Chernobyl: 20 Years Later
Over 20 years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster changed public thinking about the risks of nuclear energy. Join Active Minds for an historic look at the disaster and a current review of nuclear power and global energy policy.
Key Lecture Points:
• April 25-26, 2006 marks the 20th Anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear power disaster in Chernobyl in the former USSR (now Ukraine). The Chernobyl nuclear power plant located 80 miles north of Kiev had 4 reactors. During a test of reactor number 4, operators ignored numerous safety procedures. At 1:23am a chain reaction in the reactor created explosions and a fireball which blew off the reactor's heavy steel and concrete lid. The Chernobyl accident killed more than 2 people immediately and 28 more within three months. As a result of the high radiation levels in the surrounding 20-mile radius, 135,000 people had to be evacuated.
• There continues to be significant debate about the extent and causes of the disaster. While the IAEA reports only roughly 4,000 casualties due to radiation, organizations such as Greenpeace report closer to 125,000. Furthermore, there is still significant dispute as to whether the disaster was caused by operator error, flawed reactor design, or both.
• The Chernobyl disaster brought to international attention safety and environmental issues associated with nuclear power generation. A hastily-constructed “Sarcophagus” surrounds reactor number four, but a new enclosure will be required to contain the radioactive materials for the 100,000 years necessary for their full dissipation. The “red forest” that surrounds Chernobyl is one of many examples of environmental degradation in the area. Furthermore, cancer rates for nearby populations have increased.
• The 20th Anniversary of the disaster comes during still significant popular debates as to the usefulness of nuclear power. Proponents of nuclear power cite it as necessary given the rising price of fossil fuels, the need for American energy independence, and because nuclear power avoids some of the environmental downsides of fossil fuel consumption, like greenhouse gasses. President Bush called nuclear power one of America's safest energy sources in his speech about energy policy. Opponents of nuclear power, often associated with the “nuclear phase-out movement” of the late 1970s and 1980s suggest that nuclear power is unsafe for humans and the environment, that nuclear plants are susceptible to terrorist attacks, and that storage and potential weapons applications of nuclear waste are concerning. There are currently 104 commercial nuclear reactors operating in the US; Austria, Holland and Spain have all made it illegal to build any new reactors. The Denver area is also no stranger to the environmental debates surrounding nuclear energy, with incidents at Rocky Flats spurring protests and heated discussions since the 1950s.
For More Information:
• Details of the accident: www.world-nuclear.org
• Chernobyl Disaster Tour: www.bthreen.com
• Detailed disaster description: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu
• The accident and effects: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com
• Ecological effects: www.medicalnewstoday.com
• The disaster's legacy: http://www.guardian.co.uk
• Twenty years later: www.unicef.org
• United Nations efforts: http://chernobyl.undp.org
• Nuclear reactor accidents: http://www.science.uwaterloo.ca
• The IAEA answers questions on Chernobyl: www.iaea.or.at
• More links: http://www.belarusguide.com