Chernobyl

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baboon
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Jun 18 2019 15:04
Chernobyl

There's been quite a campaign around the issue of the Chernobyl disaster twenty-three years. It's come from various sources from a television series, articles in almost every British newspaper and reports on the TV news channels. A 23 year-old anniversary doesn't usually create this sort of production - what does it represent?

I haven't read or seen all of the stuff but there seems to be two themes: one is the continued association of a Russian-dominated Eastern Bloc with communism, along the lines that Chernobyl is where communism gets you and that this was a disaster related only to the then Russian-dominated Eastern bloc and that it was the fault of its leaders, the latter of course true but it's only a part of the story of nuclear pollution. The second theme seems to be "don't worry about nuclear fall-out, we can live with a bit of radioactivity". To this end areas around the disaster area are now presented as "wildlife refuges" an example of how nature can overcome nuclear pollution and cope with it.

Against these lies, and clearly indicting the role of all the major powers, Kate Brown has written a powerful riposte. The book is reviewed here: https: //en.internationalism.org/content/16667/book-review-manual-survival-chernobyl-guide-future-kate-brown

baboon
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Jun 18 2019 15:08

Sorry, I think that was the wrong reference.

https://en.internationalism.org/content/16667/book-review-manual-surviva...

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AnythingForProximity
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Jun 19 2019 02:19

This is a weird topic for the ICC to be occupying themselves with in the first place, but both the scholarship and just… basic reasoning… in this piece are absolutely atrocious.

Baboon wrote:
There's been quite a campaign around the issue of the Chernobyl disaster twenty-three years.

Baboon wrote:
A 23 year-old anniversary

2019 − 1986 = 33. Not 23.

Baboon wrote:
On April 26 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, exploded with around the force of four Hiroshima-type bombs

The second and larger of the two explosions that took place is in fact estimated to be in the range of 100 to 270 tons of TNT (De Geer et al. 2018), which would correspond to 0.7% to 1.8% of the explosive yield of the 15-kiloton Little Boy bomb. There is a reason why Pripyat doesn't look like Hiroshima did after the bombing.

Baboon wrote:
And the argument about living longer doesn't explain the rise in childhood cancers; twenty to twenty-five years ago a child with cancer would bring doctors and specialists from far and wide. Now? Now they appear in clusters everywhere in young bodies which soak up and accumulate nuclear pollution.

Where to even begin here? I somehow doubt that childhood cancer was that much of an exceptional thing 25 years ago, but let's put that aside for the moment as an innocent exaggeration. The argument totally ignores the very real possibility that the increasing rates of childhood cancer could be caused by advances in (or better availability of) diagnostic methods, but let's put that aside too. The basic problem here is that if childhood cancer was a rare thing 25 years ago, then it's difficult to establish a causal link between its rising rates and the Chernobyl disaster, which took place 33 years ago. It's even more difficult to attribute those increased rates to nuclear pollution in general, given that

baboon
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Jun 19 2019 21:20

Thanks for pointing out the 10 year miscalculation, that's absolutely correct AnythingForProximity. Sorry the rest of the post wasn't up to your standards.

The main point of the review was to highlight the whole bourgeois campaign around the explosion and the further responsibility of all the major powers in this growing threat to humanity and to do so through the medium of a very well researched and interesting book. Why shouldn't that be of interests to communists?

The estimates for the force of the Chernobyl explosion vary around Hiroshima-type explosions from about a factor of 2 to 8, but it's a crude measure and the review wasn't aimed at precise technical details but to the responsibility of capitalism in this very real threat. All nuclear explosions take on different "qualities"; for example Hiroshima emitted waves of gamma rays that took just over a minute to work through the body. The fact that all nuclear explosions are different explains why Pripyat doesn't look like Hiroshima, why Three-mile Island was different to Windscale (aka Sellafield, a name synonymous with nuclear leaks), Nagasaki different to Nevada, etc. The Hanford, Washington radioactive leaks were different from the Mayak, Siberia leaks but both were militarised nuclear plants whose plutonium leaks together produced 350 million curies of radiation, a phenomenal amount of destructive power, largely without any comment. Before the Chernobyl reactor was built, the Russian military were testing small nuclear bombs in the Pripyat Marshes in Ukraine in the early 1960's so the nuclear reactions and the nuclear contamination would be different in the same place from the 60's to post-86, i.e., in this respect, Pripyat "didn't look like Pripyat".

Professor Kate Brown uses estimates of 45 million radioactive curies were produced by Chernobyl while the amount produced by US and Russian testing alone comes to around 20 billion curies. Post-1951, global fall-out spread and with it came the increases in cancers, birth defects and so on. Thyroid cancers have definitely been linked to radioactive fall-out and these are appearing in more and more children. In the 50's scientists started to look for cancer-causing viruses and found none and moved some decades later to look for genetic causes and have so far found none. Smoking and drinking is blamed - stupid workers - as is eating bacon; or you're old (useless worker), everything can give you cancer except, and all the bourgeoisie agree on this, radioactive fall-out. The "worst nuclear disaster in history" and only a few deaths and little after-effects serve the interests of the whole of the bourgeoisie (not to mention aborting the relevant litigation that was piling up against it in the 90's).

What's the reason why the bourgeoisie all agree on this, despite its propaganda about the way in which the "end of history" and the "victory of capitalism" that the collapse of the eastern bloc was portrayed; all the major powers accept and repeat the then Politburo line that only a few dozen people were killed? Why? Because it's in their own interests to minimise its effects just as they minimise their own in-built nuclear disasters, their own weapons testing, their own culpability and the absurd rationality of their own system and its relentless drive to militarism and war.

The 25-year rise in child cancers is arbitrary and misleading, I agree, but there's no doubt that child cancers were rare some 40 years ago and there's also no doubt that child cancers today are rising even if they can't all be put down to nuclear pollution and nor to "advances in medicine". At the same time, nuclear contamination also produces, birth defects, chronic respiratory and gut illnesses, diseases of the nervous system and the ability to reproduce which affects both adults and children. Post-Chernobyl, another cocktail, also combined with various pollutants, has been added to the mix.

As I say in the review, and as Kate Brown insists, Chernobyl is just a minority part of a continuum of nuclear poisoning that began with the end of World War 2, all the way through the Cold War until now.

The IAEA, the WHO and the EC, along with all major governments, have all been involved in minimising and lying about the effects of nuclear poisoning and this fits well with the present campaign around Chernobyl which presents us with an aberrant "Soviet" villain, the establishment of a "wildlife refuge" in the exclusion zone and the ability of nature to "cope" with man-made radioactive poisoning. The latter idea of nature "coping" is a particularly insidious arm of ideology promoting the idea of an external saviour - while at the same time capitalism is destroying the planet this way and that. The idea of turning a post-nuclear disaster site into a "wildlife refuge" was imported to the Alienation Zone around Chernobyl from the US, where "wildlife parks" are built on old nuclear sites, Ohio for example, where you are duly accompanied with signs warning about stepping off the designated path, and so on. It's not too far away from walking holidays through the minefields of Afghanistan. They've produced some pretty pictures of animals from the Alienation Zone but, if the animals eat there, and given the quantities of radiation locked up and accumulated in plant life, it will be a case of eats shoots, leaves and dies.

As for the UN agencies, the WHO and bodies like the EU, they represent the interests of their national capitals on nuclear issues: the USA, UK, France, Russia, China, Pakistan, Israel and India.

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AnythingForProximity
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Jun 21 2019 16:43

Baboon, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to respond, but to be honest, that's the only thing about your post that I can find appreciation for.

Baboon wrote:
The main point of the review was to highlight the whole bourgeois campaign around the explosion and the further responsibility of all the major powers in this growing threat to humanity and to do so through the medium of a very well researched and interesting book. Why shouldn't that be of interests to communists?

Well, since you've asked – because it's not exactly news to communists that capitalism poses a growing threat to humanity, and that ideological indoctrination is a powerful weapon in the hands of the ruling class. Similarly, communists know quite well that the working class can only be moved to revolutionary action by a change in the material conditions; just patiently exposing bourgeois lies will not do unless that condition is satisfied. Out of all possible things that capitalism could be blamed for in the party press of a communist grouplet like the ICC, the choice of the Chernobyl disaster is both oddly specific and frankly not that convincing (at no point did it even come close to being a "threat to humanity", which is perhaps why you have to keep exaggerating its proportions). All in all, it sort of makes the ICC look like a social club where people get to write about whatever recently piqued their interest as long as they spend some time criticizing capitalism while doing so. This review of an obscure pop physics book is another example of what I'm talking about.

Baboon wrote:
The estimates for the force of the Chernobyl explosion vary around Hiroshima-type explosions from about a factor of 2 to 8

No, they absolutely do not; please stop pulling numbers out of your behind. The highest estimate I could find was 300 tons of TNT – a factor of 0.02. Maybe you have better sources than I do, but to suggest that "the Chernobyl explosion" (Which one of them, by the way? You know that there was more than one, right?) was in the range of 30 to 120 kilotons of TNT is batshit insane for reasons that you don't have to be a nuclear physicist to understand.

Baboon wrote:
the review wasn't aimed at precise technical details.

Don't try to provide them, then.

Baboon wrote:
The fact that all nuclear explosions are different explains why Pripyat doesn't look like Hiroshima

That's a strangely childlike sentence. Yes, it's trivially true that "all nuclear explosions are different", but no, it does not explain what you want it to explain. An explosion four times as powerful as that of the Hiroshima bomb would release 251 terajoules of energy, and that energy simply has to go somewhere; saying that no two explosions are the same is not a magic wand that you can wave to make it go away. Pripyat would have been leveled if that had happened – but we know that it wasn't.

Also, you seem to be confused about the fact that an explosion occurring at a nuclear power plant is not necessarily a nuclear explosion. Whether there was a nuclear explosion at Chernobyl (as opposed to a hydrogen or a steam one) is actually still being debated, although it seems like that hypothesis is gaining traction.

Baboon wrote:
The 25-year rise in child cancers is arbitrary and misleading, I agree, but there's no doubt that child cancers were rare some 40 years ago and there's also no doubt that child cancers today are rising even if they can't all be put down to nuclear pollution

Then don't put them down to nuclear pollution in your article. Or if you do, please explain why it was possible for childhood cancer to be rare 40 years ago when, as you yourself acknowledge, the nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s put more radioactivity into the atmosphere than anything that has happened since, including the Chernobyl disaster.

Also, it's kind of weird how nonchalantly you shifted your threshold for when childhood cancer was a rarity from 25 years ago to 40 years ago. It's almost as if you had a preconceived story and just kept making up numbers in hopes that one of them would eventually fit it.

Baboon wrote:
The IAEA, the WHO and the EC, along with all major governments, have all been involved in minimising and lying about the effects of nuclear poisoning

Yeah yeah, for sure, but the one sentence from their report which I actually cited as relevant to this discussion says nothing more than your own favorite source, Kate Brown. To wit: the 20 billion Ci from US and Russian nuclear tests amounts to ~450 times more radioactivity than the 45 million Ci from Chernobyl, in perfect agreement with the IAEA, the WHO, and the EC, who put that ratio at "100 to 1,000 more".

Baboon wrote:
The idea of turning a post-nuclear disaster site into a "wildlife refuge" was imported to the Alienation Zone around Chernobyl from the US, where "wildlife parks" are built on old nuclear sites, Ohio for example, where you are duly accompanied with signs warning about stepping off the designated path, and so on.

So what? That just goes to show that the benefits of the absence of humans from the area are so great that they may possibly outweigh even the dangers of lingering radioactivity. Which a more sophisticated communist could interpret as a sad testament to how exploitative capitalism has made the "metabolic interaction between man and the earth", as Marx so insightfully called it.

Baboon wrote:
Smoking and drinking is blamed - stupid workers

No, workers in general are not stupid. ICC fellow travelers denying the link between smoking and cancer and generally spewing bullshit about things they know nothing about, on the other hand…