Nuclear Textbook Provokes Debate
Published: April 18, 2006 (Issue # 1162)
As the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster approaches on April 26, a group of Russian environmentalists has published a school textbook about the accident and begun nationwide distribution.
Titled “Chernobyl Lessons”, the book, put together by experts from Ecodefense, Greenpeace Russia and Bellona, describes the disaster and its consequences in great detail, explaining the dangers of radiation, analyzing the mistakes that were made and suggesting protection strategies for similar situations.
The lectures give a critical assessment of nuclear industry in general, and offer a comparative study of the risks and benefits of nuclear industry versus renewable energy, such as, for instance, wind energy. The book is intended to be used during lessons on biology, physics, sociology and personal safety.
One of the sections contains the testimonies of Chernobyl survivors.
Local teachers have been keen to acquire the book, Rashid Alimov, editor of environmental portal Bellona.ru, told The St. Petersburg Times on Friday.
“We received orders for over two hundred copies after just the first two presentations, and the interest is growing,” Alimov said.
In Alimov’s opinion, the book should be of special use in St. Petersburg. “The Leningrad Nuclear Power Station still exploits the Chernobyl-type reactors, and the plant is close to the city,” he said. “People need to read it, if only for safety awareness, and because nobody else seems to be willing to educate them about it.”
Andrei Ozharovsky, one of the book’s authors and a leading expert with Moscow-based environmental organization “Ecodefence”, said the general syllabus in high schools in Russia gives a light-weight superficial coverage of the world’s largest-ever nuclear catastrophe.
“The teachers, if they touch on the topic at all, tend to present the Chernobyl disaster as some kind of technical malfunction, without putting the accident in context with the risks that nuclear industry presents as such,” Ozharovsky said during the book’s presentation at the Regional Press Institute on Friday.
The book quotes Lyudmila Ignatenko, the widow of a man who survived the initial blast. As a firefighter, he was sent to the scene of the accident without any special protective gear. “He was wearing a shirt, and all his colleagues were too,” Ignatenko said.
“They hadn’t been warned about the radiation, they were told it was an ordinary fire.”
The book quotes Belorussian citizen Sergei Gurin, whose child was exposed to radiation when the radioactive cloud reached their town.
“My little son Yurik and I spent a day in the forest, without any knowledge of the danger,” he said. “God, could they not have warned us.”
But Vladimir Lebedev of the local information center of the Russian Atomic Agency (ROSATOM), branded the textbook biased.
“This book is blatant anti-nuclear propaganda, but nuclear energy is the world’s only future,” Lebedev said. “There is no alternative on a par with it and there is nothing its critics can do. The authors could have done better than scaring ordinary people.”
The book says over 600,000 people have been exposed to large doses of radiation resulting from Chernobyl’s deadly blast.
In Lebedev’s opinion, the textbook’s authors have exaggerated the damage. A report prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005 claims that, to date, “fewer than 50 deaths have been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster.” The IAEA study was limited to those sent in to liquidate the results of the explosion and didn’t include those who suffered from the Chernobyl fallout.
A number of Russian and international ecological organizations, including Greenpeace, have criticized the IAEA report, suggesting the agency deliberately understated the number of victims and downplayed the negative consequences of the disaster.
“It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of one of the most serious industrial accidents in human history. It is a deliberate attempt to minimize the risks of nuclear power in order to free the way for new reactor construction,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner, after the presentation of the IAEA report in 2005.
Collecting statistics for such research is tricky.
A number of respondents in the new textbook recalled numerous cases of state experts refusing or being extremely reluctant to connect their or their relatives’ illnesses with the accident.
“My daughter will never be able to have children; she is disabled, she is a Chernobyl survivor,” said Larisa Z., quoted in the book. “It took me four years to finally obtain a medical certificate confirming the connection between my daughter’s condition and her exposure to radiation.”
The textbook is available in electronic form at: www.chernobyl20.ru. Links: www.ecodefense.ru, www.greenpeace.ru.