Remembering Chernobyl


By: Suzanne Elston


April 26th marks the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl – the worst nuclear accident in human history. At the time, many hoped that it would mark the beginning of the end of our dependence on nuclear power. Sadly, like so many of our darkest days, the tragedy of Chernobyl has faded into our collective unconsciousness. The problem is that we are ill equipped to imagine the consequences of such tragedy.


"We did not … possess a system of imagination, analogies, words or experiences for the catastrophe of Chernobyl," explained Svetlana Alexiyevich, a writer from Belarus. So instead, most of us simply forgot.


"Chernobyl is a word we would all like to erase from our memory. It [opened] a Pandora's box of invisible enemies and nameless anxieties in people's minds, but which most of us probably now think of as safely relegated to the past," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000. "Yet there are two compelling reasons why this tragedy must not be forgotten. First, if we forget Chernobyl, we increase the risk of more such technological and environmental disasters in the future. Second, more than seven million of our fellow human beings do not have the luxury of forgetting. They are still suffering, every day, as a result of what happened. Indeed, the legacy of Chernobyl will be with us, and with our descendants, for generations to come."


It would appear that our inherent desire to put the nasty stuff behind us far outweighs our compassion or our common sense. The result is that we have not only forgotten the tragedy of Chernobyl, but thanks to the spin doctors in the nuclear industry, we are on the verge of a global nuclear revival. Ontario is just one jurisdiction where nuclear power is experiencing a renaissance. Ontario's Energy Minister Donna Cansfield is expected to announce any day that new nuclear constructions will be part of the Liberal government's new energy plan.


Cansfield's statement that nuclear is part of a "…reasonable and prudent plan for energy in this province," is neither reasonable or prudent.  But like so many other decision makers, she has bought into the nuclear industry's carefully crafted misinformation campaign that has positioned nuclear as the environmentally responsible alternative to the burning of fossil fuels, the primary cause of climate change.


"New nuclear reactors will not contribute to a sustained reduction in global warming, nor will they be able to keep energy prices down over the long term," writes Gerd Rosenkranz. "Rosenkranz's comments are found in his research paper, "Nuclear Power – Myth and Reality" that will be presented at the upcoming international conference, Chornobyl 20 – A Remembrance for the Future, taking place in the Ukraine, April 23 to 25.


"Artificial warming of earth's atmosphere will surely pose one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. But there are less hazardous ways to deal with this problem than by using nuclear power. Nuclear power is not sustainable, because its fissile fuel materials are as limited as fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Moreover, its radioactive by-products must be isolated from the biosphere for periods of time that defy human imagination," continues Rosenkranz.


There's that word again: imagination. Finding an energy solution isn't about manipulating the technologies that we already have in place; it's about having the courage and the vision to imagine a better, more sustainable future. The nuclear industry knows this. That's why it has invested so heavily, (and apparently successfully), in convincing governments, like Ontario, to breathe life into what were the dying embers of the nuclear industry.


As Rosenkranz points out, "Nuclear energy is not only a high-risk technology in terms of safety, but also with respect to financial investment. Without state subsidies, it does not stand a chance in a market economy. Yet companies will continue to profit from nuclear energy under special, state-controlled conditions."


Rosenkranz says that instead of investing public money to resurrect an otherwise dying industry, we should be investing in renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures.


"The future of nuclear energy is past, whereas the future of renewable energy is just beginning." Lest we forget.




Chornobyl 20 - A Remembrance for the Future was an international conference held in April in the Ukraine to mark the anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster. The conference website includes excellent background materials and presentations, including Gerd Rosenkranz's paper. is the international communications platform on the long-term consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.


Children continue to be the most seriously affected victims of Chernobyl. Visit The Chernobyl Children's Project