I received a letter to the editor about wind and nuclear power in my day job as a copy editor for a group of community newspapers in the City of Toronto.
The letter writer was talking the cost of wind energy versus nuclear. As wind can only be gathered 20 per cent of the time, nuclear is in fact cheaper over the long run because it can be used and gathered all day, every day regardless of, well, the wind, the letter writer wrote.
The letter writer then went on to say that in our lifetime, there has only been two nuclear disasters, both due to operator error: one in 1979 on island near Harrisburg, Penn., and the second one in 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine, which was also blamed on faulty equipment.
As a copy editor, I have to confirm what people say is correct and also give background information.
I was about 11 years old when the ‘accident’ occurred in Ukraine. I am thankful the Internet wasn’t around when I was in Grade 6 and that my parents and teachers didn’t dwell on this disaster as I am sure I would have been terrified by it. As it was, I remember hearing about it but only as something that didn’t affect me, that happened in the past.
Twenty-four years later, as a mid-30 year old, I am now haunted by what I have read and the photos I have seen. I looked up the basic information for the letter, to confirm these disasters were operator and equipment error, which then led me to reading old news stories, looking up photos and reading stories about people who are now going on tours of the surrounding ghost towns.
I can’t get Chernobyl, and its stories, out of my head. I feel sickened by it.
So it seems I should share some of the more horrific details with you.
• The firefighters who went in to put out the fire died because of radiation poisoning. One firefighter’s body is still inside the reactor.
• The former USSR government didn’t tell anyone, including neighbouring countries, they had a nuclear explosion and it wasn’t until governments of European countries noticed large amounts of radiation blowing into their jurisdictions did the former Soviet Union let them know what was happening.
• The Soviet Union government didn’t let their people know the seriousness of the accident. In fact, older school children went to class in Pripyat, the town where workers of the nuclear plant lived, the next day.
• The bridge of death is so named because local residents stood on it to watch the rainbow-coloured fire on the reactor and died because of severe radiation poisoning.
• There is a forest called the Red Forest named because it glowed red after the accident.
• Hundreds of neighbouring towns no longer exist because of radiation contamination. The current government is trying to bring the towns back to life, 24 years later, saying the radiation is not as bad as people claim. However, the device, that measures radiation beeps dramatically when you enter these towns.
• You can now tour Chernobyl and neighbouring towns. However, you can’t go off the asphalt otherwise you’ll need a chemical shower to get the radiation off you.
• The reactor that exploded is covered by a sarcophagus, which is now crumbling and in need of repairs. People are paid $1,000 a month to work two minutes a day to repair it. They can only work that long as the radiation level is that high.
Visit this website for more information and pictures about the disaster.
As far as the letter writer goes, his letter makes me angry. I am not disagreeing that wind turbines come with their own health problems nor am I saying we should have wind farms. However, you can’t compare the dangers of wind farms to that of nuclear energy. There may have only been two nuclear disasters in our lifetime, but the death and the suffering is continuing.