Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Japan's "Liquidators"

Back in my student days there was general agreement that no-one could match the researchers from the former Soviet Union for their fearless approach to radiation risks. Whilst we wondered whether this wasn't just down to the stereotype of the vodka-guzzling "Crazy Ivan", we also knew that these were people from the same scientific and engineering community which had exhibited bravery of the highest and most commendable kind in the face of near-certain death during the Chernobyl disaster.

There are two instances of bravery amongst the "Liquidators" who rescued much of Europe from life-threatening irradiation which stand out the most. The first is the planting of a radiation sensor on top of the damaged reactor by Nicolai Melnik, for which he was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, and lived into a comfortable comfortable retirement in Spain despite having suffered ill-health. The second, and perhaps the greatest act of bravery I have ever heard of, is that of Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov, who reportedly donned diving suits and swam to their deaths through the highly radioactive pool of water that formed beneath the blazing core of Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 in order to release the water and thus avoid a thermal explosion far worse than that which had already occured.

When the situation at Fukushima began my thoughts, and those of many others, turned to the incredible risks that were being run by those fighting to prevent catastrophe at Fukushima. They are Japan's answer to Chernobyl's "Liquidators".

We must not go overboard, though. Despite the ridiculous messages issued by the British government as well as others urging their citizens to flee the Japanese capital, some 200 Kilometres from Fukushima, so far at most only three of the workers is reported to have suffered any harmful radiation exposure as a result of this disaster. According to the IAEA, no injuries have been caused by radiation. This is in contrast to the almost certainly fatal doses inflicted on nearly all of those who initially responded to the Chernobyl disaster. Fukushima is bad, but it is not yet that bad, and hopefully never will be.

Those working to save their country and its people from deadly contamination at Fukushima are deserving of high praise, and should receive all the support and gratitude that Japan and the world can offer once this crisis has finally been safely averted. This is the best way of rewarding their bravery.

[Picture: The central detail of the Soviet medal given to the Chernobyl Liquidators. Via Wikipedia.]


Anonymous said...

Great post, FOARP. More generally, the overall attitude of the population here in Oz is that the Japanese have obtained a big Nye soft power win, even though it has arisen out of their really dreadful circumstances. Having just been thru two massive floods and a typhoon of awesome proportions ourselves. KT

Wukailong said...

I've been talking to my colleagues here (China) and told them not to worry too much about radiation, at least for now. The reason? Well, the place I grew up in was heavily affected by radiation from Chernobyl but everyone I know from that time are still fine. There's no way that the Fukushima plant could cause that level of pollution.

This morning I heard a discussion on local radio mentioning problems in Japanese management of their nuclear facilities, and that what happened wasn't entirely because of the disaster. (Coal mines were mentioned as well) There was some thinly veiled criticism of China there, saying that "management in Japan is very precise. If they can get into such trouble, the situation in less developed countries is really a cause for concern."