As Europe wakes up on the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, thoughts will again go to the risks versus the benefits of nuclear industries. In Australia and New Zealand we’re likely less literally, geographically and emotionally affected by the fallout (no pun intended).
We didn’t go to sleep every night of the Cold War wondering if ‘the other side’ would push the button before sunrise, we didn’t have government warnings playing on our televisions, showing what we should do in the event of nuclear attack or accident and we didn’t have medium range missiles pointed at a multitudes of important installations throughout our country.
Apart from the reactor in Lucas Heights in Sydney we haven’t even been used to nuclear powered industries.
In America they had the 1979 scare of the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station. In the threat of a nuclear melt down on US soil, it made the threats impossible to ignore.
The 1983 movie The Day After was one of the first to detail the realities of the health and environmental impacts of nuclear power and fallout in the modern era. Over 100 million people in the USA tuned in to watch its first release on television. The brutal realities of radioactive contamination had a sobering effect on audiences.
When released in Australia it shocked audiences who were not, and maybe still are not, aware of the realities that other countries have had to consider more often, and more deeply because they live with it.
The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 brought forward Europe’s worst fears with the biggest totally man-made disaster of all times. The explosion from the melt down blew the 1,ooo tonne roof off the reactor and spewed radioactive materials into the surrounding areas and the higher environment. Contamination wafted as far as Ireland.
Two plant workers were killed on the day, and 28 mostly unprotected emergency workers trying to put out the fire died within a few weeks. Effects of the contamination led to increased death and illness from Chernobyl-related cancers.
The UK Daily Mail reports that those figures could be anything between 9,000 to 90,000
“The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm suggests 9,000 people will die due to Chernobyl-related cancer and leukemia if the deaths follow a similar pattern to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. The Greenpeace environmental group says the eventual Chernobyl death toll could be 90,000.”
So here we are 30 years later and still the total threat of the explosion are not known, nor the damage anywhere near being repaired.
The 2011 Fukushima Accident highlighted that meltdowns are still a real risk and threat even with the lessons learned from Chernobyl.
Given that Australia exports the majority of uranium that powers nuclear plants, is it strange that we haven’t really embraced nuclear powered industry?