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Tschernobyl: Before or after Chernobyl?

Leipzig, 2009 Foto: H. S.

26.04.2016 - von Hanne Zens

Spring, 1986 in Europe: Those trees that survived acid rain are busy producing crisp new leaves to give oxygen and shade. Lilac bushes and cherry trees are blooming. The first swallows are back from Africa.

After six month of cold, rain and dark, Mother Nature shows her best face. But this time she wears a veil. Radioactivity. It`s all over. You hardly think about dioxyn and mercury anymore. Iodium, cesium, strontium, at some places even plutonium, are covering everything - the magnolias, the cars, the pastures, the roofs, the wheat sprouts, the streets, the reservoirs.

The mind is ruled by distrust. Distrust of the invisible and unsmellable, the unfeelable, the mute elements that spell cancer.

"There is no reason to chang usual life styles." That`s what they said, not only in the Soviet Union but also in France, West Germany, Romania and Sweden, Poland and Switzerland and Hungary, Turkey, East Germany, Belgium. Then they closed the public pools, the tennis courts, the stadiums. Parents were advised to keep their children home. The sale of fruits and vegetables was forbidden; new harvests were confiscated. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advised the owners of pets to wash off their cats and dogs before taking them into the house. There were warnings not to drink milk or eat milk products, not to use rainwater for watering plants, not to eat more than one pound of meat a week.

"There is no reason to change life styles." But the news and announcements on TV and radio said differently: "The nuclear cloud is coming; radioactivity is getting higher." "Bring the cattle back in the stabels." "Don`t lie in the grass." "Wash your hair, wash your children, wash your clothes. ..." No reason to change life styles?

People worried. For themselves or for their children, for their friends in other towns where the fallout was heavier than in their own. All of a sudden junk food and Coke had the status of something very healthy. Cans and frozen food also, anything produced long ago, in times before Chernobyl.

Before or after Chernobyl: That`s the new calendar for many people in Europe.

Before Chernobyl, the only thing that most people knew about radioactivity was that X-rays are extremely dangerous for the fetuses of pregnant women. After Chernobyl, people spoke knowledgeably about iodine 131 having a half-life of eight days, and for plutonium it is 24.000 years - which means that 24.000 years from today, just half the plutonium that came into the world by the fallout from Chernobyl will be decayed.

Before the Chernobyl spring, only the farmers and their families thought about the fall harvest. After Chernobyl, people everywhere ask what strawberries, what potatoes, what beans or maize will grow in soil where 500, 2.000, 5.000 picocuries of iodine have been measured.

Distrust? No politician, no doctor, no nuclear scientist can answer the questions that people have. And they have a lot of questions: How can I feed my baby after milk powder is sold out? When will I die of cancer? Who will eat radioactive meat from radioactive cattle, the cattle that are now eating grass poisoned by 740 picocuries of iodine? My husband works in an office where they measured 18.500 piccuries of radioactive iodine in the filter of the air conditioner; what will become of him? What will become of my wife, who delivers mail and has to walk miles and miles on ground where 1.300 piccocuries have been measured? I ate a lot of salad before the warnings where given; how poisoned am I? What can I do?

If the world arose because energy turned into matter, will the world sink because matter turns into energy, radioactive energy?

Questions and distrust, anxiety and fear render people powerless and angry. And not only in West Germany, where movements against nuclear power plants and rearmament have been more widespread than in other European states. Fear all over Europe, in the East as well as in the West, because both are stuffed not only with nuclear plants but also with nucelar weapons.

"There is no reason to change life styles," governments say. Do they have another choice? Do we?

Quelle: Los Angeles Times, 12.6.1986