March 8, 2022 by kittynh
The title of this article is correct. It’s off topic from my usual arts and New England subjects, but it’s something few people are writing about or even thinking about. It’s meant to be non political, and also very simple as my own understanding of this is so basic, which makes the deaths of these soldiers even more tragic. If I know, the people in charge of the safety of the soldiers should know also.
My husband and I are watching the events in the Ukraine, when my husband suddenly sits up and curses. This is a rare event. It upsets our cat children. I turn to him, with that “WHAT” look on my face. He is both angry and sad at the same time.
A bit of background, my husband served in the US military. He was an officer, and later served in the reserves. We’re not retired. After going to the reserves my husband worked at two nuclear plants, Wisconsin Electric and Vermont Yankee. His job was “Training”. In other words he took in the new employees and taught them how the plant worked. He brought in experienced employees also, for updates and reminders that a NUCLEAR PLANT IS VERY DANGEROUS. Also he excelled in passing on tips for HOW TO STAY ALIVE.
Later after he had left the one plant because of a disagreement about the safety standards, a change of ownership had lead to his questioning some conditions, he took a job in retail. Then Fukushima happened. My husband saw that CNN had on as their “expert” Bill Nye the Science Guy. Now this man is I suppose good at what he does, but he is not a nuclear expert. He began to talk about the need to save energy.
Why couldn’t CNN have anyone in anyway connected with nuclear power on as an expert? At the time of Fukushima, speaking about the disaster with total honesty, meant you would never be employed in the nuclear power industry again. We had friends who worked for the NRC. We had lots of friends working at nuclear plants, some in important positions. If someone did speak from the NRC, it was vague and also tinged with “Everything is under control”. At first people knew little, but it should not have stopped them from answering basic questions. Even if the answer was “We don’t know yet.”
At this point my daughter who was at MIT, called her father to ask, “What is going on? No one can seem to give a clear answer.” He agreed to do a small podcast with her, answering her basic questions. The next thing, he had people that were sheltering in Japan, begging him to answer their questions. At this point, the Japanese government was being very quiet. They didn’t want a panic, but also, the nuclear industry wants to have a very positive image. Japan was also not a nation that was always as open with their citizens as the citizens wanted.
He began a series of talks and questions and answers, as more information came out, he was as honest as he could be with the refugees. He formed some wonderful friendships with those brave Japanese people living through the double disaster of tsunami and failing nuclear power site. People felt reassured, rather than panicked. Since he had taught nuclear power safety for so many years, and also trained people on what to do if something goes wrong, he was easy to understand.
So, when my husband saw the human disaster taking place on our television screen, he just had to exclaim out loud. What he saw was Chernobyl, a nuclear plant disaster that was able to be detected around the world. We both remembered how when it rained in Scotland after the disaster, sheep there died. It has been an international effort to keep the Chernobyl site safe, and one that has so far worked. There is currently a large sarcophagus covering the most dangerous areas of the plant. There is also a large exclusion zone, that you have a very limited amount of safe time to visit.
Wikipedia describes the exclusion zone in this way:
The Exclusion Zone covers an area of approximately 2,600 km2 (1,000 sq mi) in Ukraine immediately surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant where radioactive contamination is highest and public access and inhabitation are restricted.
This area is to be avoided by humans and also, visitors are usually people that are trained in some way to visit safely. They are there to make sure the radiation is under control, and to study the wildlife that has flourished there. They have monitors that measure radiation exposure. They wear booties and coveralls that will be burnt as radioactive contamination when they leave. They will also possibly shower, as radiated soil and even dust can be very dangerous. Anything that you stepped in or was blown on you is dangerous. Worst of all, most scientists and visitors know is breathing in radioactivity.
If you are familiar with the tragedy of the “Radium Girls” who painted watches with luminous paint, it was not being around the paint or even touching the paint that was the most dangerous. It was ingesting the paint by licking the brush to give it a sharp point. The ingestion of radioactivity via the lungs or mouth, leads to much quicker and much more damage. It’s a basic of radioactivity.
The news spoke of a spike in radioactivity seen on monitors, from the large tanks and trucks stirring up the dirt on the roads. Remember, Ukraine is much like Vermont, in that many roads are still dirt.
The closest comparison I can make is that we had asbestos on pipes in our basement. We asked about how dangerous this would be before purchasing the home. The reply was “As long as it is sealed and you leave it alone, you should be safe.” It’s when you cut through it and release it into the air that it is very dangerous.
This is true about many sites around the world. They are paved over, buried in caves, sitting in pools of water, but there often also “STAY OUT DANGER” signs.
Surely, the Russian military officers knew that sending young soldiers into the Chernobyl area was going to be very dangerous. A little gaiter that covers your neck and mouth, is not much help. The worst part is that any soil or dust on the tanks, trucks, uniforms, boots, skin or even worse IN the lungs, was dangerous and potentially lethal for the young soldiers. The worst, the exclusion zone, is 1,000 square miles. There are other dangerous areas all over the Ukraine. Not one group of Russian soldiers seemed prepared or even warned about how to behave in these areas. The Russian leaders sent their young men into combat, without even the most basic safety equipment.
That the Russian soldiers fired on a nuclear plant, and only by dumb luck did not hit something truly dangerous, shows how little the average soldier was informed about the dangers of nuclear sites.
Soldiers would need even just the most basic of PPE (personal protective equipment) to have better odds of living into their 50’s. Instead they are possibly wearing the same uniforms, the same boots, driving the same vehicles and living everyday contaminating themselves more and more. Radiation doesn’t die down in the human body. It builds and builds over your life. This is why most medical professionals recommend you limit your exposure to radiation as much as possible through out your life.
You don’t have to be on one side or the other, to know that as Herbert Hoover wrote, “Older men declare war, but it is the youth that must fight and die.” The uneducated and unprotected Russian soldiers look to be in their late teens and early twenties. While lifetime studies differ, many believe that radiation that is breathed in or ingested while eating food in the area, will start to endanger your life in 10-20 years if you are young when contaminated.
This is why in Japan, the elderly are volunteering to help clean up the Fukushima site. The Japanese are not sending in their youngest enlisted soldiers. The deaths of these young men will be slow and painful. Many may not be able to father children. If they smoke ,and smoking is common with many young soldiers in militaries around the world, the effect could be even below the 10 year mark. No one knows for sure, they just know that ingesting radioactivity is bad. Walking around with even low does radiation on your clothing and on your equipment, that you are in close contact with, is also bad for your health.
Chernobyl at the time of the incident, taught the world much about how radiation interacts with our bodies. Once you are exposed, you can’t pee it out or wash it out, it is there with you into your grave. When Pierre and Marie Curie’s bones were being moved in Paris, a whole slew of safety measures had to be taken as the bones were still very dangerous. This article tells how long Marie Curie’s belongings will be radioactive, another 1,500 years.
I suppose the easiest way for the government and elite in the military had to deal with this danger was to ignore it and make sure their soldiers didn’t know what they could do to ensure their own safety.
Any leadership that knowingly endangers their youngest troops, is ensuring they die in a very slow and miserable way. Their families and friends and nation will by then know why these young men will never get to be old men.
NOTE THE VIEWS ARE THAT OF THE AUTHOR ONLY AND NOT THAT OF ANYONE ELSE. I could be totally wrong, and I’m not just writing this as I’m nervous about certain world leaders, or ex leaders that think they won an election (what do I know?)