14 years AFTER the disaster at Chernobyl, it was still a working power plant

My younger brother stood in front of (what I am reasonably sure is) Chernobyl's reactor 4

My younger brother stood in front of (what I am reasonably sure is) Chernobyl’s reactor 4. So far he has suffered no ill effects.

The unlikely afterlife of Chernobyl suggests that our nuclear nightmares might be somewhat exaggerated

On 26th April 1986, engineers at the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station, a Soviet facility that is now in the Ukraine, tested a new cooling system designed to reduce the risk of a meltdown. In a bitter irony, this test actually caused a meltdown. The resulting explosion destroyed Chernobyl’s reactor 4. In the absence of the containment facilities that were standard at Western facilities,  large quantities of radioactive gases began escaping into the atmosphere. The number of casulties that resulted from this accident are still disputed. However, it is universally agreed that it was the worst nuclear disaster in history.

One could be forgiven for assuming that – apart from the clean up, the grieving and the recriminations – that would be the end of the story of Chernobyl. In the popular imagination, the surrounding area was reduced to a wasteland fit only as a setting for zombie movies.

In fact, it was to continue generating power into the new millennium. As already mentioned it was reactor 4 that blew up in 1986. Even after the meltdown, reactors 1-3 remained capable of producing electricity and Ukraine still needed power. So for years afterwards people would come to work in the same plant that had irradiated much of Europe. The plant was given a less communist name, workers could no longer live in the immediate vicinity and work was required to contain reactor 4. But this not withstanding it remained a working power plant.

In 1991, Chernobyl’s dire safety record continued when a fire shut down reactor 2. Reactor 1 continued operating until 1996. The final reactor was eventually shut down in 2000. The process of decommissioning it continues to the present day – including the construction of a massive steel sarcophagus to encase the concrete sarcophagus which encases reactor 4.

I bring this fact up to illustrate that the impact of Chernobyl is perhaps not as apocalyptic as is supposed. As the environmentalist Mark Lynas notes:

In the popular imagination the area around Chernobyl is a blighted wasteland, a mental picture kept alive by the apocalyptic (and superlatively unscientific) myths put about by the likes of Greenpeace. Take the recent piece by the Observer’s Robin McKie, who – as far as I can tell – visited Chernobyl on a stage-managed Greenpeace press tour and penned an obedient piece titled ‘Chernobyl 25 years on: A poisoned landscape‘. Employing the traditional scary imagery, he writes:

The Ukrainian steppe is still frost-burned and the trees leafless at this time of year. There are no buds on branches and little hint of greenery, a combination that only enhances the eerie desolation inside the 30km exclusion zone around the reactor…

But the clue to why McKie saw a ‘poisoned landscape’ lies in the first sentence: he went in winter. When I visited last summer, I saw a very different scene – the vibrant profusion of vegetation was extraordinary, as was the noise of bird calls and buzzing insects. It seemed like life was exploding everywhere.

Lynas goes on to observe that the animals and plants around the site seem not to have suffered adverse effects from the radiation. And that as well as people who work or visit the site – including my younger brother – there is a community of people of people who flout the exclusion zone and continue to live near Chernobyl without apparent ill effect.

Even the fatalities from the accident don’t appear as alarming as might be suggested. The process for achieving the figures quoted by anti-nuclear activists of around a million fatalities has been likened by George Monbiot to those to used to ‘disprove’ climate change. The scientific consensus seems to place the real figure at something in the region of 4000. And these need to be offset against the casulties from the alternative energy source. For example, the World Health Organisation estimates that a million people are killed by coal every year every year.

HAT TIP: the excellent documentary Pandora’s Promise

N.B: The fact this post being about Ukraine is entirely co-incidental

4 thoughts on “14 years AFTER the disaster at Chernobyl, it was still a working power plant

  1. Great article, a lot of people in the scientific community feel that the dangers of radiation are overstated in Western Media. A lot of the warnings, regarding radiation, are based on extrapolating from data produced in the 1950’s, it’s really not realiable.

  2. The real figure is 53, all but 3 of them within the site. There were also 3 cancers outwith the site that have been credibly blamed on it.

    There is no evidence of the general increase in cancers which would have been obvious if the figure of 1 million, or half a million were correct (or indeed hundreds of thousands to 10s or even thousands of excess cancer deaths.

    Indeed there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that low level radiation like this is in any way harmful – in fact there is a lot that it is beneficial to health.

    There is evidence of death of 25,000 abortions & from depression, alcoholism and illness due to people losing their homes and livelihoods but that is not inany way the fault of the accident – it is 100% caused by the anti-nuclear hysteria produced by the ecofascist movement.

    That is why no remotely decent human being ever disputes that every single anti-nuclear activist, or journalist supporting them like those on the BBC, is an obscene corrupt murdering Fascist animal whom no remotely decent human has ever suggested can ever be trusted to be telling the truth on any subject whatsoever. Obscene animals like almost all “LibDem” leaders.

    • neilfutureboy -“That is why no remotely decent human being ever disputes that every single anti-nuclear activist, or journalist supporting them like those on the BBC, is an obscene corrupt murdering Fascist animal”


      Im sorry, but that is just a load of c**p. I’m a human and im disputing it. Many thousands, probably millions in total dispute it. So speak for yourself and not all of mankind.

      From your words I can see that youre probably a teenager so I will forgive you this time.

  3. The effects of cancer can hit 20-30 years down the road I was 6 when Chernobyl happened and lived in bettingen Germany when this happened most of Europe was covered in i131 and c137 137 is still found in mushrooms and wild boars in high levels in Germany. I was just diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had it removed and just received a dose of i131 to kill of any left over cancer cells and thyroid tissue. I am currently isolated at home and can’t have my 1.5year old daughter near me do to the threat of giving her hypothyroidism or thyroid cancer later in life. Still hadn’t thought about it much then did alittle research. 29 years ago most of Europe was covered with a cloud of dust containing i131 and some studies show that nearby it was causing thyroid cancer but no one has done any real studies on more distant place my aunt and uncles and parents and grandparents all remember it well they where told don’t eat any fruit and vegetables and don’t let children play outside . I’m assuming mine let me play outside 🙂 I truly believe that the cause from my thyroid cancer was from Chernobyl because the doc gave me the warning of not letting my daughter near me or it could cause thyroid cancer later in life thru proven studies . No one knows what cause thyroid cancer or why it’s on the rise but I now live in Arizona and no-one thinks to ask where I was 20-30 years ago Wich was in a area that was reached by the i131 from the blast . So I do believe some cases that are being noticed and treated today are side effects from Chernobyl over the last 4 years we have lost 4 family members to cancer and there has been a total of 7 of us diagnosed with cancer and we all where in the same area in Germany at that time and now live spread out thru the U.S. and Germany none of them had thought back to that day till I just mentioned it. Coincidence I don’t believe so

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