Funeral money in the contamination zone: living with Chernobyl, 25 years after the accident
April 26, 2011 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Nadezhda Korotkaya, 77, a widow who lives alone in her small wooden house on the edge of Stary Vyshkov, still remembers the World War II. "The Germans came and went," she said. "But Chernobyl came here to stay." It was 25 years ago today that reactor number four at the Chernobyl power plant exploded, following an emergency shutdown (detailed recounting of the disaster on Wikipedia). A memorial was held in Kiev, Ukraine, this morning for the liquidators who were the first human responders, with a bell struck at the exact moment of the Chernobyl explosion on April 26, 1986. See also: a look back, with The Big Picture.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych took part in the memorial service in Kiev, as Medvedev called for stricter safety standards for building and operating nuclear power plants, with over 60 reactors under construction in 15 countries.

The Chernobyl Reactor 4 sarcophagus, as seen here from above, is almost as as old as the accident itself. Built in months after the accident, the sarcophagus falling apart.
posted by filthy light thief (20 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause? (Union of Concerned Citizens)
posted by stbalbach at 12:02 PM on April 26, 2011

Can anyone tell what the reading is on the Geiger counter (#30, Big Picture link)? Struggling to translate the Cyrillic.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:09 PM on April 26, 2011

The reference to Chernobyl in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country was, I've always thought, rather apt: the obviousness of the disaster, the inquiries, and the screaming representative saying "STAY OUT, THERE'S NO PROBLEM, WE"RE HANDLING IT".
posted by jscott at 12:21 PM on April 26, 2011

This American Life had a story about Chernobyl a few weeks ago, and it's haunted me since. You can listen to it here, skip to around the 31:30 mark in the stream. The book it's based on, Voices From Chernobyl is mostly available on Google Books as well as Amazon. Be warned, neither the radio story nor the book are easy to go through.
posted by kmz at 12:33 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

> Can anyone tell what the reading is on the Geiger counter (#30, Big Picture link)?

At the top is РАДИАН [Radian], presumably the model name.

Below is:

H   МОЩНОСТЬ ЭКВИВАЛЕНТНОЙ ДОЗЫ [Equivalent dose rate]
φ   ПЛОТНОСТЬ ПОТОКА [Flux density]
Am   УДЕЛЬНАЯ АКТИВНОСТЬ [Specific activity]

ВКЛ [= включить, On]
ВЫКЛ [= выключить, Off]
posted by languagehat at 12:35 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

A study was recently released that found birds with orange plumage don't do as well around Chernobyl as birds of other colors.

There's a Snooki joke to be made there, I suppose.

In other news, researchers thwarted by the secrecy around the Chernobyl incident think that Fukashima might provide a better opportunity to learn about the long term effects on the affected population, thanks the "greater scientific expertise in Japan, as well as the greater economic and political stability."
posted by nomisxid at 12:44 PM on April 26, 2011

How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause? (Union of Concerned Citizens)

The comments on that link point to the bigger political gamesmanship afoot in a topic that seldom seems to be discussed without an agenda.
posted by fairmettle at 12:48 PM on April 26, 2011

Burhanistan: Also, I get a McAfee site advisor warning about an exploit on that last link (the sarcophagus falling apart).

Hrm, sorry about that (if there is something nasty hidden therein). I found it from Google's news crawler. Here is an alternative source for the same text.

More links:
* EU helps finance new Chernobyl sarcophagus - Ukraine is looking to the world Tuesday (19 April) to pledge more funds to help it contain the consequences of history's worst nuclear accident.

* Inside Chernobyl today - an interview with Igor Gramotkin, the general director of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

* Previously: Inside Chernobyl Sarcophagus
posted by filthy light thief at 12:59 PM on April 26, 2011

Democracy Now had a pretty incredible fight recently between Helen Caldicott and George Monbiot about the estimated death toll and general threat posed by Chernobyl and now Fukushima. This follow-up article tries to find a sensible middle ground.
posted by mek at 1:00 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The person who has taught me the most about Chernobyl over the last many years has been the courageous and inspiring Elena Filatova on her motorcycle, driving around the exclusion zone taking amazing pictures and putting them up on her kiddofspeed site.

A couple of months ago I felt an intensely rekindled interest in Chernobyl and did hours and hours of research on the web about it, collected links. I was thinking of doing a lengthy blog post about it and then thought it was simply too depressing, I didn't have the heart, deleted the links and thought, well that's behind us now in the world. Then bam, Fukushima.
posted by nickyskye at 2:01 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The person who has taught me the most about Chernobyl over the last many years has been the courageous and inspiring Elena Filatova on her motorcycle

That story is thought to be a hoax. There's always some debate about it, but she's taken the "what matters is Chernobyl, what does it matter what poetic license I took" approach.
posted by jscott at 2:44 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was looking through the 23 prior posts with the Chernobyl tag, and 3 of them are about Elena Filatova:
1. Motorcycling through the Chernobyl Dead Zone (March 4, 2004)
2. Touring the Dead Zone (dupe, March 8, 2004 -- actually the 2nd dupe, following this quickly deleted thread)
3. MeFi Detective hats ON! - "Is Elena another Kaycee?" (May 15, 2004)

I had only seen Elena's original story, none of the veracity, I was surprised by the 3rd thread, though what was posted made sense (no one is allowed to drive through the area in an unenclosed vehicle; the photos are taken in different seasons; motorcyclists are nuts for their vehicles, and 1) would either pose with them at significant sites, and/or 2) not subject them to high radiation that could be absorbed, making your valued bike radioactive).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:59 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The Germans came and went," she said. "But Chernobyl came here to stay."

Wow. I'm sorry but the comparison is just ridiculous. As a result, it is very hard to pay attention to the plight of the people stuck in that little village.

Let's see. The Germans killed about 25 million from the Soviet Republics. The WHO says there were about 4,000 deaths from Chernobyl. Even if you use the wild estimates from others, they are still orders of magnitude less than what villages in the Ukraine lost in WWII.

Babi Yar is in Kiev which is fairly near Chernobyl. During two days in 1941, the Germans massacred at least 30,000 Jews. The point is that the Ukraine had worse days in WWII than the sum total of losses from Chernobyl.

The only possible way to interpret the remark favorably is simply to reduce it to the time element. Otherwise, I must conclude that whoever said it was feeble-minded.
posted by notmtwain at 4:22 PM on April 26, 2011

The WHO's estimation is only one attempt at tallying the dead. The wiki page on the Chernobyl disaster cites a Greenpeace report that puts this figure at 200,000 or more, and a book on the consequences for people and the environment concluded that number could be up to 985,000.

But tragedies are measured in more than body counts and buildings destroyed. Fallout ruins places in ways war does not. Even if that book over-states the consequences 10-fold, the topics discussed give a better image of the lasting impacts (general morbidity, impairment and disability, accelerated aging, and nonmalignant diseases, atmospheric, water and soil contamination, impacts on flora and fauna....)
posted by filthy light thief at 5:15 PM on April 26, 2011

One of my coworkers is Ukrainian and lives in Kiev--he works remotely for my company, which is based in Boston. He was in town to visit a few weeks after the Japan earthquake and at one point we were walking down the street in a gentle rain. He had an open cup of coffee with him and held it out, saying "Would you like to try this coffee? It's flavored with cesium." I imagine there's a lot of fatalistic humor like that lurking in the Ukraine.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:11 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there a difference in sustained radioactivity between Chernobyl/Fukushima and nuclear explosions? When I visited Hiroshima, I was amazed at the recovery of the city from the bomb. You'd never guess it had been hit if it wasn't for the memorial. Chernobyl seems doomed to be uninhabited for hundreds (thousands?) of years.
posted by pashdown at 7:12 PM on April 26, 2011

Thanks for the eye opening jscott.

Oh wow filthy light thief, like you, I'd only seen that first post in MetaFilter in 2004, not the detective work afterwards. Aww,a disappointment that Elena staged the motorcycle and the story. But the impact of seeing the dead zone in the way she presented it is by far the most humanizing depiction I've seen to this date. What a pity she felt the need to puff it up with even an iota of deception because the truth of Chernobyl is dramatic enough.
posted by nickyskye at 7:44 PM on April 26, 2011

Battle of Chernobyl

A very well done documentary released a couple of years ago. It has modern interviews with all the major players.
posted by andryeevna at 7:46 PM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was in high school when Chernobyl went up, and after stumbling on the Kid of Speed website years ago I was reminded about Chernobyl and what took place there. More recently, I had the chance to go to Kiev a couple of times on business. During my visit there last October, one of my Ukrainian colleagues arranged for us to go on a tour. This cost about $100 US to go and see the Power Station and Pripyat. These guys did the tour and it was a fascinating day. The guides keep you out of the hot spots, but it can be dangerous if you go off adventuring, they caution you to not eat anything, stay on the roads, and to not kick up dust. Though I didn't buy one, you can find Liquidator medals on St. Andrews Descent when the market is there. If I get back to Kiev again I might return to Chernobyl and Pripyat.
posted by stonesy at 10:09 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

nickyskye - I was surprised to read the detective work, but on looking at her pictures, it made sense. The seasons change from winter to spring and back rather suddenly, if nothing else.

pashdown: Is there a difference in sustained radioactivity between Chernobyl/Fukushima and nuclear explosions?

Frequently Asked Chernobyl Questions from IAEA has this reply:
12. How does Chernobyl’s effect measure up to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Chernobyl DrawingThe accident at Chernobyl was approximately 400 times more potent than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. However, the atomic bomb testing conducted by several countries around the world during the 1960s and 1970s contributed 100 to 1,000 times more radioactive material to the environment than Chernobyl.
Somewhat related: Fukushima Vs. Chernobyl: Still Not Equal (NPR: April 12, 2011).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:37 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

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