Chernobyl - 20 years later

It's hard to believe that it's been 20 years. Chernobyl engraved itself so deeply into my mind and is so present in so many questions I routinely address, that it is hard to understand that an entire generation has grown up since then. Just a few weeks ago I was inquiring about the daughter of a friend and she mentioned that the girl was now 20 - "She was a Chernobyl baby, remember?"

Do I ever remember.

The first reports of the explosion and the attempts of the politicians to reassure us that we did not need to be concerned. I had been active writing for the taz for many years and knew from that one thing for sure: the more insistent they are that everything is okay, the worse the situation actually is. We had been demonstrating against all the atomic power plants in Germany and especially Schleswig-Holstein (Brokdorf, Brünsbüttel) and against the atomic waste dump in Gorleben. We had been laughed at, atomic energy was supposed to be clean and cheap, we were just troublemakers. I suppose we would be called terrorists today.

We kept speaking about a "GAU", größte anzunehmende Unfall, the gravest accident that could happen. We were scoffed at. I still have material from the Kernforschungszentrum in Jülich explaining how improbable such an occurrance is. But that is the problem with probablities. Even the slightest possibilities can acutally happen.

The day the atomic cloud passed over Northern Germany I was in panic, trying to get home before it rained. I only had a sleeveless dress on (summer came early 1986) and it was supposed to rain. I didn't make it, I parked our little Panda outside the house and tried to figure out how to get home - no umbrella, no coat, not even a plastic bag. The rain was beating down, there was just no other way then to dash through the radioactive downpour. I scrubbed and scrubbed in the shower when I got upstairs.

The first of May was a radiant, sunny day. We always went to the union meetings and marches. But did one dare go outside anymore? We couldn't resist, but I remember putting on a long-sleeved blouse despite the warmth, to try and keep radiation off my skin. How horrible to have this danger around you that your could not feel, could not see or taste or smell.

We had an emergengy discussion with friends about our vacation. We had booked 3 weeks on the island of Bornholm with some friends. 5 adults, one kid, one of the women pregnant. A wonderful house with a big kitchen and a sauna near the beach, it was to be a wonderful vacation. But could we actually go? We debated and debated the question, and then decided: to heck with it, we were going to enjoy ourselves. We went, we had a great time and good food and watched the soccer world cup on the television. Denmark was doing well and the Danes were completely gaga about it.

When we got back we found that someone in Kiel had had a great idea. A chemist had figured out how to measure the contamination in food and had measured the Bequerels in milk. It was shockingly high. Quickly a group was formed, Eltern für unbelastete Nahrung e.V. and money collected to purchase measuring equipment. People brought food - 1 liter or 1 kg - to the lab and it was measured and the results published in a little newsletter that was sent out weekly, I believe. Good, Danish milk was high in contamination, cheap Aldi-milk was okay. Mushrooms, venison, berries, all sorts of stuff had much, much more Cesium-126 in it than the new "permissible values" that the industry had quickly defined. We changed our diets and ate only food that was less contaminated than the rest. The half-life of this isotope is 30 years, meaning that once ingested it would be with us the rest of our lives.

Pictures of the residents of Chernobyl began to leak out, we were shocked to see what contamination sickness looked like close up. The reactor got a cement casket dumped on it, and the atomic lobby lay low for a few years.

The baby was born, and every time she had problems you wondered: is it because she's a Chernobyl baby?

The Green Party came into power and started slowly promoting ecologically sound ideas. They started trying to turn off atomic power and were mildly successful. But suddenly I get the feeling that people have forgotten. We need lots of electricity for our MP3 players and our mobile phones and our other toys. I am afraid that we are forgetting what happend "so long ago".

In 10 years we can "celebrate" the half-life of the fallout. Half of the radiation set free that day in 1986 will be gone. Only half. The atomic waste piling up in the waste dumps will be around for many more years.

1 comment:

46halbe said...

There is an amazing photo exihibition (Willy-Brandt-Haus)
really worth visiting.