The former Soviet Union was rocked by one of the world's worst environmental disasters on April 26, 1986, when Unit 4 at the Chernobyl reactor site exploded, sending a radioactive plume across the world. The former Soviet Union is still also the site of some of the world's worst radioactive contamination from its nuclear weapons program.



Forests Around Chernobyl Aren’t Decaying Properly

Fallen trees in Chernobyl's infamous red forest. (Photo: T.A.Mousseau & A.P. Møller)

"Nearly 30 years have passed since the Chernobyl plant exploded and caused an unprecedented nuclear disaster. The effects of that catastrophe, however, are still felt today. Although no people live in the extensive exclusion zones around the epicenter, animals and plants still show signs of radiation poisoning.

Birds around Chernobyl have significantly smaller brains that those living in non-radiation poisoned areas; trees there grow slower; and fewer spiders and insects including bees, butterflies and grasshoppers—live there...

In the areas with no radiation, 70 to 90 percent of the leaves were gone after a year. But in places where more radiation was present, the leaves retained around 60 percent of their original weight..." supporting the idea of delayed decay.

The researchers worry that not only are these nutrients not being properly recycled, causing trees to grow more slowly, but the lack of decomposition is causing the forest litter to pile up and become a fire hazard. Fire can not only destroy the forests further, but can also spread the radioactive contamination now present to other, potentially uncontaminated areas.

Animals and plants show impacts of radiation after the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in the US and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The researchers are collaborating with investigators in Japan to determine if improper decay is occurring because of the Fukushima disaster.


'Russia could turn USA into radioactive ashes'

Dmitry Kiselyov, in front of an image of a large mushroom cloud and the words 'Into radioactive ashes'As reported by the UK Telegraph:

"Prominent Russian TV host Dmitry Kiselyov, has said in a broadcast that "Russia is the only country in the world able to turn the USA into radioactive ashes". His inflammatory words are a step-up from the flurry of diplomatic discussions regarding the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Standing in the studio, in front of an image of a large mushroom cloud and the words 'Into radioactive ashes', Dmitry Kiselyov's news report sends a worrying message to the US."

Not only do Kiselyov's words pour gasoline onto the fire of the conflict over Crimea, it also raises the specter that arms control and non-proliferation achievements of past years and decades could be rolled back over the deepening conflict between Ukraine and Russia.


Ukraine: what happened and the current status of its nuclear power

The 6 VVERs at Zaporizhia nuclear power plant make it Europe's biggest, and the 5th largest in the world.In a guest post at the NIRS GreenWorld blog, Andriy Martynyuk, chair of the board of Ecoclub in Rivne, Ukraine, a part of the international NIRS/WISE network, has written an update about the status of nuclear power plants in Ukraine. He mentions: "All the nuclear power plants are under heavy [Ukrainian] military guard. However, Ukraine will be powerless if the Russian troops want to attack these facilities."

In addition to the four RBMK reactors permanently shutdown at Chernobyl, Ukraine also hosts 15 additional operable atomic reactors at four more nuclear power plants across the country. Nuclear power provides nearly half of Ukraine's electricity.

Of course, military attacks on atomic reactors, and the high-level radioactive wastes stored there, would not only harm the host country, but also countries downwind and downstream.

Despite this, the specter of military attack on nuclear power plants has long been warned about. Bennett Ramburg's 1980 book (published by D.C. Heath and Co.), Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril (re-published in 1984 by University of California Press), stands as a classic.

Ramburg spoke alongside colleagues from Nuclear Control Institute and Committee to Bridge the Gap during a National Press Club briefing in September 2001, just days after the 9/11 terror attacks, warning about the risks to U.S. atomic reators. It was later documented in the 9/11 Commission Report that the attackers had originally planned to hijack 10 planes, and crash 2 into nuclear facilities. Indian Point near New York City was being eyed by lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, but he did not get the green light from his Al Qaeda superiors. Before his capture and detainment at Guantanamo, Cuba, 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheik Mohammad told a reporter that the reason Al Qaeda did not attack nuclear plants in 2001 was it "did not want things to get out of hand," but that such attacks had not been ruled out in the future.

Dr. Ed Lyman at Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published a study in 2004, Chernobyl on the Hudson? The Health and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. Lyman concluded that as many as 44,000 near-term deaths from acute radiation syndrome, or as many as 518,000 long-term deaths from cancer from persons living within 50 miles of IP could result. He also calculated that $1.1 to 2.1 trillion in property damages could result, and millions of people would have to be relocated on a long-term basis.

Also in 2004, Rory Kennedy made a film entitled Indian Point: Imaging the Unimaginable, about the risks of a terrorist attack. It featured interviews with such Indian Point-shutdown champions as her brother, Robert Kennedy, Jr., leader of Hudson Riverkeeper; David Lochbaum from UCS; and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA, now a U.S. Senator).

As was pointed out in the film Into Eternity, the Earth's surface, beset with not only natural disasters and climate chaos, but also wars and terrorist attacks, is a bad place for ultra-hazardous high-level radioactive waste to be located. The same can be said for Ukraine's atomic reactors, given the current high social and political tension, and even military occupation by Russia of a section of the country in Crimea.


Beyond Nuclear/PSR speaking tour across MI a big success!

Alfred Meyer, PSR board memberAlfred Meyer (photo, left), national board member of Physicians for Responsibility (PSR), spoke throughout Michigan on a tour organized by Beyond Nuclear from Feb. 12-17. His presentations of "Nuclear Power: What You Need to Know about Price, Pollution and Proliferation" were dedicated to the memory of Dr. Jeff Patterson, PSR's Past-President.

Mr. Meyer is Past-President and Secretary of the board of Friends of Chernobyl Centers U.S, which works with Chernobyl Centers for Psycho-Social Rehabilitation in five Ukrainian communities greatly affected by the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, that began on April 26, 1986.

Alfred's first stop on Feb. 12, at Grand Rapids' Fountain Street Church, drew 35 attendees, despite the wintry weather. Corinne Carey of Don't Waste MI video-recorded the talk, and will post it to cable access t.v. in the near future.

Alfred had a productive day in Kalamazoo on Feb. 13th. His presentation at Western Michigan University (WMU) was attended by over 50 people, and garnered an extended interview by Gordon Evans on WMUK Radio, as well as an article by Yvonne Zipp in the Kalamazoo Gazette. Alfred also spoke at a press conference held at WMU's impressive solar panel array, launching a campus climate campaign to divest the university from fossil fuel investments. Alfred was also interviewed by Dr. Don Cooney, WMU Social Work professor and Kalamazoo City Commissioner, and Dr. Ron Kramer, WMU criminology prof., on "Critical Issues: Alternative Views" t.v. program. The interview will be aired on Kalamazoo cable access in the near future, as well as posted to YouTube.

The tour stop in South Haven (4 miles from Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor) on Feb. 14 drew 25 attendees, despite it being Valentine's Day. Kraig Schultz of Michigan Safe Energy Future--Shoreline Chapter video-recorded the talk, and will post the recording to the MSEF YouTube channel in the near future.

Ferndale in Metro Detroit on Feb. 15 drew 75 attendees. Damon J. Hartley of the Peoples Tribune did a write up and took lots of photos.

Monroe's event (within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone from the GE BWR Mark I, Fermi 2, as well as the proposed Fermi 3) on Feb. 16, drew 30 attendees, and garnered coverage in the Monroe News (text, PDF). The Ann Arbor (home base for PSR's new MI chapter) event on Feb. 17 also drew an audience despite an impending winter storm.

Beyond Nuclear has been honored and privileged to work with the following groups to make this speaking tour a success: Michigan Physicians for Social Responsibility; Sierra Club; Fountain Street Church; WMU Lee Honors College; WMU Environmental Studies program; WMU Institute of Government and Politics; Michigan Safe Energy Future (both Kalamazoo and South Haven chapters); Don't Waste Michigan; Ferndale Public Library; Alliance to Halt Fermi 3; Ellis Library; Don't Waste Michigan; Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes; and the Ecology Center.


Chernobyl roof collapse worries activists

The area in pink indicates the location of the roof collapse. It is about 50 meters (165 feet) away from the "sarcophagus," a shelter built shortly after the 1986 disaster to contain radiation emanating from the exploded reactor.A 6,500 square foot section of roof on the turbine hall at Chernobyl collapsed last week due to heavy snow. Public relations officials for the reactor called the event “unpleasant” but claimed radiation levels remained the same.  While claims of no radiation release seem to be verified by trustworthy sources, this is not the end of the concern for the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.

In 1986, Chernobyl unit 4 failed catastrophically and released huge amounts of radiation to the surrounding environment. In an attempt to contain what radiation remained, boron and sand were dumped on the melted core and a sarcophagus was hastily constructed and installed. The turbine hall that suffered the recent collapse, served all of the Chernobyl reactors and is near, but not covered by, the current sarcophagus. Although officials claim the sarcophagus was unaffected by the roof collapse, they failed to comment on the structural integrity of the remaining structure or the nearby sarcophagus. 

The new 2 billion dollar confinement currently under construction on site will cover the aging, unstable sarcophagus. It is unclear what the roof collapse means for this partially-built structure, meant to last for just 100 years, although officials say this construction was also not affected. Greenpeace has expressed concern that the current sarcophagus could follow the turbine hall and collapse and in book "The Children of Chernobyl" by Adi Roche, she details this risk, given the deteriorating condition of the original sarcophagus. A collapse of part of the structures surrounding Chernobyl Unit 4 is a sign that the deterioration is advancing to an extremely risky condition.

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