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.
Since Chernobyl, childhood and animal diseases in my country have increased fourfold, and some illnesses have not even been diagnosed yet. Every month the situation gets worse. In the years to come, many people are going to die. With genetic reactions, the threat will continue for future generations. It is the worst catastrophe that has ever happened to humankind.
There was no organization in the former USSR to monitor reactors like Chernobyl. It was a military reactor and all military reactors were kept secret. It had had explosions before. Since 1986 all accidents have been kept secret. There have been an estimated 200 accidents in nuclear installations in the former USSR, with millions of curies of radiation released. In my country not one square inch is free of radioactive fallout. People are losing their hair, and blood is coming out of their mouths.
Nuclear power stations are dangerous not only because they can blow up; they are dangerous even when they do not blow up. My assistants and I researched 10 plants, and we consistently found the water polluted and people around the plants sick. It is virtually impossible to make a reactor safe. Still we have not learned this.
There has been no significant shift in the nuclear energy policy in the United States or Russia since the Chernobyl accident. It has not changed the mindlessness of government. The international nuclear mafia will not accept the necessity to deal with the problem. But we must talk about the atomic energy situation because the next explosion will be larger. There are 48 commercial power reactors in the former Soviet Union and 110 in the United States. With one or two such explosions, it is utterly ridiculous to discuss defense measures. We shall be killed in silent ways.
Reprinted from Earth Island Journal, Summer 1995.