere.

To this day, there is still a 20-mile radius “forbidden zone” around the plant. Due to high levels of radiation, 135,000 people were evacuated from that area. According to Greenpeace, over 200,000 have died as a direct result of the radiation released from Chernobyl. Latest reports from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences cite a figure of 212,000.

Despite the tradgies that occured at Chernobyl, Sellafield and Three Mile Island, many continue to push for the use of nuclear power, especially as an alternative to coal based energy production. According to Christine Milne:

Chernobyl has become the nuclear family embarrassment to be swept under the carpet. With the nuclear industry in overdrive sensing a new opportunity to spin itself as a solution to climate change, it does not want the spotlight shone on the proof that nuclear power is dangerous… It is inconvenient for those who cannot wait for more Australian uranium to be mined to be reminded of the consequences of the worst nuclear power accident in global history.

This has special relevanve in Australia. The federal government has just announced deals to sell uranium to both India and China that will be used in Nuclear Power Plants, and god only knows what else. There are also certain factions pushing for the introduction of Nuclear Power Plants into Australia. This anniversary is a key reminder of why we DON’T want nuclear reactors in Australia, especially with other viable alternatives. (Yes, I’m aware of the reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney that is used purely for medical and research applications. The accidents that occured during the construction of the new reactor only serve to prove my point).

See Milne’s full article in The Age here.

Visit Chernobyl.info: The international communications platform on the longterm consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.
Check out NPR’s deatiled reports and coverage on the anniversary here.
To support Greenpeace, visit their website.