Two robots sent into the reactor No. 1 building at the plant yesterday took readings as high as 1,120 millisierverts of radiation per hour, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co., said today. That’s more than four times the annual dose permitted to nuclear workers at the stricken plant.
I had heard about the plant workers who died immediately after the explosion and I have met many young Ukrainian people suffering from the physical effects of the long term radiation in the area. What I did not know, until last night, was that thousands upon thousands of the USSR's people sacrificed their lives in the months following the disaster in the clean up operation and to stop an even worse tragedy.
Thousands of miners were brought in to dig a tunnel under the nuclear fire. 25% of them died.
Young airforce pilots flew over the stricken reactor to dump ingots of lead into the fire. Over 60 of them died.
Then there were the bravest of the brave, the reservists who cleared the roof of the plant, manually throwing pieces of rubble off the structure so that it could be buried by robotic vehicles on the ground, because robots were unable to withstand the radiation on the roof. Exposure to the rubble for more than 45 seconds meant almost certain death.
500000 soldiers and civilians washed down the surrounding countryside to neutralise the contamination.
There were also journalists and photographers working around and in the plant to record the disaster and the clear up. Most of them died and the tragedy of this is the fact that the vast majority of their work has "gone missing." But don't shrug your shoulders and say, "Well that's just typical of the Russians," because the governments of both the East and the West conspired together to hide the story of the true magnitude of the disaster from their people in order to avoid panic (and the cynical among us might also add damage to the nuclear industry's profits). This has meant that the vast majority of those who gave their lives or long term health, to keep the rest of us safe have been disappeared and not honoured officially for their heroism.
And, yes, they did make their sacrifices to keep the rest of us safe. If they had not done what they did then there was every chance that molten radioactive material would have broken through the floor of the chamber and on hitting the cold water beneath cause an explosion so great that it would have rendered at least half of Europe uninhabitable and caused maybe millions of deaths.
The world must never forget these "ordinary" people who were completely blameless for the mistakes, pigheadedness and greed that caused the disaster in the first place. They brought redemption to us all. Their courage averted a second disaster that would have turned Europe and most of the western USSR into a nuclear wasteland.
And there was another redemption. The nuclear explosion at Chernobyl was so catastrophic that the Soviet authorities had to call for massive international support. This allowed Gorbachev to bring in the era of glasnost and that eventually led to the pulling down of the iron curtain.
There could have been a third redemption. The governments of the world could have acknowledged the horrific magnitude of the Chernobyl explosion and said, "Never again." Unfortunately, the poisoning of Japan at this moment in time because of an inevitable earthquake shows that, as always, money talked whilst those with all the facts zipped their lips.