The Threat of A New Chernobyl

When the Chernobyl Prayer (also known as Voices from Chernobyl) by Svetlana Alexievich was published in 1997 it didn’t draw a lot of attention. It was only after the author was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, that her books were revisited by publishers, and Chernobyl became visible in the world, both as a book and as a major global catastrophe that happened on the territory of the former USSR.

Alexievich tells the story of the unbearable suffering of the people after the explosion at Chernobyl and her book contains a powerful message, calling for vigilance to prevent similar preventable, man made disaster.

The HBO series “Chernobyl” that became a world sensation, also paints a horrifying portrait of a system that made such disasters possible, and then tried to cover up its mistakes and faults at the expense of the lives of its citizens.

Lukashenka’s regime, against the will of the people, has eagerly provided territory for yet another dangerous Russian nuclear experiment. Both in Russia and Belarus, there is no free press to help monitor the construction and compliance with standards.

The main character in HBO series is “Comrade Lie”, who is a symbol of the system and its functionaries. On every level of the Soviet communist system: whenever human lives could be saved by truth, they opted to lie.

They lied about ideology and the technical achievements of the Soviet Union. They lied about safety of their technologies and they covered up major accidents. And when the truth came out in the West (where else?) they lied about the scale of the damage.

Moreover they lied to each other, to their colleagues, to their families.

A lie is as dangerous as radiation, and they are both not immediately visible.

Chernobyl is still very much with us, and the effects of the disaster will remain for thousands of generations. The half-life of plutonium-239 that was released by the reactor is more than 24 000 years. The aftermath is still scary and was not dealt with properly in the former USSR, nor in the countries that regained independence after its collapse, which were also affected by radioactive fallout: Belarus, Ukraine, Russia. Even the concrete sarcophagus that was built to stop radioactive fallout, is on the verge of collapsing. It needs to be dismantled, which is a very dangerous process.

Despite all the dangers, past, present and future of that nuclear facility, another potential Chernobyl is being constructed today on the territory of Belarus that suffered most from the fallout.

Furthermore, it is being constructed by the same “specialists” from Russia, “Rosatom”,  that built and put into operation the nuclear power plant (NPP) in Chernobyl, and carelessly experimented with it in  a way that led to the tragedy.

The NPP is not an issue here. Many countries have these facilities and live safely with them.

The issue is that “Comrade Lie” has come back, in all its notorious glory, both in Russia -which is responsible for the construction of this new NPP- and Belarus, where Lukashenka’s regime, against the will of the people, has eagerly provided territory for yet another dangerous Russian nuclear experiment. Both in Russia and Belarus, there is no free press to help monitor the construction and compliance with standards. Neither in Russia or Belarus is there transparency in matters that are of concern to the people.

The Kremlin already warned several times, that it might use nuclear weapons in Europe. Russia also violated Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the former Soviet Union and the United States which led to its collapse.

The possibility of a nuclear accident close to European Union borders is as frightening as the potential use of nuclear weapons. The location of the Russian built nuclear facility was chosen to be as far away from Russia, and as close as possible to the territory of the European Union on the border with Lithuania, only 50 km from its capital Vilnius.

They say that the type of the reactor to be used in Belarus has already had some unexpected shutdowns on Russian territory. Accidents, with the yet uninstalled reactor, have been reported on the territory of Belarus. Allegedly it was damaged during transportation and was either repaired or substituted.

There were accidents at nuclear facilities that use reactors of the same type that was delivered to Belarus (namely the Vodo-Vodyanoi Energetichesky ReaktorWater Power Reactor). Last July, three of the four power-generating units at the Kalinin nuclear facility were taken offline after a short circuit accident. Only a week before that accident the nuclear facility in Beloyarsk had to be shut down over an unspecified malfunction.

We don’t know the facts: the truth will be hidden, because the successors of Soviet state remain in power both in Minsk and in Moscow with their renewed policy of lies.

It took almost two years to attribute a mysterious radiation cloud formed as a result of a sizable release of radioactive ruthenium-106 and detected in Europe in October 2017, to the Russian Mayak nuclear facility – a reprocessing plant in the Southern Urals. The Kremlin denied that it happened on its territory and lied about the nature of the accident.

Mayak nuclear facility near Chelyabinsk. Location of multiple nuclear accidents, including a 1953 disaster which is recognized as the third worst nuclear accident in history.

According to Putin the “Kursk” submarine just sank. According to Lukashenka, the political opponents the regimes murdered, just ran away.

One of the heroes in the Chernobyl series, says that the core of the reactor exploded because of… “lies”.

The construction of the NPP in Astravets,  violates several international agreements and conventions, yet no real concern has been expressed by the international community. Except Lithuania, no other European state seems to care.

The NPP in Astravets, constructed by Russia, is a potential nuclear bomb that technologically will be controlled by Kremlin, (making it a large, open target for cyber attacks – ed) . It is Moscow’s strategic objective, to tie Belarus even closer to Russia and use the NPP as a threat to neighboring countries. It has little to do with the energy security of Belarus, since it makes it more vulnerable and dependent on Kremlin.

Construction of the Russian built Nuclear Power Plant at Astravyets. Phtoo: Wikipedia

The HBO series might be a visionary warning to stop this madness on the territory of Belarus,  which already suffered major damage after the Chernobyl meltdown. It’s not too late yet as Lithuania suggests, which would still be better than to go out searching for Geiger radiation counters later.

When this text was ready to be published there was another nuclear accident in Russia on August 8.

The failed test of a nuclear-propelled cruise missile, allegedly a “SSC-X-9 Skyfall” missile, known in Russia as the “Burevestnik”, has been hailed by President Vladimir V. Putin as a major asset of Moscow’s arms race with the United States. The failed missile test ended in an explosion killing five atomic scientists last week on Russia’s White Sea in the Arkhangelsk region

According to international experts the accident was a serious one causing 20-fold increase in radiation in the city of Severodvinsk.

The Kremlin, following its tradition, first tried to cover up the accident, then lied about its consequences.

The accident is yet another proof of how dangerous the Putin is with nuclear weapons – along with Lukashenko, who badly wants them-  not just for their countries and people, but also for the world and international security.

Andrei Sannikov is an exiled opposition politician and former political prisoner who ran for president in 2010. He served as deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus in 1995-1996


Year Name Location Radioactive Contamination Background Image Casualties More
1953 Mayak Complex Mayak, Chelyabinsk Oblast 40 litres of radioactive waste. No radiation monitoring equipment was available to workers; therefore the seriousness of the event was not recognized. Several workers exposed.
1957 Kyshtym disaster, Mayak Complex Mayak, Chelyabinsk Oblast 20 MCi (800 PBq) of radioactivity. Waste tank explodes September 29, 1957  causing thrid worst nuclear disaster in history. Of 270,000 residents only 10,000 were evacuated. 300 died within the first few days. Cancer rates and generic abnormalities in the region are much higher – longterm casualties are likely in the thousands if not higher.
1958 Mayak Complex Mayak, Chelyabinsk Oblast Uknown Workers exposed to radioactive water during rupture At least 4 dead.
1961 Submarine K-19 Accident Naval N/A Reactor coolant system failure. Repair process contaminated environment and the repair crew. The Soviet Navy dumped the original radioactive compartment into the Kara Sea 22
1968 Russian Federal Nuclear Centre Chelyabinsk Uknown Critical alarm failure. 2 dead
1968 Mayak Complex Mayak, Chelyabinsk Oblast Poor hadnling of radioactive water. 2 dead
1970 K-8 Nuclear Submarine Atlantic Ocean Four nuclear torpedoes remain on the sunken submarine posing a serious threat to the environment. Fire onboard, submarine sinks North-West of Spain in Biscay Bay. 40
1975 Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant Sosnovyi Bor, Leningrad Oblast 1.5 MCi was released into the environment Multiple explosions, ruptures and radioactive leaks:  7 January 1975 reactor gas explosion;   6 February 1975, rupture ; 28 November 1975 significant release of radiation lasting for one month. Accidents never reported to medai or citizen. At least 3, but hundreds may have been undreported given the secrecy of the series of accidents.
1979 Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant Sosnovyi Bor, Leningrad Oblast Unknown Fire broke out in a concrete vault containing radioactive waste. Water used in extinguishing the fires was contaminated, leaked into the environment, and entered the water table. This was not reported in the media. Unknown
1982 Andreev Bay nuclear accident Soviet Nval Base, 60km from Murmansk 770 000 tons of radioactive waste water. 770 000 tons of ontaminated water released in Barents Sea, near the Norwegian border. 2 killed during clean up attempts.
1985 K-431Nuclear Submarine Chazhma Bay, near Vladivostok Unknown – remains state secret Explosion during refuling resulting in contamination of surrounding sea. TIME magazine has identified the accident as one of the world’s “worst nuclear disasters”. 10 people killed instantly, 290 people suffered from radioactive exposure and much bay and waterfront were contaminated. Total human toll unknown.
1986 K-219 Nuclear Submarine North-East Atlantic Reactor and nuclear missles remain at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean Fire and explosion in missile tube 6. Vessel sunk off Bermuda with all nuclear missiles on board. 4 dead, threat of enviormental conamination remains.
1986 Chernobyl Pripyat, Ukraine SSR 300 MCi Core of RBMK-type nuclear reactor overheats, causing reupture of the reactor core,  followed immediately by an open-air reactor core fire that released considerable airborne radioactive contamination for about nine days that precipitated onto parts of the USSR and western Europe, 30000 – 60000
1989 K-278 Nuclear Submarine Norwegian Sea Recent research indicates reactor, torpedoes and warheads could be leaking high levels of radioactive material into the sea. Fire on board causes submarine to sink. 42
1989 K-131 Norwegian Sea and Ara Bay harbour. Radioactive water pumped into sea, and leaked while docked later. Fire on board. 13
1992 Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant Sosnovyi Bor, Leningrad Oblast Toxic gases released A leaking channel  released fission products into the reactor chamber, from where they were vented out.
1993 Siberian Chemical Enterprises Seversk, Tomsk Oblast Radioactive cloud spreads over 120 km² A tank of radioactive materialsexploded while being cleaned with nitric acid creating a radioactive cloud. Listed as Top 10 worst nuclear disasters by Time Magazine. Widespread environmental damage
2000 Kursk Nuclear Submarine Barents Sea Unkown Two massive explosions, due to faulty construction, sink submarine. 118
2017 Radioactive Cloud Mayak, Chelyabinsk Oblast radioactive cloud appears over Europe Seven dozen researchers said they had concluded that the origins of a “sizable, yet undeclared nuclear accident” appeared to be a nuclear reprocessing facility located in the Urals region. Unkown
2019 Research Submarine Barents Sea Unkown A fire broke out on a Russian submarine, which was persumed to be nuclear powered. It is unknown if any radiation leak occured. 14 dead
2019 Nuclear missile accident White Sea Explosion caused caused a  spike in radiation in the nearby port city of Severodvinsk The Russian Navy claims to have been testing a new missle powered by radioactie propulsion. The missle expoded during testing and loval residents were told to evacuate the area. 5 dead, environmental and longterm casualities unknown
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