Der Spiegel 23.04.1990: Die Wahrheit über Tschernobyl (with English translation)

Click on the thumbnail below to view the scan of the original article. I have translated it to English by running an OCR scan of the pages and cleaning up what Google Translate produced. There could be some errors in the text as English is not my native language and I only speak few words in German, so please contact me if you have any comments or suggestions!



English Translation by Forgotten Chernobyl: 

Translation in progress, please come back later for the complete text!



“Hostages of the nuclear industry”


Four years ago, Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor exploded – the first nuclear meltdown in a nuclear power plant. The consequences have been covered up to this day: huge areas are affected by life-threatening contamination, soil, food and drinking water are contaminated. Soviet scientists warn of the “nuclear genocide”.

It is spring in Ukraine. A mild wind blows across the country. It carries the scent of birch forests to Chernobyl. It’s Friday, April 25th, 1986, a nice day, the temperature reaches 22 degrees Celsius. A long weekend lies ahead of the nuclear power plants, and then there is also May 1st, a holiday with parades, medals and awards. The mood is cheerful, many people take short holidays. Weddings are announced in Pripyat, three kilometers from the atomic fire. In Chernobyl, 18 kilometers as the crow flies to the “Lenin power station”, you can look forward to a soccer match, a picnic, hunting and fishing. You can live here. The climate is gentle, nature goes well with people. Plants and animals thrive without requiring much attention, berries, fruits, mushrooms grow in huge numbers in the light mixed forests. In the Ukrainian capital Kiev and, more importantly, in distant Moscow, the 49,000 power plant workers are highly valued.

They have four huge nuclear reactors which have been hoisted and put into operation, another is under construction, and a sixth is planned to make it the site of the world’s largest nuclear power plant in the 1990s, a symbol of the new era, a powerful heart of Soviet energy. Reactors and turbines purr like samovars. Their muffled rumbling can be heard for miles, it instills trust. There atmosphere in the control room of the Reactor number 4 is good. The crew is reduced to a minimum. The reactor should be switched off and serviced. The technicians want to use the opportunity for a “turbine test” – while the reactor is still running. How long, according to the test question, will the turbine continue to rotate under its own inertia if the steam supply is abruptly stopped. The night has fallen, dark clouds are moving in front of the moon. The lights are out in Pripyat and Chernobyl, everyone is asleep.

Der Spiegel Image 1
*GAU, which stands for “größter anzunehmender Unfall”, is a German term for “maximum credible accident”, the greatest possible accident that was conceivable under realistic conditions and one that reactors were supposedly designed to be able to withstand.

At 1.20 a.m. the reactor experiment is nearing its climax on Saturday morning. The crew has shut down the automatic control system and emergency cooling. The huge reactor, filled with 180,000 kilograms of highly radioactive material (a load of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs), is controlled by hand. The crew is drinking tea (it is said later). Three minutes later, the power output of the reactor increases sevenfold within a few seconds. The nuclear fire gets out of control. The heat bends control and fuel rods, and hydrogen is produced in large quantities. At 1:26 p.m. on April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Reactor number 4 blows up. A hydrogen explosion rips open the roof. Fire breaks out in 30 places. The heavy overhead crane dances up and down in its holder, then it falls into the open reactor from a great height. The Chernobyl catastrophe – the biggest accident to be expected, unmanageable and unpredictable – takes its course: a firestorm tears up the radioactive “inventory”. At least 200 different radioactive elements and compounds are carried high into the clouds by the “chimney effect”.

In the morning, the wind changes, now it blows from the southeast. A black column of smoke stands over Chernobyl. The hellfire burns for 14 days, only then is it suppressed by helicopters. The first firefighters present there in the first few hours died after only a few days. They are buried in lead coffins because their corpses are so radioactive. The radioactive clouds from Ukraine moved around the world six times. They touched every continent, even Australia, and they irradiated the moss in Lapland, the first hay harvest near Lake Constance, the fine sandy beach of California and the eternal ice in Greenland. Above all, the Chernobyl disaster ruined huge areas of the great Soviet Union. For years, the government in Moscow had managed to hide the true extent of the disaster and its devastating consequences.

But now it is no longer possible. Citizens’ resistance is stirring in the contaminated areas, local politicians are coming out with the terrible truth; Experts reveal previously hidden facts, journalists publish reports and protests of those affected. On April 26, the fourth anniversary of the GAU*, Soviet central television plans to dedicate a 24-hour broadcast to the Chernobyl tragedy – they will present the result of the national disaster:

  • All hopes for detoxifying the heavily contaminated regions with valuable arable land and making them habitable again had to be buried in the meantime; decontamination, according to the latest calculations by Soviet experts, would cost around $350 billion — 20 times more than government officials in Moscow had previously claimed.
  • According to critical Soviet scientists 118 contaminated, but currently still populated areas, most of them in Belarus, would have to be “evacuated” immediately – the resettlement action would affect a further 34,000 people.
  • In the radioactively contaminated areas, the number of residents suffering from leukemia and thyroid cancer as well as an immune deficiency, which doctors call “Chernobyl AIDS” – a condition that can hardly be overcome with conventional forms of therapy, is growing.
  • Everywhere in the “polluted territories” (according to the official term) the medical care of the population has serious shortcomings – critics complain about sloppiness, corruption and incompetence of the authorities, which are partly helpless, partly indifferent to the problems.

According to the critics, the main culprit behind the continuing radiation disaster lies with the government agencies and their assistants, who for four years had trivialised all the consequences of the accident. Now, however, the battered Soviet people, cheated out of the truth, are picking up – their complaints are becoming more and more public:

  • Soviet newspapers print out letters in which former liquidators workers bitterly report their fate (see box, page 188); Many of the unsuspecting men who had been assigned to Chernobyl at the time were first decorated, then sick and finally forgotten: “Nobody cares about us anymore today” – they complain.
  • In the hospitals of Kiev and Kharkov, radiation sufferers went on a hunger strike last month in demand of a better treatment; the patients suffer from cancer or from an abundance of diffuse symptoms, which Soviet medics summarize under the term “LA P disease” (LAP is the Russian abbreviation for “liquidation of accident consequences”).
  • In mid-April, the Soviet daily newspaper Trud, with the largest circulation of 20 million copies, published an unsparing article (“Who benefits from half-truth?”) In which the head of the Ukrainian Red Cross, Ivan Usi-chenko, published the horrific extent of radiation damage, accusing the government for “not giving the necessary importance” to the accident. In the meantime, “senior cadres” are leaving the positions assigned to them in the risk areas without permission. The abandoned residents are threatening self-help measures, for example on April 13 in the Kremlin Hall in Moscow in front of the Supreme Soviet*. Citizens from the Zhytomyr province handed out leaflets to the MPs there: If the Supreme Soviet leaders will not respond to the “victims of Chernobyl,” it said, “people living in the radioactive areas will express distrust of the deputies and fight for the lives and health of their children themselves, using radical economic and political measures.”.
*The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union was the most authoritative legislative body of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics beginning 1936, and the only one with the power to approve constitutional amendments.

“We have,” states Yuriy Shcherbak, writer and member of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, “a nuclear war zone in the middle of Europe” – its expansion is evident from a long-kept map (see page 181): It shows one Patchwork comparable, in at least three Soviet republics dozens of areas that are extremely highly contaminated, a good 2000 square kilometres in the Russian Federation, at least 1500 square kilometres in Ukraine and 7000 square kilometres in Belarus. Some of the contaminated areas are victims the whims of wind and weather – several hundred kilometres from Chernobyl. At least two million of the approximately ten million Belarusians are acutely endangered, 20 percent of the territory are considered uninhabitable. “The world must know,” said at the beginning of April the respected radiologist Oleg Schadiro, professor in Minsk, “that a nuclear genocide is taking place in Belarus.” The Belarusian he ambassador to the United Nations asked the “international community” to donate Geiger counters and medical devices as soon as possible. Chernobyl had proven to be a terrible “disaster” for his republic. 70 percent of the radioactive fallout fell through Belarus. 526 villages therefore had to be evacuated forever. Otherwise, all its inhabitants will be threatened with radiation death.

This death comes slowly and very quietly. Man does not feel the radiation. It does not hurt, there is no sensory organ that perceives it. Therefore, the body does not instinctively repel radioactive radiation, such as too much heat radiation. Depending on the dose received, the damage can be felt after only a few minutes, after days, weeks or only after years. The men of the Chernobyl fire brigade survived the invisible radiation bombardment only a few hours, some a few days. Helpers from the second row fell ill weeks later. The neighbours from the immediate vicinity of the nuclear ruins, finally evacuated on the third day, and the completely uninformed victims, hunted from kilometres away, often fell ill months later. But for millions of people, not only in the Soviet Union, the radiation from Chernobyl can cause cancer, which may only set in after decades. Acute radiation sickness has many pitfalls. There is no characteristic Symptom, initially it is only dizziness and poor circulation. Even people sentenced to death usually still experience a “symptom-free interval”. For hours or days, it gives the victim a chance to think. Contrary to what the nuclear lobby in East and West has repeatedly recounted, there is no harmless dose of radioactive radiation. “Radiation is inherently harmful to life,” the UN environmental organization UNEP stated in 1985, the year before Chernobyl. “Low doses of radiation can trigger a number of reactions that cause cancer or genetic damage..

George Wald, a respected American radiation doctor , considers “ionising radiation at any altitude” to be a serious health risk. The Professor: “there is no threshold; any increase, however slight, causes an increased risk. “The stronger the radiation, the greater the likelihood that the vital hereditary and reproductive structures will be irreparably damaged in any cell nucleus. The three possible consequences : Cell death; degeneration to cancerous growth; hereditary malformations.

Everything can be seen in Russia. Barbed wire encirclement borders the zone around the “damaged reactor.” (according to the official language regulation) – their fair, 60 kilometres All human residents were forcibly relocated, including the 49,000 nuclear power plant’s city of Pripyat and the long-established Chernobyl residents. Their home will be uninhabitable for the next millennium. Around 135,000 people lived. sometimes in the death zone. The American doctor Robert Peter Gale described what it looks like there today in an as yet unpublished article. Gale, who has looked after Soviet radiation victims since 1986 and travels to Russia every month, has recently roamed the small town of Pripyat.

“Pripyat,” he writes, “was a new city with 45,000 young people. Now it is a ghost town, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki a victim of the nuclear age. I walked the streets and looked into empty apartments, a a kindergarten with beds still made and into the public library, the floor of which was covered with books.

“Pripyat is abandoned, it will not be decontaminated; that would be too expensive and probably too dangerous. But the Problem is not solved. The tall concrete houses, unheated and soaked by rain and snow, are lost and begin to crumble. When they will collapse under their own weight… Probably one day they will be demolished and buried as radioactive waste.”The inhabitants of the ghost city were resettled in hastily constructed emergency quarters. The animals in the “death zone” were left to their own fate. Elk and wild boar have died, including birds. In the forests around Chernobyl it is therefore now very quiet. Only ducks settle here during the transit. Even the rats face the worst case scenario of being wiped out the earth; they became weak and have succumbed to otherwise harmless infectious diseases. The forests have changed their face terribly. Pines and Spruces turned shiny and pink. 200 hectares of “Red Forest” were cut down and buried, then the clearing was stopped. It was a Sisyphus’ job. Now, 150,000 hectares of forest around Chernobyl have been left to themselves. Every now and then a delegation from Moscow controls the disaster. Lichen, moss and fern contain the highest caesium concentrations, followed by grass and birch. All mushrooms, berries and fruits are completely inedible. Bizarre plants grow in the undergrowth, malformations that have no name. Many of the trees have died. Others explode: they grow ten times faster than before, but their wood is fragile. This “gigantism” contrasts with the weakness, which outnumber them by far.

Some trees break under the weight of their branches. The needles of the pines and firs are shown to be ten times heavier than normal. The deciduous trees also lose shape and colour, especially the oak trees. The Moscow geneticist Vladimir Shevchenko brought home a selection of degenerated oak leaves from an expedition to the forests around Chernobyl. The leaf shape, ancient symbol of the kings, is unrecognisable. “The line of nature has broken,” says Shevchenko. Escaped pets have gone blind, many cats have apparently become deaf. If they have reproduced at all, the number of non-viable offspring exceeds the number of healthy ones. Some defects are already inherited.In the Pripyat river, water of which cools the nuclear reactors,there are no more healthy fish. Their scales are asymmetrical, the sense organs are defective

The radioactive limits set for consumption are exceeded a thousand times. Leonid Bolschow, deputy director of the Moscow Nuclear Safety Institute, after a crime scene visit recognised that the region of Chernobyl “has become an enormous laboratory for us”. The government newspaper is-weslija, always looking for one Good news, writes: “This earth is worth gold. Only on it and only through it has it been possible for scientists to carry out truly unique radiobiological research and experiments under natural and not under laboratory conditions. Nowhere else to be found science has similar requirements. ” A longer stay in the praised areas can cost visitors health and life. The radiation exposure is enormous.




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