It’s thirty years since Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant blew up, spreading its poisonous radiation over much of the western hemisphere. One unintended consequence of that disaster is that the site now attracts the morbid fascination of tourists from all over the world.
Much of the dangerous radioactive material is still inside Reactor 4, including (it’s thought) the body of one man never found after the explosion. The town of Chernobyl was home to 60,000 people. Now, thirty years on, it’s a ghost town.
Much was hushed-up in the aftermath of the disaster. In Britain, radiation from the Russian plant was found in the grass growing on Welsh mountains. For a while, Welsh lamb was off the menu for many, to the consternation of Welsh sheep farmers.
Everywhere, including in Russia, folks were told not to worry, it had been contained, there were no health concerns. Today, children in the region around the disaster area have grown up. They are having children themselves. Many are deformed, with missing limbs. At least one was born with two heads. In western countries childhood thyroid cancer is rare; in Belarus, as many as fifty percent of children develop the disease. Many die at a young age.
We live in a dangerous world. It seems the “Law of Unintended Consequences” is at play all the time. There was a time when lead was considered a wonder metal: it prevented car engines from ‘knocking’; it helped paint to adhere to surfaces. It was decades before the dangers of lead, or asbestos, or many other ‘wonder’ products of the industrial, and later ‘technological’ eras, made themselves known, with the resultant suffering that no-one had envisaged.
The internal combustion engine, a wonder of the 19th and 20th centuries, transformed the lives of virtually every human being on the planet. The cost is only now being gradually realized through global climate change.
It seems that almost everything we do as a species to make our lives better has a long-term detrimental effect on ourselves, and/or the environment and the species that share this planet with us.
Global warming demands we stop using fossil fuels for energy. The ‘natural’ alternatives of wind, wave, and solar power, will never be able to meet our requirements quickly enough to make significant difference. The only energy source we have, capable of supplying sufficient for our needs, is nuclear.
Even the greenest of conservationists have come to realize this fact. Nuclear power is the only alternative available. Does this mean we risk another ‘Chernobyl’, on an even greater scale?
“No!” cry the ‘experts. “We’ve come a long way technologically since 1986. Nuclear power is now completely safe.”
Of course, that was before Fukushima.
We don’t hear much about Fukushima. One of the deadliest problems with radiation is its invisible, silent, invasion of the body tissues. No-one knows it’s there, or what it’s doing, until the cancer is diagnosed, or the deformed child is born.
Governments are silent on Fukushima, just as they were with Chernobyl. When questioned, assurances are quick to be vocalized. No danger! Nothing to worry about. It’s all under control.
We have to build more nuclear power stations to stand any chance of averting the worst effects of climate change. It would be ironic, if by so doing we destroyed ourselves and much of the planet by radiation poisoning from our own creations, rather than the sun doing it for us.
That old “Law of Unintended Consequences” can sometimes be a real bummer.
 “Chernobyl’s legacy 30 years on” BBC, April 26th 2016