Rezwan Razani - July 17, 2013
This PBS Video asks, “What happens to nature after a nuclear accident?” In turn, we ask, “How can eco warriors use this information?”
The historic nuclear accident at Chernobyl is now 25 years old. Filmmakers and scientists set out to document the lives of the packs of wolves and other wildlife thriving in the “dead zone” that still surrounds the remains of the reactor.
Chernobyl: What Happened
First, a look at the inciting incident from the Wildlife News article:
Twenty six years ago, on April 26, 1986 reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the now-defunct Soviet Union melted down and an explosion blew open the reactor. It released a cloud of radioactive materials that contaminated most of Europe, but especially the area near the reactor in what is now Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
“Contaminate” means “make (something) impure by exposure to or addition of a poisonous or polluting substance.” Purity was compromised. The land was defiled by radiation. What was the impact?
The Bad news
The Chernobyl disaster killed 51 people directly. It is estimated that it will prematurely end the lives of another 4000 - 50,000 people (depending on the estimator) from cancer over the next few decades. This is tragic, and has been grounds for many people to shut the book on nuclear energy.
Before you shut that book, take a quick look over at the books of some other energy sources.
Note that accidents from other forms of energy cause many more deaths per unit of energy produced, both directly, and over time, at a distance. For example, thousands of people die each year directly, mining coal. People are blown up on oil rigs, such as the deep water horizon rig. They fall off roofs installing solar panels. Over time and at a distance, burning coal is estimated to kill around 13,000 people each year in the USA, and millions every year, worldwide. In this light, the tragedy of Chernobyl, those premature deaths spread out over decades, is still bad, but thousands of times less bad than other types of energy.
The Good News
People wrote off Chernobyl as a complete disaster - the end of the world, the end of nature. In this, they were mistaken. Per the article:
Of interest here are the wildlife side-effects of the total evacuation of people from 1,938,100 acres of land thought to be permanently contaminated by radiation. Over 350,000 people were removed.
Immediately afterward much of the wildlife in the area died of radiation, and a nearby 4000 acre pine forest turned red (“the Red Forest”). It, in other words died. That is a lot of radiation. Many thought the area, the exclusion zone, would be a permanent zone of desolation. Perhaps even, it would be a zone that spread.
But that’s not what happened. In a short time, nature rebounded. Read the article and watch the movie.
The takeaway: Human civilization is worse for wildlife than nuclear accidents.* Indeed, nuclear accidents can be a boon to wildlife. In just a decade, they’re baaaack.
*And that’s the most depressing facet of this story. Come on people, we can do better than being worse for nature than massive radiation. Some inspiration from Dan Dagget’s “Gardeners of Eden.”
Paradoxical Eco Warrior Strategy
I am starting to wonder if shedding light on the safety of nuclear energy and putting the risks of radiation in perspective is a bad thing to do for nature.
It would be better to keep people terrified of radiation, and then cause a few radioactive accidents in strategic areas that you want to restore to nature. That would keep the people out, the property values low, and then nature could take over. Return of the beavers! They’re not as put off by background radiation as we are.
Have I messed up a plot that has taken years to construct?
More Radiation Tourism: Hot Springs and Locals in Iran
Meet the residents of Ramsar, Iran and the tourists who come to enjoy the hot springs. Ramsar is a very high background radiation area (VHBRA) - one of the highest in the world. The levels are “a few times higher than the ICRP-recommended radiation dose limits for radiation workers.” And yet people have lived there for generations, without fuss. Have they adapted? What’s going on in Ramsar? If you have more information on this, please add links in comment section below. Thanks!