As war rages on in Ukraine, the specter of another nuclear disaster only grows.
It’s been 36 years since the world witnessed in horror the catastrophic consequences of the explosion at Chornobyl, the full scale of those implications have, in many cases, been revealed slowly — life-altering impacts felt by some even today.
Those who know the dangers of radiation first-hand worry not enough is being done to prevent a repeat of Chornobyl.
“There’s been huge trauma in my family,” said Alla Guelber.
The Calgary woman came to Canada with her family when she was a young girl in the 1990s from Belarus.
She said the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Chornobyl disaster were deciding factors for her parents to leave.
Shortly after Chornobyl, they visited Ukraine, not far from the nuclear plant, before the full scale of the dangers were known.
“There were a number of family members affected in various ways,” said Guelber.
She suffers from an auto-immune disease, and while it’s impossible to say the exact cause, believes exposure to the radiation played role.
Guelber said her uncle was a liquidator tasked with cleaning up reactor waste. Only a wall separated him from the epicenter of the explosion. But of his crew, he was one of the only two to survive.
“He was very, very sick, two people of those 40 are still living, the rest had died.
“We can’t bring the world to these kinds of complete threats again,” she said.
On March 4, the largest of Ukraine’s four nuclear plants came under attack by Russian forces and has been in their control every since. Russia is also controlling Chornobyl and is advancing toward another facility north of Mykolaiv.
“The real danger is a stray missile hitting the plant or a deliberate attack on a nuclear plant. That would be absolutely disastrous,” said Dr. David Marples, a professor at University of Alberta’s Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies.
“It could be by accident, it could be by design. There’s no question the nuclear power plants are not meant to be in a war zone. They were never designed to be in a war zone,” said Marples, who is also a published author, writing extensively on Chornobyl and Ukraine.
Marples said Russia would also suffer if it deliberately attacked a nuclear plant and is not convinced it will reach for chemical warfare but there’s always a risk.
“There is no sort of value for it on the Russian side unless they want to contaminate the land permanently and make it unusable for years to come. It’s a horrible thing to say but that is the worst that could happen, I think.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency has made a plea to Russia to allow outside experts to visit the plants in Ukraine to verify they are in safe working order.
Canadian scientist Mike Haynes strongly agrees but is also urging calm.
“I’m not particularly worried about a nuclear event with significant public radiation, but this is a war zone and things are greatly unpredictable,” said Haynes, who is a consulting scientist with Radiation Safety Institute of Canada.
Haynes is worried about the well-being of the operators still running the plants.
“The nuclear power industry operates with a lot of conservative principles.
“You make conservative decisions, you always err on the safe side, they follow procedures religiously, but if you are under duress … that could be compromised to some extent.”
He stands firmly by the safety of nuclear energy and the integrity of the structure used to operate plants around the world including in Ukraine.
But with that transparency now foggy, it’s unclear exactly how closely those guidelines are being followed.
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