On April 26, 1986, a new word ‘Chernobyl’ entered the history of world disasters and the history of the world, with a deadly force, writes Adi Roche.
My husband and I recently moved house across town to the Blackrock area of Cork, and now I can look out my window at the lovely Lee flowing and watch the various ships arriving and departing.
I am always fascinated by their mystery, wondering where have they come from, where are they going, what’s in those very colourful containers?
I was surprised to learn from my husband that on April 26, 1956, the first ‘real’ container ship — the SS Ideal X — sailed from Port Newark, New York, to Houston, Texas.
On the same date 30 years later, April 26, 1986, on a Saturday, the greatest and most devastating nuclear civil disaster of all time, fell on the innocent men, women and children of Chernobyl and the surrounding area.
Carried by the southerly winds, the radioactive poisonous plume of fallout gradually spread northwards, with over 70% falling on the neighbouring countries of Belarus and Western Russia.
The explosion spewing deadly radioactive contamination 7km high into the night sky, where the blowing winds scattered it around the globe, unfolding at terrifying speed and thus triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
A new word, ‘Chernobyl’, entered into the history of language, the history of world disasters and the history of the world, with a deadly and frightful force. The sun shone, the wind blew, rain fell down and so did the deadly radioactive poison with it.
Around Chernobyl today there is a 30km exclusion zone. Whole communities of people evacuated, homes, villages, towns abandoned forever.
Radiation remains poisonous, more or less, forever. It never really goes away and without getting too technical, many of the radioactive isotopes that were spewed out from the exploded and burning reactor in Chernobyl contained some of the most long-lasting and most dangerous of radioactive contaminants.
Some will last for more than 25,000 years.
In Russia, on April 26, they call the Chernobyl Memorial day ‘Memorial Day of Radiation Accidents and Catastrophes’; in Belarus they call the day: ‘Chernobyl Tragedy Commemorative Day’.
I still am overwhelmed when I think back on what happened there 32 years ago and when I think now about Chernobyl this Thursday, April 26, 2018.
Several generations of men, women and children, who are most affected by deadly radiation because of their more vulnerable growing bodies, still carry Chernobyl inside them and will for the future (generations to come).
They call this trans-generational phenomenon the ‘Chernobyl lineage’, and like ‘Chernobyl Heart’, a new term has entered our language.
The impact of that single, shocking nuclear accident can never be undone; its radioactive footprint is embedded in our world for all time, shadowing and leeching into future generations yet to be affected by its deadly legacy.
We may never know the full extent of that contamination, we may never be able to prove it as if it were a simple geometry proposition, but the tragedy that is Chernobyl is very real.
While the world reflects on that dark and chilling day 32 years ago today, we can take some consolation in the knowledge that Ireland’s advocacy work throughout all these years has finally paid off.
The United Nations has listened to our plea for action and declared April 26 forevermore as ‘United Nations Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day’.
This UN special Chernobyl Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on both the human and environmental impact of the disaster.
It has global significance as it tells the Chernobyl victims, both current and future, with a global voice, in a chain-reaction of languages, that they will not be forgotten.
This special day of Global Consciousness surrounding Chernobyl will never falter; always remembering, honouring, commemorating, a day for renewal and recommitment to discover new means, new initiatives to alleviate further suffering of the people and their lands.
Yes, I remember Chernobyl 32 years ago. Yes, I remember Chernobyl today. Yes, I’ll remember Chernobyl tomorrow, and next year, and next decade, and next lifetime.
Sadly, Chernobyl, Fukushima, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini Atoll, Kazakhstan, are forever.
As I look out of my new home’s window here on the banks of my own lovely Lee, in this beautiful country of ours, my thoughts and my heart and my prayers go out to my many friends in Chernobyl’s affected areas, still suffering, still victims, still tragic, still catastrophic, that awful nuclear disaster.
The innocent people, the innocent land, the innocent birds and animals, the orchards, the fields, the flowers, the forests, the rivers, everything, lost, destroyed, poisoned, forever, that modern-day Pompeii.
As I gaze out at the quickening River Lee as the tide rushes out and white clouds scurry across the distant Tivoli hills, I remember Chernobyl and I also gaze inwards. I rededicate my life and my work with the innocent victims of the Chernobyl tragedy.
Life is beautiful; Chernobyl and Fukushima tragedies and catastrophes will not prevail. Children will live; children will thrive; they are our future. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, said US environmentalist David Brower, he said truly, “We borrow it from our children”.
Let us all today pledge and repledge to take hold once more of those beautiful childrens’ hands and let us too be healed and let us too touch heaven.
No more tragedies. No more catastrophes. No more Chernobyls. No more Fukushimas.
Adi Roche is founder and CEO of Chernobyl Children’s Project International