A Message In A Bottle
The story of Chernobyl.
Text and Illustrations by Jessie Darlington.
This material may be copied and used for non-profit educational purposes with author's consent.
All benefits from this material are to be used strictly for the relief of suffering of the victims of Chernobyl and Fukushima, by prior agreement with the author.
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Long ago, when sailors were ship-wrecked on a desert island, they would put a message in a bottle, close it with a cork and throw it out into the sea. They hoped someone might find the bottle, then learn the truth and come to their rescue.
We live on a desert island and the sea that surrounds us is a sea of fear; a sea of denial and untruths, a sea of pretending.
We too have a message in a bottle and this is our story.
There is a place where time has stopped..... where the books lie open on the dusty desks ; the canteen menu still stuck to the wall, not yet served; slippers kicked off on the floor on the way out the door;
...the Ferris Wheel waiting in vain to start up.
This place is called Pripyat in the country of Ukraine.
They built the Chernobyl nuclear reactor there in 1964 . A nuclear reactor was a new sort of factory for making lots of energy very quickly. They wanted this energy for electricity to run their lights and machines.
A nuclear reactor is a very dangerous thing but they believed that lots of cheap electricity would make everyone’s life easier... and some people would get very rich. It was called progress.
People sometimes make mistakes. It was just a mistake that caused the accident at reactor number four.
It happened when the flowers came in spring...
We were not born when the reactor caught fire; our parents were only children then.
No one knew at first what had happened, what it meant. They saw the sky grow dark; they felt a warm wind. For a while a fine dust from the explosion hung in the air... some said it made everything glow red.
The authorities sent firefighters to put out the fire in the reactor.
They sent hundreds of tanks, fire trucks, ambulances; they sent helicopters to drop bags of sand and Dolomite on top of the burning reactor.
It was so hot that the firefighter’s shoes were melting as they ran to put out the blaze.
When reactor four exploded something very deadly came out.
It had no smell, you couldn’t hear it or feel it or see it; and it went everywhere, silently.
The poison that came out of the exploded reactor was called radioactivity.
It is a poison that doesn’t go away. It is invisible.
It spreads in the rain, it is carried on the wind; people, plants, animals breath it in through the air; they drink it in the water; they eat it in the food.
People don’t understand that what they cannot see is sometimes more important than the things they can see.
People don’t understand that there is a price to pay for everything and sometimes the price is too high.
When the people realized what had happened, it was already too late.
Mothers and fathers rushed their children out the door.
They left their breakfast on the table.
The soldiers came and drove them out of their houses, appartments and villages.
Buses, cars, taxis carried them away but it was too late.
The animals ran too; they ran for their lives.
And still the fire burned.
They sent six hundred helicopter pilots to drop bars of lead into the reactor to try and cool it down.
They sent miners to dig down underneath the reactor.
It was so oven hot that they worked without any protective clothes.
They dragged the earth out of the tunnel on their hands and knees. They poured liquid nitrogen down the hole. They had to stop the heat of the fire from cracking the concrete floor at the bottom of the reactor and reaching the water underneath.
That would have made a second explosion, so big, so terrible ... no one could imagine the destruction.... maybe all of Ukraine, maybe all of Europe....
When the fire was out at last, robots were brought in to clear away the radioactive rubble left by the explosion.
Even these machines could not withstand so much radioactivity.
When the machines broke down, men covered in leaden armour came to clear away the rubble instead.
The authorities called them ‘bio-robots’.
The bio-robots mixed concrete and poured it over the top of the reactor to make a thick coffin .... and they fell ill as they worked.
They sent other men to take away all traces of the accident.
They called these men “liquidators”.
The liquidators didn’t know what it meant to be near a burning reactor.
They did as they were told because their future, our future, depended on it..... they didn’t understand about the danger they were in.
It was like a war and they were the soldiers; Like all wars, it was frightening and deadly.
But how can you fight an invisible enemy?
The liquidators took whole houses, peoples’ clothes, machines and farm animals, and buried them in huge holes.
They scraped up the earth and rolled up the grass.
They buried the earth in the earth... and still the poison remained.
They were given masks and clothes to protect them as they worked but that was not enough.
They buried the firefighters, the helicopter pilots, the bio-robots, and the liquidators in special boxes lined with lead because their bodies had so much radioactivity in them that they were afraid they would pollute the soil in other places.
Then they drew an imaginary line around Chernobyl and put up signs to say it was contaminated.
The wild animals couldn’t read the signs.
The dust and the air and the water still flow through the invisible lines and nobody can stop them.
The authorities said “Don’t eat the vegetables, they are poisoned because the soil is contaminated; don’t eat the mushrooms or the animals”.
The grandmothers ate their vegetables because that's what they had always done and because that’s all they had to eat.
People still grew their crops and sold their milk and grain.
Then the authorities changed the labels so that no one would know where it came from; nobody would panic.
There was nowhere to go and no money to go anyway.
No one knew what to do.
No one really understood then what it meant to live in a place with too much radioactivity.
They didn’t understand that radioactivity doesn’t go away.
They didn’t realize what they would suffer by watching their children being born ill.
That was all before we were born.
Our parents were children then.
They grew up. Some of them were too ill to live normal lives.
Others fell in love.
When they made us they didn’t know that we would be born like this.
We, the children, can no longer run and laugh and play.
Some of us look like monsters from some other world.
It’s not our fault.
We are not really monsters; we are here to remind you that there are some mistakes that only love can heal.
In the end nobody wanted to know the truth; it was too complicated.
Especially for the people who used the reactors to run their lights and their washing machines, their televisions and their computers; especially for the people that made money using the reactors.
People everywhere pretended that it was all right. They told each other it wouldn’t affect them.
The authorities reassured them. They forgot that all water is the same water, all air is the same air.
And so people built us an imaginary island and put an imaginary sea between us; a sea of fear and denial and untruths that they hoped would protect them.
No one came near us anymore; they were frightened of catching what we had caught. No one talks about us anymore; they want to forget.
It’s important not to forget; its important for children everywhere to understand that we are all connected.
We all breathe the same air. All water is part of the same water. We share one earth and when we harm the earth, we harm ourselves and all those who are dear to us.
What seems to separate us is man-made.
This is our message in a bottle.
Now do this for just one minute; turn out the lights and turn off the television; feel the warm health of your body and the steady beating of your heart.
Listen to the sounds and the stillness around them, feel the air around you as you breathe in and out.
Hug someone you love and know that these are the things that are important; ordinary everyday things..... sometimes we forget how special they really are.
Understand that people might have to choose to do things differently if they want to continue to share these treasures with their children and grandchildren.
Tell all the people out there to remember;
to remember the courage of the people that stopped the reactor exploding... to remember the people that died or grew ill trying to clean up the mess... to remember the carers that look after all the damaged children ...to remember the haunted city, the poisoned soil... and us.
WHAT IS A NUCLEAR REACTOR
A Nuclear reactor is a factory where physicists use a powerful energy source created by the tiny particles or atoms of a mineral called uranium. They use that energy to heat water and make steam. The steam is then used to turn turbines which make it possible to run electrical lighting and machinery. In the a nuclear reactor large amounts of water are needed. If for some reason they cannot keep the reactor cool enough it can over-heat and explode as it did in Chernobyl.
WHAT IS RADIOACTIVITY?
Uranium gives off invisible particles which are called ‘radioactive’. These particles are highly energetic and give off other particles that affect living things.They are sufficiently energetic to make other objects that they come into contact with radioactive as well. So radioactivity can be held in metal, wood, animals fur, plants etc The radioactivity that is produced in splitting the atom is very dangerous, and, when it escapes and is taken up by living things such as plants and animals, can then change their genetic structure. This is especially dangerous for children and young animals as they are growing (their cells reproduce very quickly) and this includes babies still inside their mums; It stops them from growing normally. Uranium mines all over the world poison the people that work there, often without proper protection from the radiation Nuclear energy is used for electricity, heaters, lighting etc. Less than 100 years ago this energy source did not exist. In the short while that man has been using this energy source thousands of people have died or been permanently damaged by radioactive particles. One of the things that humans use radioactive materials for is weapon making; for use in war or so called ‘dissuasion’ (discouraging other countries from attacking them)
IS USING NUCLEAR ENERGY A GOOD WAY TO STOP THE EARTH GETTING WARMER ? (CLIMATE CHANGE)
Here are 5 reasons why not :
- The waste that is left over when they have finished making electricity has to be carefully stored as it remains dangerous for thousands of years. It takes huge amounts of energy to store this radioactive waste. No one knows where to put the this waste as the containers will rust away long before the radioactive material which will then pollute the sea or ground where it has been stored People have invented other uses for this waste or DEPLETED URANIUM such as making bombs ; this leads to pollution in soils where the bombs are used (such as in the wars in Iraq and Kossavo) and many cases of radioactive poisoning have already been seen in children born in these places. It has been claimed by some scientists that it would be necessary to take 10 centimeters of soil off the whole land surface of these countries to make it possible to grow unpolluted crops for people there to eat. In the end it takes more energy to clean up the leftover radioactivity than can be produced by the nuclear reactors.
- Nuclear energy is dangerous; so dangerous that insurance companies refuse to insure against it's damage.
- Uranium is a non renewable resource which means that when humans have finished mining what is in the earths crust there is no more to be had. Some people think that there may be 30- 60 years of this metal left if we continue to use it up at the speed we are doing at the moment. This may not seem like a long time but it’s long enough to do much damage to the environment we live in.
- It takes almost twenty years and lots of resources to build a new nuclear energy plant; then it will work for another 20 -30 years before it needs to be rebuilt for safety reasons.
- Once a nuclear power plant is working it is very difficult to stop it; It requires huge amounts of energy to keep it cool and eventually to turn it off!!!
Action Plan; Where do we go from here?
Nuclear energy is a subject that is very controversial. People are frightened of a future without electricity. Fear stops them addressing the real problem or even wanting to talk about it. What would it be like? What would we have to give up? What can we do?
Here are some ways you can act to build a different kind of tomorrow.
- Talk about it with friends and family.
- Research the Chernobyl and the Fukoshima accidents on the web as part of a class project in school or a public presentation. Information raises awareness and puts issues on the table.
- Find out about nuclear power stations near you. What is that energy used for and how could it be done differently.
- Join groups that pressure government to change their energy policy like Green Peace or anti-nuclear groups.
- Sponsor a child from one of the disaster zones.. Many associations exist that organize this process; Irradiated children can go on holiday or have experiences that they would not be able to have without your help.
- Research your energy footprint (this includes your water footprint) and discuss ways you can ‘tread lightly on the earth’ - walking or biking to school, using public transport or car pools, putting on a jumper and turning down the thermostat etc. Turn off the lights when you are not using them. Switch to ‘led’ lighting where possible. Find simple manual kitchen utensils to replace the electrical ones. Research where your food comes from and find out all the kinds of energy that go into making it. How could this process be less wasteful? Remember to ‘Live simply so that others may simply live’ as Gandhi recommended.
- Start a ‘dream circle’ with some friends and imagine together how you could create a happier, cleaner world for everyone. Collective dreaming is a powerful way to build a reality that seems so far out of reach.