“Ch­er­nobyl makes it harder for peo­ple to be­lieve in a safe nu­clear fu­ture”

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

World­wide per­cep­tions of nu­clear safety would never be the same again. A deadly ra­dioac­tive cloud drifted across Europe, and many coun­tries had to deal with con­tam­i­na­tion for decades.

Areas within 20 miles of the re­ac­tor re­main de­serted. The im­me­di­ate im­pact was dev­as­tat­ing, with rates of thy­roid cancer in chil­dren in­creas­ing in heav­ily con­tam­i­nated areas. Re­gard­ing longer term ef­fects, many stud­ies claim the num­ber of peo­ple af­fected stretches into the thou­sands. An­i­mals and plant-life were harmed, caus­ing com­pli­ca­tions re­lat­ing to the hu­man food chain. The clean-up is COM­MENT / Jonathan Hogg on­go­ing, which is ex­tremely ex­pen­sive for coun­tries in­volved. A sar­coph­a­gus built around the re­ac­tor to con­tain con­tam­i­na­tion has failed; a new pro­tec­tive build­ing should be com­pleted in 2018.

His­tor­i­cally, all gov­ern­ments that use nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for power gen­er­a­tion put a pos­i­tive spin on it: af­ter all, its cit­i­zens will re­ceive cheap, clean en­ergy. Ch­er­nobyl un­der­mined such con­fi­dent nu­clear rhetoric, mak­ing it harder for peo­ple to be­lieve in the prom­ise of a safe nu­clear fu­ture. While the events lead­ing up to the ac­ci­dent can be blamed on the crum­bling Soviet regime, the dis­as­ter should still serve as a re­minder of the risk, un­cer­tainty and dan­ger in­her­ent in hu­man­ity’s use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy.

is the Bri­tish Nu­clear Cul­ture: Of­fi­cial and Un­of­fi­cial Nar­ra­tives in the Long 20th Cen­tury (Blooms­bury, 2016), and se­nior lec­turer in 20th-cen­tury his­tory at the Univer­sity of Liver­pool

Jonathan Hogg au­thor of

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