Chernobyl: a weird fascination

I wasn’t even born yet when the Chernobyl power plant exploded on April 26th, 1986. Production on me hadn’t even started yet and still I grew up with knowing and partially understanding that this thing happened; this thing that altered history in a way. Now, I’m not a historian or researcher or anything similar but to me, it feels like Chernobyl was one of the events that changed the world. Like 9/11, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Fukushima etc.

30 years ago today, the people living in direct vicinity to the exploded reactor were evacuated, a day after the explosion happened and having doused them all in nuclear particles already. It’s difficult for me to fathom that. I’ve had a weird fascination with the events of Chernobyl for as long as I can remember and I couldn’t even explain why if I tried. It just is. Maybe because it happened so close to home or because it happened so close to my year of birth; I’m just speculating.

Today I came across this article from The Economist and it made me reflective on the subject which is why this post is happening.

In my opinion, the catastrophe at Chernobyl was the first time humanity saw what could happen through nuclear power. And it’s different to the atomic bombs from WW2 because those were created to destroy whereas nuclear power plants are supposed to help us by providing electricity. In a twisted way they’re environmentally friendly because they don’t produce carbon monoxide as burning fossil fuel does. Of course the environmentally friendly part stops being true once you think about the waste that remains from the nuclear reaction. Right now, we store it underground, letting it be future generations problems which is unsettling. We thought and mostly still think we can control nuclear power and to some extend it’s true. Unless something goes wrong and we can’t anymore.

Something I wasn’t aware of until very recently, the remaining blocks from the Chernobyl power plant remained operational after the explosion and stayed online as long as 2000.  14 years after one of them blew up and wreaked havoc across most of Europe and some farther away continents. I knew there were still thousands of people working at the plant, overlooking the ruin and disassembling what they could but to have the plant staying operational, somehow that strikes me as very odd. I’ve seen enough documentaries with scenes from the first to arrive and try stop the fire. Most of them died quickly afterwards of radiation poisoning. I’ve watched videos of drones above the area, about tourist tours through the abandoned city of Pripyat.

Pripyat is a time machine in a way. It was abandoned so hastily when the Soviet Union was still in full force and you can see the city as it was back then. Of course a lot of it has been destroyed since due to a lack of maintenance. Nature is claiming the space back. It’s not save to live there anymore, not for humans, not for animals and not for plants but only the first care or understand what has happened and what the repercussions entail. And so it slowly turns back into wilderness, specked with crumbling buildings, abandoned memorabilia of families long gone or moved on. Radioactive wilderness.

2011 changed us again. The catastrophe at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima made many people again aware of the dangers of nuclear power. Germany pulled the plug and decided to end all power production through nuclear technology which is a risky step and I’m still not entirely certain it’s working in our favour. And it’s a nice gesture of us to stop nuclear power plants on our side of the borders but most of our European neighbours still use or even build new nuclear power plants, some very close to our borders. If something happens at their plants, we will be caught in the crossfire, probably even worse than in 1986. So excuse me while I’m mildly terrified of what might one day happen.

I assume the danger from nuclear power is also why I’m so fascinated with Chernobyl. It’s the Super-GAU (a GAU is the worst accident that can be expected). Putting a “super” in front of it only raises a thing that’s already at the top level which is kinda dumb. The worst thing that could have happened, happened and we’re still in the process of dealing with it, trying to live around it; around all the lives that were lost trying to contain the accident and save others; around destroying a big part of nature. I’m not entirely sure we learned the necessary things from these accidents. I didn’t grow up as an anti nuclear power supporter. I grew up as someone who is slightly terrified of fire but also can’t stay away from it. So maybe I still have some learning to do myself.

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