Thursday, April 20, 2006

Thanks for the Pep Talk, Dr. Feelgood

Ann Althouse brings us down with a story about the resurgence of nature in and around Chernobyl. To which Althouse adds this cheery cherry:

For the animals, a nuclear disaster is preferable to life with us.

I read Wolves Eat Dogs, a Martin Cruz Smith novel set in Chernobyl, recently and was interested to know that species not seen in generations have returned to the area, and that Russian restaurants pay top dollar for irradiated wild boar if it's of an impressive size.

Smith has written an excellent piece about Chernobyl's continuing danger to us all here.

What amazes me is not that two elderly peasants have become invisible, but that Chernobyl itself has, as if it were a subject too awful to contemplate. In the rain, the sarcophagus, the 10-story steel-and-concrete box heroically constructed over Reactor 4, leaks like a radioactive sieve into groundwater that drains in the Pripyat River, which feeds the Dnepr, which is the drinking water for Kiev.

Ninety percent of the core is still in the reactor, breaking down and heating up, and the station's managers say that the sarcophagus itself could collapse at any time.

How dangerous would that be? Estimates of deaths from the explosion range from 41 to more than 300,000. The Zone of Exclusion is not an area of containment, no more than a circle drawn on the dirt would stop an airborne stream of plutonium, strontium, cesium-137. Seven million people live on contaminated land in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. People around the world carry in their chromosomes the mark of Chernobyl.

We search in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, while a more likely danger is another explosion at Chernobyl. It may not be a meltdown, but it will be the mother of all dirty bombs. (A better sarcophagus is promised in five years, but at the site there is little sign of activity, let alone urgency.)

That was two years ago. I wonder how the new sarcophagus is coming along?

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