Buried Alive

Ten years later, Chernobyl is as deadly as ever


| May-June 1996


In November 1993, the War and Peace Foundation arranged for Vladimir Chernousenko, the Ukrainian nuclear physicist who supervised the ‘cleanup’ of Chernobyl, to come to the United States and reveal the true magnitude of the disaster. April 25, 1996, marked the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. A victim of radiation poisoning resulting from the accident, Chernousenko is now dying of cancer. The following is excerpted from his talks. 

The Chernobyl reactor exploded on April 25, 1986. With nothing to contain its temperatures, the reactor overheated and a nuclear blue heat burned for 16 days. The smoke rose over two miles into the sky. Everything that could burn, burned.

As soon as the explosion happened, troops were placed around the area. The government put a lid on the event immediately, and millions were not evacuated in time. People were finally pulled out on the 27th, but this was already too late.

Young recruits, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds, came to assist in the cleanup. They were given no protective clothing. Why? I believe it was to show the world that it was not a big catastrophe, that it could be easily cleaned up. Many died immediately.

I was called in by [then-president] Mikhail Gorbachev to evaluate what had happened. When I concluded my investigation, I sent a three-volume report to Gorbachev. Immediately it became a secret document. Rather than affecting 3 percent of the reactor core, as had been reported, the meltdown actually affected 70 percent. As a result, as many as 65 million people in Russia received a dose [of radiation], 90 million people north of the Ukraine may have been contaminated, and as many as 7,000 died immediately. Kiev, a city of 4 million people, was heavily dosed, as were a number of little villages and hamlets. The International Atomic Energy Agency would not acknowledge the enormous scope of the damage and maintains that there were only 31 direct casualties and subsequent casualties of less than a thousand. The international nuclear mafia says of Chernobyl that “the machine broke down.” We cannot dismiss so simply what has caused so major an ecological disaster. No one has resolved the real reasons for this catastrophe.

A million and a half people in and around Chernobyl (including the people who cleaned up the site) received extremely high doses of radiation, and millions of others still receive internal radiation daily from food contamination. Prior to the Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine had been the breadbasket of Europe; now there is no way to clean up its soil. The food is still grown and eaten [although] 70 percent of it is contaminated. Those who consume these irradiated products develop problems of the esophagus and circulatory system, anemia, and other disorders; the blood becomes totally affected and the immune system completely breaks down. For a child, a small cold can become tragic.