Chernobyl: 25 years on

Posted by John Sauven — 26 April 2011 at 12:11pm - Comments
Nearby village Rosochovz. People are not allowed to move into the area, only lea
All rights reserved. Credit: Robert Knoth / Greenpeace
Nearby village Rosochovz. People are not allowed to move into the area, only leave.

Twenty five years ago today, the peace and tranquillity of the small Russian town of Pripyat was shattered when reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded.

Within minutes a toxic blend of radioactive dust and smoke spewed across the local area.

Across Europe, government agencies struggled to deal with the contamination to land and water as the winds spread the radioactive dust across the continent. The contamination affected 14 countries - sheep in north Wales were found to have dangerous levels of radioactivity, while crop farmers across Europe (pdf) had to abandon their harvests. The financial costs arising from the disaster continue today and will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Twenty five years on and epidemiologists still argue about what the final death toll of the Chernobyl explosion will be - some claim the human cost will be in the low thousands while others estimate it will be in the high hundreds of thousands. The reality is we are unlikely to precisely know the actual number of deaths and cancers caused by the Chernobyl explosion.

The question today is what should the legacy of the Chernobyl disaster be. With heroic emergency workers still struggling to bring the reactors at Fukushima under control and Japan's economy thrown back by long-term rolling blackouts, this generation of decision makers and investors face some stark choices.

After Chernobyl, relatively few new reactors have been built. The median age of nuclear reactors is about 27 years. Today, less than 14 per cent of the world's electricity is generated by nuclear power.

But after years of stagnation, the nuclear power industry had been planning a revival. Its PR departments have began working overtime selling the idea that nuclear power is a necessary weapon against climate change, that it is a cost-effective and reliable energy source. In Britain, the government has given the go-ahead in principle to 10 new nuclear reactors to replace all but one of the existing reactors due to shut down by 2023. But remember Margaret Thatcher promised 10 as well, but only one got built.

Even before the inevitable rising nuclear costs following Fukushima, global investment patterns have begun to shift towards cleaner, safer alternatives. For the past two years, more has been invested in renewable energy than nuclear power or fossil fuels as countries compete to become more resource efficient and to get a share of the rapidly growing market in safe, low-carbon goods and services.

This investment is driving down the costs of renewable energy and scaling up manufacturing output of products like wind turbines and solar panels. Bloomberg New Energy Finance say that in 2010, $243 billion was spent on clean energy, up 30 per cent on 2009.

Today in parliament, on the anniversary of Chernobyl, the government is introducing a new bill that would introduce new hidden nuclear subsidies, despite all its promises. MPs from all sides of the house, who stood for election on a platform of no new nuclear subsidies, must start by voting down this attempt to create a £1.3 billion windfall for existing nuclear power plants.

No new subsidies for nuclear power must also mean that disposal costs of spent fuel should not be borne by the UK taxpayer. Nuclear power companies can't, on the one hand feed, from the trough of taxpayer subsidised profits and then wash their hands of the environmental legacy nuclear leaves behind for hundreds of thousands of years.

Twenty five years and two huge nuclear disasters later, the UK government has so far failed to grasp the opportunity of renewable energy. The UK's ability to produce sustainable, safe and cost-effective energy remains largely untapped. With over 7,700 miles of coastline, wind, wave and tidal alone has the ability to dwarf what nuclear contributes today in meeting the UK's electricity needs.

For the UK, developing a renewable strategy is a win-win for the country. Not only does renewable energy provide a secure and safe alternative, it provides the opportunity to revitalise the UK economy. Yet today we are dramatically falling behind our international competitors. In March this year, research by Pew found that Britain had fallen eight places (pdf) in 12 months in the global league table of countries investing in alternative and clean technology.

With investment and commitment, the UK could increase jobs in viable green tech industries while at the same time weaning the energy market off nuclear power.

In the town of Pripyat, there's a monument to the dead of Chernobyl. Three metal plates form the central structure and on one of those plates are some of the names of those that died. The other two plates have been left empty so names can be added as time and cancers take the lives of the local community and those who valiantly fought to bring the fire under control.

There's a greater monument we can provide for the victims of Chernobyl and Fukushima - a world free of the heavy burden of nuclear power. We know how to do it, we know we can do it, all we need now is for governments - including the UK's - to be honest, turn their backs on a dangerous and expensive energy source, and start realising the untapped resources on their own doorstep. 

bad nuclear power bad !!!!!!

The fear of radiation is more deadly than the radiation itself.

After doing my own research I have found that groups like greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups have done more harm in preventing humanity from having a source of clean, safe and sustainable energy source than any other.

By pumping out fear about nuclear power the only people that have benefited have been the fossil fuel industry. In doing so the greens have only guaranteed that an almost unimaginable amount of co2 and other pollutants have released in the atmosphere. The irony of all this is the fossil fuel industry puts out vastly more radioactive material then nuclear industry will ever do.

I really believe there is an element of moral hazard here. By being anti-nuclear you could argue that you have condemned thousands if not millions to poor health and unnecessary death.

I feel quite angry that green spectral organisations have lied to the general public about nuclear energy for so many years.

Japan has suffered a truly horrible natural disaster that has killed thousands yet the media is focused on nuclear power plant that has survived a truly biblical test, has killed no one and is becoming safer with every passing day. That the most dangerous radioactive element to us (iodine 131) has mostly gone through decay and will be completely gone in another 2 months.

As for Chernobyl, the most studied accident in his history. A terrible accident caused by basically the soviet system, were lessons were learned which lead to safer designs and better training.  Yet anti-nuclear groups find it is ok to exaggerate the numbers dead and be transfixed on it like misery tourists.

I am a plumbing and heating sole trader but even my simple research have found. Misinformation, exaggeration, half-truths and simple lies spread about by the greens/anti-nuclear groups.

Sadly renewables is only leading us to a future of flakily power generation with fossil fuel back-ups, Meaning expensive power, ruined landscapes and not much reduction in co2.

I am sure some think that 100% renewables is possible but it is completely pie in the sky stuff. It is time to get over your fear over nuclear power; it is the only real solution.

Nuclear power is only a short term answer to energy needs with longlasting environmental cost with no land reclaimation.

I cannot believe that there are still people in favour of nuclear power. The Chernobyl disaster should have been enough to make the world realise how dangerous it is. Even without the potential hazards of overheating, leaks, disposing of waste, etc. nuclear power isn't particularly efficient. It's not worth the risk and it's frightening to think that supporters of the nuclear energy industry are happy to endanger the health and lives of generations to come (not to mention the harm that could be caused to the environment and wildlife) when there are much safer alternatives. Do we need another Chernobly or Fukushima to make the world leaders see sense and opt for other sources of renewable energy?

haha they ,made cod a map for this

nuclear power is, and always will be the best power source there is as it generates enough energy to power millions of homes, and in the history of nuclear powered generators their has only been one explosion i must say that is a very good record. and i would have to agree with Mehran that greenpeace has caused more damage then good as they have been scare mongering and thus making government use fossil fuels more than other means of power.


Nuclear power is Dangerous?

1950's 2 Deaths

1960's 30 Deaths (all on a Russian Icebreaker)

1970's 0 Deaths 

1980's 48 (47 at Chernobyl)

1990's 2 Deaths

2000's 0 Deaths

2010's 0 Deaths

Let's put that into perspective. In Hydroelectric plants: 

2010 (Kazahkstan) minimum of 43 Deaths 

2009 (Russia) 75 Deaths 

2000 (Switzerland) 3 Deaths

1982 (Colorado) 3 Deaths

1977 (Georgia, USA) 39 Deaths

1975 (China) 26,000 Deaths (plus 145,000 from epidemics and famine)  

1979 (India) 1,800 Deaths 

1923 (Italy) 356 Deaths

Nuclear waste is Dangerous?

Hmm. Let's see...

Dai1950's to 2010 0 Deaths

Educate yourselves. Nuclear is safe, and getting safer every day. Look up Thorium Reactors, Passively safe reactors. 


Nuclear power is very badddd RIP for all victims of chernobyl ..


    décoration intérieur: Jouez à faire la décoration intérieur de votre maison et partagez vos astuces sur les sites de décoration qui existent sur la toile.

Nuclear is bad. We shouldn't exaggerate the tragidies, but it still lives on! Government need a massive disaster in UK to happen before they'll stop. Don't let that happen! Stop now. We don't need nuclear. We have a fear of radiation, so let's rid the world of that fear.

Keep going Greenpeace!

@DaitheSci, your comment is a very good example of how statistics can be used to tell lies. Compare your hydroelectric figure for China 1975 with your figure for Chernobyl.  You've mentioned a lot of indirect deaths in China, yet you claim that only 47 people were killed by the Chernobyl accident.  In fact, people are still dying today as a result of the Chernobyl meltdown.  The land and food for hundreds of miles around are still highly poisonous.  Women have to have abortions because of the effects of radiation on their unborn babies.  People suffer terrible cancers and other illnesses, all directly related to the continuing radioactivity.  Also, are deaths the only measure of suffering?

There's a suggestion of people being affected by radiation even from nuclear plants that are deemed to be in good working order, too.  Governments and the nuclear industry don't publish details of this; I doubt they even investigate it properly.

And tell me - where do you propose we put the waste?

Nina, you point one about abortions is a very sad case in point. It links back to my first sentience

“The fear of radiation is more deadly than the radiation itself”

It is believed that there was an extra 10,000 abortions in the year after Chernobyl.  Imagine being scared so much about radiation that you would unnecessary abort a child. I would say there is a real element of moral hazard here. To my mind the anti-nuclear groups have blood on their hands.

The anti-nuclear groups and by extension the fossil fuel companies what us to be scared .It keeps us from have a truly cheap, reliable and sustainable energy source.

On the issue of waste, what we should do with it is reprocess it and put in back in to a nuclear reactor. What many people don’t realise is the “spent” fuel still has 97% of its energy still used. Also there is a nuclear reactor designs that can almost completely use the fuel up without taking it out, would have a vastly smaller amount of waste that would be completely safe in 300 years.

On the subject of dams... they have by far the worst record on human suffering. For example the Three Gorges dam in china has displaced 1.8 million people, submerging 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages. And even the Chinese government has admitted it been a Catastrophe.

Hi Againstnuclear,

Thanks for the reply. As to deaths caused by Chernobyl I suggest you read the George Monbiot article about it. The Green movement has had the wool pulled over its eyes for a long time about Nuclear - irrationally so.

"And tell me - where do you propose we put the waste?"

Currently it's vitrified, i.e crumbled up and thrown in a furnace with a few tons of recycled glass. What comes out the other end is a glass block totally impervious to water, encased in a steel drum. That's a pretty good start. You could have one in your living room and die of old age before any radiation got you.

In the future, fast breeder reactors which make a tiny fraction of the waste, and Thorium reactors which can use the waste as part of their fuel will come on stream. Then we really can have "power too cheap to meter".


intresting but I belive we should be working towards spreading awareness of the deteriorating condition of the sarcophagus over the remains of the destroyed reactor. A million and one propaganda battles can and will be won against the nuclear power industry using chernobyl as a prime example of what can go wrong but we are forgetting that 2016 is the expirey date on the rusted metal and concrete thats holding back a very unplesant dust storm we as a species have unleashed on our home. We are all aware that most construction work runs a little behind schedule but the new sarcophagus was supposed to be complete by 2005 while construction is underway compleation is due for 2015 with the current economic climate I think the is huge potential for this quitetly spliiting open into the next biggest enviromental disaster we as a planet have seen,  Greenpeace members should learn all they can and keep up to date with the progress of the "New Safe Confinement" and if this project laggs behind in needs to be brought to the attention of the world asap not hushed up until its to late and we have some obscure politicial telling us "yes we fucked it, soz". I myself belive that investing tidal and geothermal energies are the best next steps forward the UK should take towards safe sustainable engergy, fuck the olympics, I also agree that the anti-nuclear argument dose damage itself in its arguments demonising what is just another means to an end (is it a compliment to call a christian a zealot?) oil has cause far more damage than nuclear but nuclear has to potential to be the most damaging overall, I think we should take a more well informd and unbiased approach to this issue and should be able to see that yes it can be very dangerous and is not the most efficiant but it is here and careful coordination between states as well as a meticulously planned out replcement technologies are the best way to see us off to a brighter future. Pitty teslas not around anymore

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