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Henry Henderson’s Blog

Homage: Remembering Chernobyl

Henry Henderson

Posted April 26, 2011 in Nuclear Weapons, Waste and Energy

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Today is the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. To commemorate the disaster, and draw attention to the fact that the disaster continues to unfold for those living in Chernobyl, Jim Krantz has produced a powerful set of photographs, published as a book of images and essays entitled Homage: Remembering Chernobyl. The book confronts us with the reality of continuing loss and devastation that persist in the Chernobyl community. The images are stark, haunting and insistent, providing a solemn glimpse into the lives of people whose families, homes, environment, and economy have been utterly devastated by nuclear disaster.

Suffice it to say that no one anticipated the tragic irony of the timing of the release of Homage: Remembering Chernobyl – that it would be issued at the same time we witness yet another nuclear disaster, this time affecting the people of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. Now, much like the residents of Chernobyl, the Japanese are paying a tragic price for the unreasonable and avoidable risks we take to secure our energy.

Homage is a visual call to action, reminding us of the critical need to develop sound policies, enforceable laws and practical commitment to identify, manage and protect against the terrible risks of an unquenchable pursuit of energy at any cost. We must establish and pursue policies that promote a clean and sustainable energy future. Homage presents us with the unduckable reality resulting from the failure to pursue a path to a clean energy future.

Time has not lessened the scope of the tragedy in Chernobyl. Twenty five years after the explosion of the nuclear reactor and the release of radioactive poison, we continue to put our safety, health and environment at risk with short sighted decisions regarding our energy future.  We are on the cusp of a range of decisions about our energy future that will affect us for the remainder of this century. We need to hold the images of Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, clearly in mind as we make our decisions.

Here in Chicago, we should be particularly concerned about nuclear issues. Our region hosts one of the most extensive nuclear fleets in the country, with 25 nuclear facilities dotting our Midwestern landscape. Last month, in response to the Japanese nuclear disaster, Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk convened a hearing on nuclear safety, calling state and federal officials together with representatives of the nuclear industry. Legitimate public concerns were certainly not alleviated by the testimony of the panel of experts asked to speak by the Senators. The plant operators, researchers, and regulators minimized the issues raised by the events in Japan, going so far as to say that nothing had happened to cause them to rethink policies and practices in place today, including the stock piling of potassium-iodine pills, despite there being too few for the population and those being out of date. This was especially striking, considering that we have five reactors in the greater Chicago region that are of the same design as the failing Fukushima reactor.

Present reliance on nuclear power is a reality, and panicked reaction to the situation in Japan will not result in the kind of sustainable energy policy that we need.  That requires hard thinking, firm commitments and a strong sense of reality. 

The searing images in Homage, and those that will come from Fukushima, bring directly what that reality entails, and remind us what is really at stake. If you are interested in receiving a copy of Homage: Remembering Chernobyl please call (312) 651-7908.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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