After 25 years, Chernobyl still relevant

The push for “clean energy” in the United States has never been greater than in the last few years.

Our dependence on foreign countries for energy supplies and volatile price fluc­tuations have caused American citizens to consider other alternatives.

2011 is an important year in “clean en­ergy” because it marks both the year that the Fukushima nuclear power plant melt­ed down and the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear plant disaster in the world, at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union.

This issue is relevant for MCCC stu­dents and faculty for several reasons. Aside from students’ cash-strapped bud­gets, MCCC has a new nuclear technol­ogy program, and it has a student who survived the Chernobyl disaster.

There are 361 square miles in Belarus and Ukraine that have been designated as an “exclusion zone” around the Cher­nobyl site. They are mostly off-limits to visitors, but especially for residential pur­poses.

The ground will remain contaminated for at least the next three generations. Al­though the “red forest” no longer glows red, undeniable signs of the long-lasting devastation still are there.

In 1986, shortly after the Chernobyl re­actor melted down, a temporary sarcoph­agus was placed over the exposed reactor to contain the nuclear fallout. Today, the reactor is still “melting,” the sarcophagus is cracked, and radiation is leaking.

The government of the Ukraine does not have the $840 million required to build a new containment unit.

Buried in Mitino Cemetery in Moscow, Russia, are 14 “liquidators,” who were the “first responders” (firefighters and opera­tors). They were exposed only briefly to the immense radiation and were all dead within one month.

William Lorenz of Belleville, who is the father of this article’s author, worked at the United States Embassy in Moscow, Russia, during the mid-1990s.

“There is a cemetery in Moscow, which your mother and I used to pass on our way to and from our job in the United States Embassy,” Lorenz said.

“When we entered this cemetery, you could see that there was a special section with decorative blocks surrounding about 20 graves, and there was a plaque written in both English and Russian which said that the graves were of the first helicopter pilots who dropped the cement to cover the hole created by the explosion.”

Pictures of the villages and cities that surrounded Chernobyl are grim and ghostly – schoolbooks scattered in class­rooms, apartment homes with furniture and clothing where people once lived, and finally, Mother Nature taking back the areas that man covered with concrete.

When Fukushima melted down earlier this year after an earthquake and subse­quent tsunami, the Japanese government tried to downplay the numbers of casu­alties and severity of the damage, thus putting hundreds of thousands of people (including our own military service mem­bers) in harm’s way.

It took several months before Japanese government officials admitted their pow­er plants had indeed gone through a full meltdown, and the grounds, food supplies and water supplies had been contaminat­ed with radioactive fallout.

Much like Chernobyl, the Japanese government simply told nearby citizens to “stay indoors and do not open your windows.”

The stark difference between Chernob­yl and Fukushima is that Fukushima was caused by a natural disaster; Chernobyl was caused by human error.

The Chernobyl Forum (made up of eight U.N. agencies) put the death count as “just a few thousand,” while the Cher­nobyl Union, a non-government body, put the death toll at over 730,000 so far and Greenpeace estimates that there will be an additional 93,000 cancer deaths.

One of the biggest problems from nu­clear fallout is thyroid diseases and can­cer. Many of the adults who died after the explosion were never acknowledged as casualties by the government.

Another cost of Chernobyl is the care needed by the many children orphaned in the Ukraine and Belarus, without families to call their own and left there because of how their bodies developed after their exposure to radiation and other nuclear fallout.

Some of them are living out the rest of their lives in state-run mental institutions; others moved with their families to other parts of the world.

The cost to house them, clothe them, medicate them, feed them, and to educate them is in the millions of dollars annually.