(The town of Pripyat that was left abandoned after the nuclear disaster. © Greenpeace / Steve Morgan)
Today is the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl. It is a disaster that left a 30-kilometre uninhabitable exclusion zone, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and still threatens the lives of tens of thousands.
The legacy of the day that Chernobyl’s Reactor Four exploded, throwing radioactive contamination across Europe, is still with us and will be for many years to come. We must never forget the magnitude of the disaster and the people who suffered then and continue to suffer now as Greenpeace found when we returned to the area surrounding Chernobyl last year.
It’s 26 years later and what have the nuclear industry and its supporters learned?
The nuclear industry still hasn't realized or admitted that its reactors are unsafe. Reactors are vulnerable to any unforeseen combination of technological failures, human errors and natural disasters. That puts the tens of millions of people living near the worlds more than 400 reactors at risk.
Instead of learning, the nuclear industry continues to push for new nuclear reactors despite Chernobyl, despite near-misses in Sweden and South Korea, and despite the triple nuclear meltdown at Fukushima and it’s disastrous consequences in March last year.
(A map comparing fallout from reactor accidents in Chernobyl and in Fukushima. Significant radiation contamination from both will last for centuries.)
Nuclear power still has not found a way to finance itself without begging for subsidies from taxpayers. This is an industry that has been living off blank cheques from governments for the last 60 years. Private backers just aren’t interested. Nuclear is a “corporate killer” and a “dream that failed”.
The nuclear companies that aren’t getting their hands on the billions of public cash needed to build new reactors are on the run. RWE and E.ON have pulled out of their plans to build new plants in the UK. Bulgaria has just cancelled its plans to build reactors at the Belene plant.
There are countries, however, that are leading the way from nuclear to a renewable future. Germany, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland are all turning away from nuclear power. Just one of 54 reactors is operating in Japan now with the impact on people invisible. Japan is also showing right now that nuclear power isn’t needed.
So today we remember the terrible legacy of Chernobyl and the price paid by the people. But we also pledge another legacy: one of a sustainable future built on safe and clean energy. It’s within our grasp.