Chernobyl: Unlikely Tourist Attraction

Stalking Chernobyl: Exploration After Apocalypse

Cultures of Resistance (2020)

Film Review

This documentary is about the transformation of the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant and Pripyat, the nearest city, into post-apocalyptic-culture tourist destinations.

At preset, Chernobyl is the most popular tourist destination in Ukraine – with 40,000 visitors  in 2019. Owing to chronic financial difficulties, the government promotes the nuclear disaster site as a tourist attraction, using the revenues to pay the salaries of Exclusion Zone workers. All tourist guides carry Geiger counters and avoid sites with high radiation levels.

Many Japanese tourists and officials take the tour, eager to transform Fukushima into a tourist hotspot.

Over the past two decades, Chernobyl has also experienced a big increase in illegal visitors – known as “stalkers. They scavenge scrap metal from heritage sites, as well as stealing abandoned books and other memorabilia. One group of stalkers bizarrely placed large dolls in the abandoned beds at the Pripyat hospital.

Stalkers also engage in freerunning,* abseiling,** and bungee jumping off the abandoned buildings, as well as cross country bicycle and motorbike races. And drink a lot of vodka.

Most of the airborne radiation in the Exclusion Area has settled into the soil. This makes for minimal radiation exposure, unless visitors consume food or burn firewood grown there. In fast moving streams, most of the surface water is safe to drink.

The exclusion zone is patrolled by police, military, and special forces. If caught, stalkers face stiff fines and/or lengthy imprisonment.


*Freerunning is best described as a form of “urban acrobatics” in which participants (free runners) use the city and rural landscape to perform acrobatic movements in order to get from point A to point B.

**Abseiling, also known as rappelling, involves a controlled descent off a vertical drop, such as a rock face, using a rope

 

 

 

The French Infatuation with Nuclear Power

Atom, mon amour: French faith in nuclear power

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the apparent French infatuation with nuclear power. France presently has 58 nuclear power plants, the most in Europe. Globally, only the US has more nuclear plants. Filmmakers interview French residents living adjacent to a Normandy plant about the risks. They give replies, such as “We’re used to it” and “It’s part of our culture.” Most are unaware the plant is contaminating local local seafood by discharging radioactive wastewater into the ocean.

In addition to visiting an operation nuclear power plant, the filmmakers visit a new nuclear waste disposal site under construction 500 meters underground. The French government plan to store liquid nuclear waste in metal drums there for more that 100,000 years.*

They also visit the Saclay Nuclear Research Center, staffed by 6,000 international researchers. The French are eager to resume exports of their state-of-the art nuclear power plants once the furor over the Fukushima meltdown. The center also engages in research in renewable energy, which according to DW,  “isn’t a priority in France.”**

The segment I found the most interesting concerns the French antinuclear movements.  Local activists reveal that all nuclear power stations are owned and operated by the French government, which heavily subsidizes the price consumers pay for power (ie they sell it at a lower price than the cost of production).

The French activists meet regularly with German antinuclear activists. The latter found it was much easier to shut down Germany’s nuclear power network, as local and regional government have far more authority than in France.

The activists also complain about the massive amount of pro-nuclear propaganda the French government produces. In one example a newscast following the Chernobyl meltdown reveals fallout plumes miraculously changing course at the French border.

Despite ongoing surveillance, stalking and harassment by the police, the French antinuclear movement has forced the government to adopt stringent safety requirements that significantly delayed new plants from opening.

Moreover pressure from German activists and authorities is blamed for the impending closure of France’s oldest nuclear plant Fessenheim, located on the French-German border.


*I find this notion quite unrealistic, given that metal fatigue tends to cause metal containers to begin leaking in 30-100 years.

**Under its commitment to the EU renewable energy directive of 2009, France has a target of producing 23% of its total energy needs from renewable energy by 2020. This figure breaks down to renewable energy providing 33% of energy used in the heating and cooling sector, 27% of the electricity sector and 10.5% in the transport sector. In addition, France actively exports innovative renewable technologies worldwide:   French Renewable Energy

 

 

Survival in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone

babushkas

The Babushkas of Chernobyl

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Al Jazeera has made this eye opening documentary about 100 elderly “babushkas” who defied authorities and returned to their farms in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Most of these women live independently, surviving off subsistence farming. However they meet up for birthdays and other celebrations, to sing and down plenty of vodka.

Formerly they all received pension checks from the Ukrainian government – delivery has become less reliable with the recent civil war.

Aside from the “babushkas,” a number of researchers, soldiers and administrators work in the exclusion zone. For health reasons, they are limited to 15 days a month and forbidden to eat food or drink water from the exclusion zone. Both are contaminated with radioactive cesium, which is absorbed into muscle, and strontium, which is absorbed into bone. People are also discouraged from entering the exclusion zone in the presence of heavy winds – dust containing uranium and plutonium can be deadly when inhaled.

The “babushkas,” who are irresistible research subjects, are visited regularly by Ukrainian soldiers, who measure the amount of radiation in their cottages, water and foodstuffs. One of them developed thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine, the first radionucleotide released during a nuclear explosion. Since her thyroid was removed in  1986, her health has been fine.

The video can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at

The Babushkas of Chernobyl

 

Chernobyl’s $1.4 Billion Containment Dome

Chernobyl +30 – A Look From the Inside with Lucas Hixson

(April 2016)

Chernobyl +30 is a webnar presentation to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In this segment, US nuclear engineer Lucas Hixson briefly summarizes the causes of the Chernobyl accident, the initial clean-up efforts by the Soviets, and the current extent of nuclear contamination in an exclusion zone the size of Rhode Island.

Hixson spent ten days at the Chernobyl site at the end of 2015 for an update on the $1.4 billion* containment dome Bechtel is building to prevent further radiation release. The largest man made structure ever built, the dome will replace the sarcophagus the Soviets placed over the site in 1987. The latter has become contaminated and is emitting gamma radiation. Bechtel’s $1.4 billion dome is predicted to last 100 years.

For me, the most interesting part of the presentation concerns the precautions taken to minimize tje radiation dose experienced by the 3,500 workers who are dismantling the sarcophagus. As Hixson points out, they are all younger workers with no direct experience of the devastating health problems workers and residents experienced after the Chernobyl explosion. It’s his impression they have minimal awareness of the immense hazards of their work.

Hixson’s presentation begins at 5:23.


* Hixson doesn’t mention how Ukraine (which is currently bankrupt and undergoing IMF restructuring) is paying for the containment done. According to the Washington Post, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is managing the project, which they are funding through international donations. The US has contribution $410 million.

 

 

Fukushima: the Cover-Up Continues

crisis without end

Dr Helen Caldicott’s new book, Crisis Without End: the Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima, is a compilation of the symposium she organized at the New York Academy of Medicine in March 2013.* The latter was a virtual Who’s Who of nuclear physicists and radiation health experts. In the short video below, she gives a brief overview of the nuclear accident at Fukushima and the systematic cover-up by the US and Japanese government of the on-going threat it poses to all global inhabitants.

What Actually Happened at Fukushima?

Following a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that knocked out their cooling systems, three nuclear reactors experienced core meltdowns. When a meltdown occurs, the core overheats to the point that it melts through the containment vessel into the grounds. Driven by the intense heat of continuous chain reactions, the molten mass continues to spew radiation into the environment over an extended period.

The mountain streams that flow under the stricken reactors absorb this radiation from the molten cores and carry it to the Pacific Ocean. Approximately four tons daily of radiation-contaminated water has been flowing into the Pacific Ocean for 3 ½ years.

One the radiation reaches the ocean, it’s taken up into the food chain where it’s “biomagnified” (i.e. small fish eat radioactive algae, which are eaten by larger fish). Tuna is at the top of the food chain. Which is why tuna caught off the coast of California contains radioactive cesium that originated at Fukushima.

The Cover-Up

The Japanese government knew almost immediately the meltdowns had occurred – expose the whole of Japan and the American West Coast to massive doses of airborne radioactive fallout – and covered it up for three months. They and Tepco, the private company running Fukushima, continue to mislead the public by asserting it will take forty years to stop the flow of radioactive water into the Pacific. According to Caldicott, no technology exists at present to reverse the effects of a nuclear meltdown.

A new law Japan passed in December 2013 makes it illegal for journalists to disclose any information about Fukushima that the government wishes to suppress.

Obama, the pro-nuclear president (he received a $250,000 campaign contribution from Exelon Corporation) colluded in the cover-up. Instead of warning Americans in Seattle, Florida and other US sites that they were being exposed to high levels of airborne radioactive fallout (specifically I 131), he specifically denied that the US faced any risk of radiation exposure.

Caldicott maintains the EPA has an absolute legal and moral obligation to monitor radiation levels of US air, water and sea food, especially as the Fukushima site remains extremely vulnerable to a future earthquake, tsunami or typhoon. Workers are still pumping seawater on the stricken reactors to cool them. Afterwards the radioactive seawater is stored in 1500 enormous storage tanks held together with adhesive tape.

Obama, in contrast, is far more concerned about protecting his friends in the nuclear industry. Amazingly he has just finalized $6.5 billion $6.5 billion in loan guarantees to build two new nuclear power plants in Georgia.

Hillary Clinton is also a major player in the cover-up, with the agreement she signed immediately after the Fukushima accident, for the US to continue to import Japanese seafood. Caldicott warns that under no circumstances should people anywhere eat rice, fish or miso imported Japan – owing to high levels of radiation it contains.

Chernobyl

Caldicot also discusses the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl (Ukraine) which has caused one million, mainly cancer-related, deaths across Europe. Information about the effects of Chernobyl in other parts of Europe is also being suppressed. Lambs in Wales, Wild boards in Germany and Turkish hazelnut are still too dangerous to eat due to radiation contamination.

 

* Free link to presentations from last year’s Symposium available via the Helen Caldicott Foundation