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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Chernobyl stirring new emotions

Posted 1/06/15 (Tue)

On May 14, 1986, I had gone home from college to have lunch and watch “Days of Our Lives” on TV before returning for late afternoon classes.

I about spit out a tuna salad sandwich when I saw Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev pre-empt “Days” to tell us that a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, had exploded.

It appeared to be a joke because there was no interpetor to speak, only script across the bottom of the screen indicating in English what Gorbachev was saying.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the accident happened April 26, 18 days before Gorbachev went on television to tell the world about the disaster.

It has now been nearly 29 years since 31 people died trying to put out the fire that burned from the explosion and spread deadly amounts of radiation through nearby Kiev, a city of 1 million people.

In late November, the CBS news program “60 Minutes” aired a segment about Chernobyl, but this one was different than previous shows about the disaster.

This time, drones were guided through the vacant buildings and ruins that remain “hot” because the amount of radiation that escaped Chernoboyl dwarfed that of Hiroshima when that bomb went boom on Aug. 6, 1945.

If you have any interest in Chernobyl, and have computer access, it would behoove you to take a look at the videos. Just Google “drones in Chernobyl” and you’ll see what is being described here. It’s creepy.

First, it brings up a lot of sour memories in the United States on how the Soviet Union handled this nuclear disaster.

Obviously it wasn’t revealed to the Soviet people and just four days after the explosion, there was a May Day parade in Kiev in which it is speculated that nearly all of that city’s people were exposed to the radiation in some capacity.

Second, the Soviet Union showed the world its disregard for human life allowing the 31 who perished no special protection, only normal fire fighting gear that radiation easily penetrates.

It also disregarded environmental concerns and Sweden was the country that actually alerted the west when massive amounts of fish off the coast of Sweden suddenly began to die. Swedish authorities did their own testing and confirmed the radiation.

Today, Chernobyl and the adjacent city of Pripyat remain empty, weathered by nearly three decades of neglect.

In the drone videos, you see paint peeling off walls, stuffed animals still in place following the evacuation and vehicles stopped in their tracks as if it was a cheezy science fiction movie from the 1950s.

The radiation is also still there, even though it isn’t visible. Reduced in intensity somewhat from what is called half life, but there forever. It will never cease to exist.

But trees continue to grow in what is called the exclusion zone.Over the years there have been reports of pine cones the size of basketballs and rats the size of small dogs, mutated from the radiation. Those reports are unconfirmed.

However, generations of rodents over time appear to have developed a rather high tolerance for the radiation, presumably as they have adapted to their environment.

What is also known is that an unsual number of Ukrainian people who were young children in 1986, have developed thyroid cancer. A disease that is normally rare in children, Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian doctors logged more than 1,000 cases from 1990-2000. In the decade before Chernobyl, nine cases were reported.

It has also been documented in the early 1990s that many of the soldiers who survived after the nuclear fire was put out, developed multiple sclerosis.

Chernobyl radiation is consistent with the radioactive isotope strontium-90, the same radiation that drifted over the North Dakota sky in the 1950s. Nuclear fallout from tests in Nevada and Utah “rained” down on the countryside.

 This phenomenon became known as “The Mandan Milk Mystery.” In 1957, federal authorities shut down a Mandan creamery, leaving residents with no explanation why until 36 years later.

Because strontium-90’s physical makeup is nearly identical to that of calcium, it is believed the radiation was absorbed by dairy cows and some children who drank the laced milk later developed MS.

This strange link between Chernobyl and Mandan was confirmed in 1993 following the release of a book titled “Downwind in North Dakota, an Uncertain Legacy.” It told of the strontium 90 fallout. Simultaneous research about Chernobyl confirmed the MS link.