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Some experts say that limits of 500 picocuries are harmful, especially to developing fetuses. When we have conflicting information at this level, then it becomes hard to know what information is the best information. To ere on the side of caution, however, when one is facing harmful radiation levels, would logically be the course of action to follow. Except for cleanup at Chernobyl, there was nothing to be done about the accident. The question is, what kind of oversight was done to ensure that Chernobyl was cleaned up?
Chernobyl was not the first nuclear reactor the world has experienced. The first such accident happened in the United States, at Three Mile Island (TMI). In early 1979, a nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania was the site for the worst (known) accident in American history. Today, that reactor remains closed down, and the site at Three Mile Island, stands as a stark reminder to the American public of what happens when, for whatever reason, things go horribly wrong at a nuclear energy site.
A the worst accident in the history of commercial nuclear power in the United States occurred at the Three Mile Island (TMI) Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania. "Like certain other functional structures on the modern American landscape -- the bridge at Selma, Alabama; the Watergate complex; the Texas Schoolbook Depository in Dallas -- the towers at 'TMI' have slipped into an unprojected half-life as reminders of steep depressions in our national lifeline, " a report on the accident observed in 1980. "Three Mile Island is a big deal; something important happened here. " 5 Few would question this assertion; judging the response to and evaluating the effects of the "something important" that happened are matters of greater ambiguity."
Three Mile Island is visible to the public, and if the reactor were to be started again, the public would be aware of it. In its aftermath, there was an intense campaign to cover up the extent of the damage - and, ostensibly, the potential harm to the public.
In March 1979, Metropolitan Edison, the owner of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor, tried in every possible way to cover up the extent of T.M.I.'s radiation releases-- so much so that seven years later Pennsylvania's Republican Governor, Richard Thornburgh, would compare their behavior to that of Mikhail Gorbachev during the Chernobyl crisis."
After TMI, there should have been a conference of every reactor owner and site where one existed around the globe to conduct a study of what happened, and how to prevent that from happening again. Nuclear reactor meltdown should have received as much attention, and corrective action, and rehearsal for corrective action as possible. This is not what happens, at least not in America, where the public was, and is, already weary of nuclear energy. The downplay of the harm caused by Chernobyl, and the harm that would befall the public and the planet for decades following the incident, are not an issue that has been extensively dealt with. Nuclear energy is an energy source that has been forced upon the world, and it stands as an ominous warning as to how vulnerable we are, and as a reminder of how the public is consistently misled by the government and business in the name of profit. The public saw, in California, what happens when people try to inform the public of the dangers of nuclear energy. It is the life and demise of Jack Goodell, the nuclear engineer, whose death served as the story behind the acclaimed film, the China Syndrome. Following a near accident at a nuclear power plant in California, Goodell was killed by a swat team when he locked himself inside the plant control room and threatened to flood it with radiation unless he was given access to news people to tell his story - which was that he was so concerned about the vulnerability of the plant that he was willing to do anything to prevent it going back online.
At the time of the T.M.I. near-meltdown, however, Thornburgh's Secretary of Health, Gordon MacLeod, warned that pregnant women and small children should be immediately evacuated from the reactor area, and that potassium iodide should be distributed to area residents. But Thornburgh was unwilling to "create a panic' by ordering an immediate evacuation. It was not until two days after the accident that he did so, and by then it was too late to avoid the worst of the health hazards.
MacLeod was later fired for being an "alarmist.' Since his departure the state's Department of Health has scoffed at studies by Sternglass and others indicating that the infant death rate in the Harrisburg area had tripled in the months after the accident. More recent research by Jane Lee has shown that the cancer rate in certain areas downwind of the site is five times what would have been expected if the accident had not occurred. Such studies have also been given short shrift by state authorities."
What this suggests, is that Chernobyl, which has been declared by scientists as a worse disaster than TMI, is probably more harmful to the planet and to the life inhabiting the planet than anyone is willing to tell us. Of course, informing us about the potential disaster from the disaster would serve little purpose; because there is no way that we can comb the atmosphere and remove the harmful radiation from it. What informing us would do, however, is to make the public more diligent about not supporting the building of additional nuclear power plants.
Five years after Chernobyl, there was a thirty kilometer zone that was forbidden to anyone to access. Referred to as the "Forbidden Zone," it is as close as anyone is perhaps willing to come to make a statement as to the severity of the Chernobyl meltdown. Where once there stood a forest at the parameter of the facility, there is now empty space where the radiation intensity remains so high that it prevents growth of plants, or other life.
A in April 1986, the most intensely radioactive smoke and vapor cloud in history drifted over and into that forest, roasting it to death not with heat but with awesome amounts of nuclear radiation. Remote-controlled bulldozers and hundreds of thousands of young soldiers labored during the weeks and months following the disaster to do the only thing that could be done: every tree and every twig lies buried beneath the desolate surface of that plot of tortured land."
From the first leaks of the news of the disaster to the public, Soviet officials began downplaying the severity of the incident at Chernobyl. It was more aggressive a denial of facts than in the United States following TMI. It is ironic when a government uses the term "control" to describe the aftermath of an incident that is a reflection of a lack of control. The Soviets said that the radiation danger to cleanup workers was under control, and that their risk was minimal.
The radioactive plume rose an estimated 8 kilometres, and the graphite core burned for days. Five thousand tons of quenching materials were dropped from helicopters but increased the temperature of the nuclear core and spread the radioactive cloud over an even vaster area. Eighteen days later, Gorbachev acknowledged the accident on Soviet television. Tens of thousands of people had by then been exposed to radioactive iodine-131, resulting in a massive incidence of thyroid cancers, many of which might have been avoided had iodine pills been distributed in the first week. In the years that followed, more than 600,000 military and civilian personnel were put at risk in the course of clean-up operations and the construction of a 'sarcophagus' to entomb the reactor, which is now surrounded by a 30-kilometre exclusion zone. Nearly 9 per cent of the territory of Ukraine (and 23 per cent of neighbouring Belarus) is considered contaminated; around 5 per cent of its population (3.5 million people) are classified as 'sufferers' and more than half a million were resettled. Estimates put the death-toll from Chernobyl-related illness between 1993 and 1996 at over 100,000."
Five years after Chernobyl, and the poorly designed reactors that were used only in the Soviet Union, continued to operate. "The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSGEAR) was established in 1955, with a mandate from the United Nations General Assembly to assess and report levels and health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation." UNSGEAR did not issue a report that directly addressed Chernobyl until 2000. Before this time, the UN, like other governments and reporting bodies around the world, was forced to accept the official Soviet statements on the accidents and the conditions afterward. It was never really necessary to rely on the Soviets for information at all, since every major power in Europe and in North America has the ability to monitor the actual data. When we say the Soviets covered up the…[continue]
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