Chernobyl Nuclear Incident During the Cold War Thesis

Pages: 19 (6579 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World

Chernobyl Nuclear Incident

During the Cold War, it was understood by the citizens of the world that the United States and the Soviet Union were competitors economically, politically, and militarily. Part of the economic health of both super powers was their nuclear energy programs. Nuclear energy was perhaps even more vital to the frozen stretches of the Soviet Union, which, during the Cold War years, had yet to realize its own wealth in oil production. It is safe to say that most of the world's citizens, while they did not like the idea of nuclear power, because they associated it with dangers like fallout, and the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh reminders of the horrors of the misuse of the energy; nonetheless felt like there were few alternatives to the nuclear energy power source as regarded providing energy and heating homes and businesses. Most people were well versed in the dangers of disaster associated with nuclear power, but there was a prerequisite trust factor in the government of the super powers who were telling their citizens that nuclear energy was safe, and that there was no viable alternative. Nuclear energy, the world discovered, was only as safe as the government and businesses behind it were willing to invest in making it safe.

That trust was betrayed when, in the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear disaster since Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred in the remote regions of Chernobyl, in the Soviet Union. It was the worst of fears coming to fruition. As the news of the incident slowly made its way around the world, there was the sense that the Soviet Union was minimizing the damage, and the existing threat that it posed to the people in and around the plant. It raised the question in the minds of the public world-wide: What is a nuclear reactor accident?

Using the existing body of research and studies, this essay will look at the question of what is a nuclear reactor accident, and what does it mean to the world in general. What is interesting about Chernobyl is that there are journal articles every five years from the date of the accident forward that speak to the changes, and the side affects of the people in the area, and the environment. These articles will inform this essay, and will be used for comparison with the progression of time and the subsequent articles.

Every effort will be made here to understand how Chernobyl happened, and what are the lessons learned from that event. This paper will look at how the lessons learned are being put to use to prevent future accidents from occurring. We'll also examine the current and continued use of nuclear energy as a viable renewable source of energy moving forward into the future. Examined here, too, will be whether or not there is really a way to have catastrophic-proof nuclear energy. All of this information will come to light by examining the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident, and understanding how that came about, and what it means to the world.

Before the Incident

E.L. Quarantelli (1998) said that to be concerned with what the term "disaster" means, is to be concerned with the phenomenon of the disaster, and to focus on the disaster in a fundamental way that leads to the defining characteristics of the disaster being studied. The premise upon which scholars and experts engage in the discussion is one that will attempt to understand the consequences of the disaster. It might be added to Quarantelli's statements that to understand the consequences of the disaster leads to the efforts to circumvent or prevent the disaster from recurring or duplicating the disastrous consequences. Perhaps Quarantelli stops short of saying this, because it is presumed. However, when speaking of nuclear reactor disasters, this is something that must be said, because not to say it would putting the responsibility for requiring that it not be allowed to happen again on a supposition that may or may not be made by government, scientists, and the public at large. For this reason alone, it must be stated, because that, indeed, is the expectation. Had this been said before April 26, 1986, perhaps Chernobyl would not have become the disaster that it was.

Quarantelli says that the most efficient means for controlling complex systems is to manipulate their lodestar. He applies this concept to any complex system, religious, political, or scientific.

In religious systems, it might be the deity's will revealed by the priesthood. In feudal systems, it might be the fief, distributed by the nobility, and, in modern times, it might be the status based on the money that people have available. The advantage of controls by the top algorithm is the extreme efficiency: the alteration of one factor alters the whole system."

The point that Quarantelli is making, is that with the control over manipulating the lodestar, one has total control of the system. Total control of the system means that there are no accidents. Accidents would reflect an inability to manipulate the lodestar. Quarantelli says that a system where the people operating the system do not understand the entire operational system is an inability to manipulate the lodestar. There is a lack of control, and Quarantelli says that it is madness to intervene in a system that depends on people without knowing how the system works and will react. That includes the people who are as much mechanisms in the system as are the computers and programs that are a part of it. Quarantelli says that Chernobyl is an example of the inability to control the system, because there was not an understanding of the system by the people who had the ability to manipulate it. Without getting into the issues of who pushed what button, where, and when, Quarantelli sums it up so succinctly that it no longer matters what button, by whom, when, or where.

When the powers of the world begin allowing nuclear reactors to be manipulated by individuals without the knowledge of those systems, including the people who are as much the mechanisms of the systems as are the other components of the system, then we must consider that force one that is, likewise, out of control. We have to accept that up until the moment of the incident at Chernobyl, it was a system that was being properly manipulated. Then it stopped, and there was disaster. This is how we define "disaster."

The Aftermath of Chernobyl

Eleven days after the Chernobyl incident, on May 6, 1986, radiation from the meltdown was detected on the west coast of the United States.

It was reported by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the levels were "way, way below" levels harmful to the residents of the west coast. The White House backed the statement, and the Russians, saying that the meltdown posed no threat to Americans. The problem here, of course, is that Americans, or Europeans, or any other people in the world, have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. Like Quarantelli says, when the system fails, it denotes a lack of control, and there is no doubt that the people of the world have no control over their systems. Any disinformation that would be provided to the American public would be classified as a matter of national security, and the American public would have no way of knowing until someone perhaps stumbled upon information to the contrary, a wayward memo, discovered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information. So it was that the American and Russian governments said that there was no danger.

The level reported on the west coast, in Washington state, was 500 picocuries per liter of iodine 131. Federal guidelines say that the danger level begins reading at 15,000. A reactor core the size of the one that melted down at Chernobyl contains more than a thousand times the radiation that was released on the Japanese at Hiroshima.

In downwind Europe -- particularly in Poland and parts of West Germany, where readings in the days right after the accident were extremely high -- the damage will be horrifying. Most serious will be the harm done to fetuses now in utero, infants and small children; and the prime culprit will be iodine 131. Iodine is naturally ingested by the thyroid gland; radioactive iodine emits particles that damage or destroy that gland. I-131 can cross the placenta of pregnant women and travel directly to the thyroids of their fetuses, causing severe problems, including brain damage and respiratory difficulty at birth. This devastating process almost certainly caused the inordinate number of infant deaths in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area after the Three Mile Island accident [see Ernest J. Sternglass, "The First Casualty at T.M.I.,' the Nation, February 28, 1981, and "The Lethal Path of T.M.I. Fallout,' March 7, 1981], and may have been responsible for the abnormally high infant death rate in the United States… [END OF PREVIEW]

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