I was one and a half years old when Chernobyl happened. I learned about it later on but everything was always in the past tense; Chernobyl was a cautionary tale, not a living breathing disaster. Only after becoming involved with Voices From Chornobyl did I truly realize the ongoing implications of what happened that day in 1986.
Like many people I stayed up late last Thursday evening watching the heartbreaking footage of the aftermath of both the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. At the first mention of the state of Japan’s three nuclear reactors in the area my stomach dropped. Even as I write this there are new developments, the situation is constantly changing, and no one can be certain what will happen next. While authorities are assuring the public nothing like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island is possible the parallels are hard to ignore. For me it’s somewhat surreal, after learning so much about Chernobyl – the events leading up to it, the immediate aftermath and the ongoing effects – to have an event happening in the modern day, that in many ways brings these elements into my daily life, was not something I was prepared for. I have to admit even after all the awareness we have been doing for VFC I never expected to be confronted with these realities in this way.
I don’t want to be reactionary, I think the major news stations do a good enough job on their own, and I don’t even mean this as a criticism of nuclear power per se, but the events of the past few days have made the topic of nuclear plants and radiation very real for me. But despite the fear of what might happen I think it’s important to point out the differences we have seen in the reaction to these ongoing events. Most evident is the amount of information available, in the age of the 24/7 news cycles and social media the global community is much more aware of what is happening than in the days after Chernobyl. Transparency is key to dealing with disasters and can truly impact the outcome in many ways. The early evacuation of those that live near the endangered reactors is a positive example of the difference between what is happening now in Japan and how the Former Soviet Union dealt with the events at Chernobyl.
The best test of course is time, to see how this is handled going forward and what the true aftermath might be. As I have learned from Chernobyl the effects of radiation go on long after all the foreign journalists have left and even after the major clean up is done. To quote a line from the play “this is for thousands of years”; for my part I’m hoping this will never be said of the events unfolding in Japan.