The Chernobyl Disaster and The Last Film of Vladimir Shevchenko

We have all been watching the Japanese reactors closely after the reported cooling failures and risk of meltdown.This short video concerns the prior disaster at Chernobyl and the last film of Vladimir Shevchenko. He died from his exposure to the site.

Shevchenko ended up in a hospital with the father of the videographer, who also turned out to be a nuclear scientist. When Shevchenko showed him some of his photos, the father knew immediately that he was not going to survive. Some of the pictures were of the reactor itself. The film shows how haphazard the operation was and how many workers were never informed of the risks. Some pictures are incredibly startling — like workers picking up radioactive slate from the roof by hand and dumping them in trashcans. Workers were only given cheap surgical masks while working in the area.

I have often commented on the bravery of many of these responders, such as the divers who knowingly worked next to the reactor to close values under water despite the lethal exposure to radiation. This film shows how the government simply failed to warn many workers of the risks in containing the reactor core.

As we have seen, while the government is seeking to increase tourism to the site, there is a new danger of a breach due to shoddy work after the disaster.

27 thoughts on “The Chernobyl Disaster and The Last Film of Vladimir Shevchenko”

  1. I don’t agree that nuclear is the best alternative, unless you are talking about fission….(there are more earthquakes happening in Japan even as we type)…WoostyOOPS
    just realized I spewed wrong opinionated info here…I MENT to say, “…unless you are talking about FUSION….”


  2. What a video. We are seeing ghosts, watching people be killed. Will there be similar footage from Japan? I can’t continue watching, it’s too painful.

  3. House Tleilaxu 1, March 15, 2011 at 9:47 am

    I was posting in regards to US energy policy. I don’t agree that nuclear is the best alternative, unless you are talking about fission….(there are more earthquakes happening in Japan even as we type)….current ability nuclear just is not worth the risk….something it shares with (as you aptly state…)the lazy corporate resistance.

    There is no need for anyone to be put at risk just so corporations can keep running around on the same, known, pass off the risk, profitable, hamster wheel. Really .

  4. Woosty, when it comes to government subsidies, in Japan renewable energy has been heavily invested in and the government pays producers for electricity produced by solar twice what they pay other methods. Japan is desperate to break their dependence on foreign power sources (85% of their energy is important, mainly from the Middle East and former USSR) and it really isn’t comparable to the lazy corporate resistance to alternatives you find in the US. But even with that government assistance, it is going to take time to develop better renewable energy technology, and nuclear is the best option to pick up the slack until then.

  5. “In the meantime, a traditional power source is needed…”

    well, how ’bout instead of public monies subsidizing corporate big oil and gas till they get goin strong and turning on their benefactors like giant winged parasites…we take that $$$ and grow a truly safe public utility that is a never ending and always available? [I know, where are the long term money stream profits in THAT?????….]

  6. I’m going to have to disagree with the majority of posters here who attack nuclear power as too dangerous, for 2 major reasons. First, while enacting a fully renewable energy policy is a great goal and Japan is one of the countries that is making the greatest strides towards it, it is limited by the development of new technologies and economic inertia. It will take time for the infrastructure to be built and new opportunities to be exploited. In the meantime, a traditional power source is needed, and due to its limited resources and geography, nuclear energy is clearly the best choice. Second, nuclear power itself is one of the safest traditional energy sources, despite the overwhelming opinion. The reason for this is that nuclear energy’s problems are simply more dramatic and it is human nature to react negatively – who wouldn’t be moved to anger from the emotional power of an event like Chernobyl? Even the most rational person will focus more on a single, easily identifiable incident than on a more serious endemic issue.

    As an example, compare deaths from airplane accidents to automobile accidents. About 1000 people die each year from airplane accidents world-wide, while 30,000 people die in the US alone from car accidents. In fact, in 2010, there were 0 airliner passenger deaths in the developed world, but the public and lawmakers still focus far more on the risks of air travel than on those of driving. An isolated airplane crash with a hundred casualties is simply a more dramatic story than a slow, constant trickle of car accidents deaths. This is the case with nuclear power: a reactor melting down may seem intuitively more threatening than the deaths from other sources of power, but the figures show that this is not the case. All of deaths attributed to Chernobyl are less than those caused by air pollution due to coal burning in the US over a few years, and the environmental and health problems from the normal operation of nuclear power plants are nothing compared to the problems regularly encountered by fossil-fuel plants (greenhouse gases, oil spills, etc.)

    To be perfectly honest, I do not like defending nuclear power. It has a large host of problems, from long-term storage of waste to concerns over safety and the ever-present spectre of gross human error. I think it is a poor system, but a poor system out of a field of far worse ones. The sad truth is that we will never have a perfect system and that ultimately, every policy decision has to be a benefit-risk analysis. We just have to pick the best imperfect choice; it is far better to accept a slightly better option in the short term than to remain with the deceptive comfort of the devil-we-know as we wait for an impossible perfect solution.

  7. I don’t think that there will be any more nuclear plants built and natural gas will be the energy of the future although it has its own environmental hazards.

  8. Received this via email this morning by Greg Palast.

    For your consideration:

    The no-BS info on Japan’s disastrous nuclear operators

    by Greg Palast
    New York – March 14, 2011

    I need to speak to you, not as a reporter, but in my former capacity as lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations.

    Texas plants planned by Tokyo Electric. Image:NINA
    I don’t know the law in Japan, so I can’t tell you if Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) can plead insanity to the homicides about to happen.

    But what will Obama plead? The Administration, just months ago, asked Congress to provide a $4 billion loan guarantee for two new nuclear reactors to be built and operated on the Gulf Coast of Texas — by Tokyo Electric Power and local partners. As if the Gulf hasn’t suffered enough.

    Here are the facts about Tokyo Electric and the industry you haven’t heard on CNN:

    The failure of emergency systems at Japan’s nuclear plants comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field.

    Nuclear plants the world over must be certified for what is called “SQ” or “Seismic Qualification.” That is, the owners swear that all components are designed for the maximum conceivable shaking event, be it from an earthquake or an exploding Christmas card from Al Qaeda.

    The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie. The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York. Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from ‘failed’ to ‘passed.’

    The company that put in the false safety report? Stone & Webster, now the nuclear unit of Shaw Construction which will work with Tokyo Electric to build the Texas plant, Lord help us.

    There’s more.

    Last night I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps.

    These safety back-up systems are the ‘EDGs’ in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn’t work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn’t save a building because “it was on fire.”

    What dim bulbs designed this system? One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.

    Now be afraid. Obama’s $4 billion bail-out-in-the-making is called the South Texas Project. It’s been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse — Toshiba.

    I once had a Toshiba computer. I only had to send it in once for warranty work. However, it’s kind of hard to mail back a reactor with the warranty slip inside the box if the fuel rods are melted and sinking halfway to the earth’s core.

    TEPCO and Toshiba don’t know what my son learned in 8th grade science class: tsunamis follow Pacific Rim earthquakes. So these companies are real stupid, eh? Maybe. More likely is that the diesels and related systems wouldn’t have worked on a fine, dry afternoon.

    Back in the day, when we checked the emergency back-up diesels in America, a mind-blowing number flunked. At the New York nuke, for example, the builders swore under oath that their three diesel engines were ready for an emergency. They’d been tested. The tests were faked, the diesels run for just a short time at low speed. When the diesels were put through a real test under emergency-like conditions, the crankshaft on the first one snapped in about an hour, then the second and third. We nicknamed the diesels, “Snap, Crackle and Pop.”

    (Note: Moments after I wrote that sentence, word came that two of three diesels failed at the Tokai Station as well.)

    In the US, we supposedly fixed our diesels after much complaining by the industry. But in Japan, no one tells Tokyo Electric to do anything the Emperor of Electricity doesn’t want to do.

    I get lots of confidential notes from nuclear industry insiders. One engineer, a big name in the field, is especially concerned that Obama waved the come-hither check to Toshiba and Tokyo Electric to lure them to America. The US has a long history of whistleblowers willing to put themselves on the line to save the public. In our racketeering case in New York, the government only found out about the seismic test fraud because two courageous engineers, Gordon Dick and John Daly, gave our team the documentary evidence.

    In Japan, it’s simply not done. The culture does not allow the salary-men, who work all their their lives for one company, to drop the dime.

    Not that US law is a wondrous shield: both engineers in the New York case were fired and blacklisted by the industry. Nevertheless, the government (local, state, federal) brought civil racketeering charges against the builders. The jury didn’t buy the corporation’s excuses and, in the end, the plant was, thankfully, dismantled.

    Am I on some kind of xenophobic anti-Nippon crusade? No. In fact, I’m far more frightened by the American operators in the South Texas nuclear project, especially Shaw. Stone & Webster, now the Shaw nuclear division, was also the firm that conspired to fake the EDG tests in New York. (The company’s other exploits have been exposed by their former consultant, John Perkins, in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.)
    If the planet wants to shiver, consider this: Toshiba and Shaw have recently signed a deal to become world-wide partners in the construction of nuclear stations.

    The other characters involved at the South Texas Plant that Obama is backing should also give you the willies. But as I’m in the middle of investigating the American partners, I’ll save that for another day.

    So, if we turned to America’s own nuclear contractors, would we be safe? Well, two of the melting Japanese reactors, including the one whose building blew sky high, were built by General Electric of the Good Old US of A.

    After Texas, you’re next. The Obama Administration is planning a total of $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over America.

    And now, the homicides:

    CNN is only interested in body counts, how many workers burnt by radiation, swept away or lost in the explosion. These plants are now releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. Be skeptical about the statements that the “levels are not dangerous.” These are the same people who said these meltdowns could never happen. Over years, not days, there may be a thousand people, two thousand, ten thousand who will suffer from cancers induced by this radiation.

    In my New York investigation, I had the unhappy job of totaling up post-meltdown “morbidity” rates for the county government. It would be irresponsible for me to estimate the number of cancer deaths that will occur from these releases without further information; but it is just plain criminal for the Tokyo Electric shoguns to say that these releases are not dangerous. Indeed, the fact that residents near the Japanese nuclear plants were not issued iodine pills to keep at the ready shows TEPCO doesn’t care who lives and who dies whether in Japan or the USA. The carcinogenic isotopes that are released at Fukushima are already floating to Seattle with effects we simply cannot measure.

    Heaven help us. Because Obama won’t.


    For Truthout/Buzzflash

    Greg Palast is the co-author of Democracy and Regulation, the United Nations ILO guide for public service regulators, with Jerrold Oppenheim and Theo MacGregor. Palast has advised regulators in 26 states and in 12 nations on the regulation of the utility industry.

    Palast, whose reports can be seen on BBC Television Newsnight, is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow for investigative reporting.

  9. Blouise and Mike S.,
    I would agree that we have to ween ourselves off of Nuke power. The Japan situation is the latest example of what can go wrong.

  10. ” While I am aware that there supposedly exist “safer” nuclear power generation technology, my own opinion (a admittedly a non-expert)is that nuclear power generation is not they way to go. This is based on the difficulty in disposing of spent materials and on the life experience that official assurances, even by respected scientists, are often colored by personal and/or financial bias.” (Mike Spindell)

    I goota go with Mike on this one. Though I thank Roman Jones for his input and would appreciate more info on this subject.

  11. “As you [no] doubt know”

    Also the double Roman Jones was a typing error rather than a statement having anything to do with rebuke. I’m no expert and not knowing your expertise, whic might be greater, at the moment it is only a matter of opinion.

  12. “As far as I can tell the containment facility (the concrete structure is intact). They think the reactor vessel may have been breached at the top.
    Atomic power plants should not be built on fault lines but other than that they are very safe.”

    Roman Jones,

    Roman Jones,

    As you doubt know, we can’t usually rely on the official statements given out on almost anything, nor do the pictures shown necessarily provide the answer as to the true integrity of the structure. When you write:

    “Three Mile Island is another case where the truth about what happened may never be known.”

    You obviously recognize that the truth is often hidden from the public. While I am aware that there supposedly exist “safer” nuclear power generation technology, my own opinion (a admittedly a non-expert)is that nuclear power generation is not they way to go. This is based on the difficulty in disposing of spent materials and on the life experience that official assurances, even by respected scientists, are often colored by personal and/or financial bias.

    As in anything, elegance/simplicty/risk-reward trump other considerations. Solar Energy, wind and water (ocean
    power) appear to me to be more promising alternatives.

  13. Mike Spindell:

    How many people have died so far? It will take a few months to see how many people were poisoned. As far as I can tell the containment facility (the concrete structure is intact). They think the reactor vessel may have been breached at the top.

    Atomic power plants should not be built on fault lines but other than that they are very safe. Chernobyl was a low tech plant built in the Soviet Union.

    Three Mile Island is another case where the truth about what happened may never be known.

  14. The reports coming out of Japan regarding the reactors are so obviously press releases to stop panic. I assume they are the most hopeful spin on the situation and considering that itself is dreadful, who knows the full extent ofthe damage/danger?

    Despite all the talk through the years of new developments in nuclear energy safety, it is a dumb energy source to use. Disposal of waste being merely one of the factors in its impractibility. We now see, though who could not have, that natural disasters can makes plants unsafe and kill people. There are many technologies available to provided us with the needed electricity, without threatening the environment. Some are in limited use now and some are practical but need investment for the future.

    “The best laid plans of mice and men aft gae aglee” is a Robert Burns phrase my father often cautioned me with. It has stayed with me and proven its truth. Incidentally,
    there are always scientists who act as industry sooth sayers and their statements should be taken as such. I know nothing deeply about nuclear energy plants, but as Chernobyl and the meltdown in PA showed, they’re no boon to our world.

  15. And the government on one hand wants consumers to be kept informed….and the other hand they want to keep you in the dark or misinformed….step up to business running the country….yeah…we can trust them to keep us informed….

  16. I wonder how many people will die from this current fiasco even if it gets no worse.

    The other thing I wonder about is, when they planned for disaster did they ever plan on 6 disaster at the same time? Do they have enough equipment, supplies and people to deal with 6 simultaneous events? Or, as I assume, was that just too expensive & too unlikely to happen? Are the crews there like the vaudeville act, spinning plates on sticks, running from plate to plate to give each a bit more attention so it keeps spinning. Those acts always ended when the performer wasn’t able to move fast enough to keep every plate spinning & the started crashing to the floor.

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