Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl

Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl

Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl

Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl

Synopsis

On April 26, 1986, Unit Four of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in then Soviet Ukraine. More than 3.5 million people in Ukraine alone are still suffering the effects. This text examines the political, scientific and social circumstances that followed the disaster.

Excerpt

Time Lapse

On April 26, 1986, Unit Four of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in Ukraine, damaging human immunities and the genetic structure of cells, contaminating soils and waterways. The main reason for the accident is by now well known. Soviet engineers wanted to test how long generators of Unit Four could operate without steam supply in the case of a power failure. During the test, operators sharply reduced power and blocked steam to the reactor’s generators and disabled many of its safety systems. A huge power surge followed, and at 1:23 A.M. the unit exploded once and then again. Large-scale pressure gradients carried the radioactive plume to as high as eight kilometers by some estimates. The graphite core burned for days. Helicopter pilots dropped over five thousand tons of boron carbide, dolomite, sand, clay, and lead in an attempt to suffocate the flames of the reactor’s burning core. These interventions are now known to have compounded risk and uncertainty. With suffocation, the temperature of the nuclear core increased. This in turn caused radioactive substances to ascend more rapidly, forming a radioactive cloud that spread over Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Western Europe, and other areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

Eighteen days elapsed before Mikhail Gorbachev, then general secretary, appeared on Soviet television and acknowledged the nuclear release to the populace. Within that period, tens of thousands of people were either knowingly or unknowingly exposed to radioactive iodine-131, absorbed rapidly in the thyroid and resulting, among other things, in a . . .

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