Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Old Habits Die Hard: The Legacy of Chernobyl

Almost thirty years later, the impact of the Chernobyl disaster is still felt. Children are still being born with cancer and other birth defects. Survivors are still succumbing to radiation-induced cancers. Cities and towns are still abandoned. The site itself and the surrounding areas are still “hot” with radiation. Some estimates are that the area will continue to be unsafe for human habitation for millennia. Some of the radioactive isotopes have a half-life of 24,000 years (Ludwig, 2011). It is difficult to fathom how 14 seconds can have an impact for eons. Human achievement can turn to human destruction in a moment. The people of Ukraine and Belarus relive that moment daily. Their ailments remind them. Their children’s and grandchildren’s ailments remind them. The Soviet system was one of the most destructive regimes in human history. Stalin’s reign of terror alone killed between 20 and 60 million people, depending on the source consulted. One of his infamous quotes was “that he would willingly sacrifice 49 per cent if he could ‘save the 51 per cent, that is, save the revolution” (Overy, 2004). This attitude prevailed even after his death and the formal repudiation of him and his policies by his successor Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviets blindly pursued production at all costs, to the detriment of the Soviet people. Quantity was valued far above quality. Production targets had to be met regardless of the impact on the land, environment or the people themselves. All of this was in pursuit of a flawed ideology. This attitude even permeated the Soviet nuclear sector. The Cold War fostered competition between the USSR and the USA. This competition and the ruthless nature of internal Soviet politics fostered a climate of corruption and obfuscation. This very climate directly contributed to the Chernobyl disaster. The RBMK reactor design was known to have 27 different flaws, but was produced anyway. Despite the known defects, this type of reactor was installed at Chernobyl and other sites (Ludwig, 2011). Sadly, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia still has not improved much beyond its past. Its infrastructure is old and decrepit. Most of it is Soviet era vintage. Russia’s government is still corrupt and standards and regulations are not on par with the rest of Europe. There is still mistrust of the government by the people and according to some sources, the Putin government shares similarities with the Soviet regimes of yore – particularly when it comes to personal freedom, freedom of the press, and glasnost (government transparency). Parts of Russia are still some of the most contaminated places on Earth. Although the Russian government is trying to clean up after its past, there is still more to be done. They are still reluctant to seek international help unless they are desperate for assistance. For example, when the submarine Kursk sank they initially refused to let British and American rescue vessels attempt to rescue the trapped sailors. After much delay divers from Britain and Norway were able to assist in the rescue efforts. However, rescue turned to recovery because by this point it was too late for the Kursk sailors (Barany, 2004) (Dodds, 2003). They need to swallow their national pride and put their people ahead of their egos. References Barany, Z. (2004, Summer). The tragedy of the Kursk: Crisis management in Putin's Russia. Government & Opposition, 39(3), 476-503. Dodds, K. (2003). Cold War geopolitics. In J. Agnew, K. Mitchell, & G. Toal (Eds.), A companion to political geography (pp. 204-218). Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Ludwig, G. (2011). The long shadow of Chernobyl. Retrieved May 20, 2013, from TheLongShadowOfChernobyl.com: http://www.longshadowofchernobyl.com/ Overy, R. (2004). The Dictators. New York: W. W. Norton.

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