Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Chernobyl: (1986-2006)

It just happened that in the course of the last two years, I've learnt much more about Chernobyl than I had learnt in the previous 18 years.
I first learnt about the tradegy like everyone else - from the TV watching the gloomy footage of the fourth reactor. I don't have any relatives directly affected by the disaster although my uncle-in-law (can I say that?) went there to partake in the clean-up operation. Unlike many others, he did it on its own accord, to make a quick buck/ruble and I have no idea whether he's had to pay big time for his avarice...

As I said I've learnt a lot about the catastrophe and I think now I understand better why it happened. Setting aside all the complicated technical details it is pretty clear to me, that Chernobyl was not a sign of Soviet technological inferiority, quite to the contrary, but at least partially resulted from a special kind of mentality, shared by those who worked there - To Soviet engineers who worked there the reactor was a big and exciting toy with which to play for the sake of money, glory, scientfic exploration, you name it.
I am not a big fan of North American culture of perpetual litigation but in this case, thinking about consequences, not just in abstract terms, but in very real, legal ones might've saved it.
If not in money or property many of the workers had to pay the price in the most precious commodity - their lives. The very first victim, operator Valeriy Khodymchuk is buried right inside the fourth reactor as his body was never found. However, it is the plight of the 14 firefighters that made the greatest impression on me. They arrived on the station mere minutes after the blast and had to extinguish fire with their bare hands, almost literally, throwing the radioctive graphite off the roof back to the reactor. It was a truly suicidal mission and they all died two weeks later at a hospital in Moscow. The wife of one of them, Ignatenko, wrote a truly moving account of his last days (you can read it here in Russian).

Vichnaya Pamyat' to all those who perished!

P.S. The current controversy around Chernobyl is mainly about the number of victims and here you can read an insightful summary of the issue.


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