April 30, 2021

Commemorating the victims of Chornobyl


Thirty-five years ago, on April 26, 1986, during a test meant to simulate an electrical outage, power to the No. 4 reactor at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant unexpectedly dropped to a near-zero level.  Reactor operators, who were not scheduled to work and were not properly prepared to run the test, tried to restore power.  The core of the reactor, which had become unstable and suffered from various design flaws, exploded twice, spewing radioactive material across a large swath of Europe.

While Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were hit hardest by the fallout from the disaster, radioactive contamination reached as far away as Norway.  In fact, the first public indicator that a major nuclear catastrophe had occurred came not from Soviet authorities.  Rather, it came two days later from workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden – some 680 miles northwest of Chornobyl – who detected unusually high radiation counts in their facility on April 28, 1986.

It is important to note, as Orest Deychakiwsky has in his column in this week’s issue of The Weekly, the “monumental health, environmental, social, political and economic consequences which linger to this day.”  Mr. Deychakiwsky rightly notes that on this 35th anniversary of the nuclear catastrophe, it is important to honor the memory of all who have been impacted by the disaster.  Indeed, we may never really know just how many have been impacted by and suffered from Chornobyl’s consequences.

Mr. Deychakiwsky rightly points out that, “while we will most probably never know the full scope of the devastation on human health, or on the environment, let there be no doubt that it has been enormous.  Its legacy persists to this day and will do so for generations to come.”

Which is why we are mystified that there seemed to be very little done this year to commemorate and honor all of the victims of this tragic event.  This week’s issue does include a short story about one such commemoration which took place in Chicago, but it was organized by members of the Belarusian diaspora.  Mr. Deychakiwsky rightly points out all of the truly amazing work that has been done over the past 35 years by various people and organizations.  He notes that the U.S. has been the single largest country donor, “spending hundreds of millions to help clean up the site and build confinement structures, most recently the New Safe Confinement (NSC) to contain destroyed reactor number 4, the building of which was completed in 2019.”

Those efforts have not only commemorated the dead, but they have also raised massive amounts of money to help survivors who have had to live with the consequences of the radioactive fallout.  Indeed, their efforts should be applauded.  But as we remember the events of April 26, 1986, let us also recommit ourselves to continuing to honor and commemorate all those who have been impacted by the world’s greatest nuclear catastrophe, precisely so that it may never happen again.