The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant accident has been generally regarded as one of the biggest catastrophes of the 20th century right after the bombardments of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On 26th April 1986 at 1.23am, an enormous explosion blew up reactor number 4 causing free radionuclide emissions lasting for 10 days. As a result, 31 people lost their lives while 300,000 living in the neighbourhood were permanently forced out. About 400,000 rescue team members dealing with the effects of the explosion over the years 1986-1989 were more intensely exposed to radiation than the people forced to leave. Moreover some claim that the rise in cancer related diseases such as leukaemia or pancreas cancer are tightly connected with the Chernobyl accident. Others add that genetic defects among neonates, and an inestimable number of radiation-disease-related deaths, to be the fatal consequences of the explosion.
Widespread fear of radiation effects, fuelled by pop culture via science-fiction films, video games and comic books, stayed in the minds of Europeans for good. Mass panic was used to explain anomalies in the USSR with reactor explosion. These include experiments focusing on field fertilizing with high-nitrate-level manures. Meanwhile, a 2000 report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has presented the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant accident in a new light. It stated that the accident was not a tragedy to which thousands of people died. Enormous patches of land weren't poisoned either. Radiation levels had almost no affect on people's health either from Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. They did not fall ill with leukaemia more often than before and the level of children born with genetic defects wasn't on the increase. The report draws attention to an increase in psychosomatic diseases which appeared as a result of the fear of radiation. Moreover the governments of Ukraine and Belarus were accused of misusing the funds destined to liquidate the damages caused by the accident. The UNSCEAR report was not the first publication to undermine hitherto prevailing views on the explosion's effects. However, it caused a bigger stir than the others.
Even today, 25 years after the accident, the story of Chernobyl has the power to galvanize public opinion. It seems to be mysterious and raising a lot of controversy, additionally it has become the root of a dispute between opponents and proponents of nuclear energy. It all shows that the history of 26 Apr 1986 is a powerful manipulation tool which is unfortunately still used.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant accident also remains a sad symbol of the arms race of the Cold War period. High Power Channel-type Reactors (RBMK), the type in question, were a unique project which could at the same time produce electric energy and the plutonium used for military purposes, despite a declared civil charter. Most of all, the construction of the nuclear plant in Chernobyl was a demonstration of the power of the USSR. It was accompanied by huge haste which resulted in serious technical faults. Additionally, the omnipresent bureaucracy together with human error couldn't have resulted in a happy end. As a result of a decision issued by a superior, the experiment on the emergency power supply which resulted in the explosion was led by an inexperienced team.
It is estimated that three reactors would have been sufficient to reach the maximum system capacity. Reactor no. 4 exploded while nos. 5 and 6 had never been completed.
Today, Chernobyl constitutes, above all, an enormous smuggle market of looted steel and wood. Perhaps that is a main reason why zone is still closed. People are comming to settle down around the ZONA more and more often. Chernobyl also became a tourist attraction which is quite a specific one and aimed at a very narrow group. The fear of radiation fuelled by false information on the accident still deters many potential tourists. However, time is on the side of reports made by UN specialists and the number of visitors untroubled by their own health will surely be on the increase. Will it change ZONA into something like a shabby-looking Disneyland? Will this place, which for many is a symbol of suffering, the misery of resetlement and the deaths of human beings by radiation-disease and pneumoconiosis, become a playground for Stalker enthusiasts and thrill-seekers? The next few years will bring the answer for sure.
(translated by Łukasz Kowalik)