Haunting Photos from Fukushima and Chernobyl
by Rashid Alimov
March 10, 2016
30 years after Chernobyl and five years after Fukushima, these towns have been ruined forever by nuclear disaster.
© Christian Åslund / Greenpeac
Pripyat in northern Ukraine was a young and promising town. Established in 1970 it had all the markers of a great place to raise a family by Soviet standards – schools, recreation center, swimming pool, hospital and gainful employment at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
There was even an amusement park that was due to open. Already a ferris wheel, bumper cars, and merry go round were in place causing a giddy feeling of anticipation for the thousands of children and families.
But on 26 April 1986 disaster struck, and in the following days the entire city of about 50,000 was evacuated.
Fast-forward 25 years and to the other side of the world is the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. With a population of almost 20,000 its economy was dependent on commercial fishing, agriculture and food processing.
On March 11 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami rocked the entire prefecture, causing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Three reactors at the power plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) went into meltdown, contaminating everything within at least a 20km radius and beyond.
Like Pripyat, Namie was immediately abandoned. It was just 5-15 km north of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The lives of the people living in those towns, and all around Chernobyl and Fukushima, have been changed forever. Both of these nuclear accidents have put populations at both physical and mental harm, permanently displaced large populations, torn apart community relationships, and left survivors stressed by their chronic exposure to radiation.
Decontamination efforts have yielded fruitless results. Almost 30 years after the Chernobyl accident, 10,000 square kilometres are still unusable and 5 million people in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia still live in contaminated areas. Similarly, tests by Greenpeace Japan show that radiation in the restricted areas of Fukushima is still high. Decontamination doesn’t get rid of radioactive contamination; it simply moves it to another location and community.
A nuclear disaster is a disaster that never ends. That’s why, on these two significant anniversaries, Greenpeace have released Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima. This report tells the story of the nuclear victims. It describes how contamination touches every aspect of their lives – it’s in what they eat and what they drink, in the wood they use for construction and burn to keep warm. Every day they must make decisions on how to limit their exposure to radiation. This contamination will be with them for decades to come, and so will the related impacts on their health.
Can a nuclear disaster like this ever happen again? In countries like the United States, South Korea and France, it is a real possibility and these images and the report show what the consequences are.
There is no “cure” for nuclear. Thirty years later and Chernobyl victims are still suffering: death rates are higher, birth rates are lower, incidence of cancer has increased and mental health effects are widespread. In Fukushima, a rise in thyroid cancer incidences amongst children has been observed, and almost a third of mothers living close to the damaged reactors show symptoms of depression.
Authorities in Japan and around Chernobyl have a responsibility to involve impacted people in decisions on their personal safety and survivors should be compensated for losses to their livelihood, property and for impacts on mental health.
For countries that opt to keep nuclear power they need to have emergency plans in place to address large-scale radiation releases like Fukushima or Chernobyl. Or better yet, find alternatives and invest in renewables.
The world does not need another incident like Fukushima or Chernobyl. This nuclear nightmare must end.