Chernobyl: 26 years on
Chernobyl was the first, and until Fukushima, only major nuclear accident to reach Level 7 on the 7-point International Nuclear Events scale (INES).
Despite efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to play down the disaster as a one-off resulting from poor work practices in the former Soviet Union, the world today is contemplating the ruins of a second reactor complex on Japan's Pacific Coast.
Nuclear disasters have a well defined start date: in the instance of Chernobyl, at 1:23 AM, April 26, 1986. As this brief summary will show however, they have no end date. More than a quarter century later, the region faces a €1.54 billion bill for the construction of a new containment structure to enclose the decaying concrete sarcophagus built around the destroyed reactor building in 1986. 400,000 people remain evacuated, and more than 8 million people have been exposed to measurable levels of radiation. The impacts of ionising radiation on human DNA make the disaster truly intergenerational.
Many believed at the time that Chernobyl would spell the end of the nuclear industry, but the lessons remained unlearned, such that 25 years later a new disaster would overtake the people of Japan. It seems there is no nuclear disaster great enough to shake the faith of the true believers, but as a major uranium exporting nation, Australia has a special responsibility to ensure that such events never occur again.
This means directly confronting a powerful and intransigent industry, and working with people all over the world who have dedicated themselves to bringing about the end of the nuclear age. The contaminated wilderness surrounding the Chernobyl plant may seem a long way from Australia, but the nuclear chain starts here. 26 years on, let the facts speak.