( Pyotr Romanov, RIA Novosti political commentator)
The world media will mark with many publications the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster (April 26, 1986). This is only natural since this is a truly tragic date, and the aftermath of this drama is still affecting the lives of many people. Radioactive dust settled down not only on the territory of the former U.S.S.R., but also in Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and some other countries. Only France, Spain and southern Italy were fortunate thanks to the prevailing winds.
Many publications on Chernobyl justifiably focus on the safety of atomic power engineering. Nobody wants its repetition. In many countries Chernobyl slowed down the advance of atomic power engineering, deteriorated the world energy crisis, and caused a boost of prices on energy carriers.
It is alarming, though, that quite a few publications on Chernobyl are undisguised stove piping reflecting the struggle for the market of nuclear technologies. For some rivals, the Chernobyl tragedy is just an excuse to tell the potential buyers that Russian nuclear technologies are unreliable.
The timing and purpose are awkward, and, besides, this is simply untrue.
As we know, failure teaches success. As distinct from most of its rivals, the Russians have thoroughly studied the bitter experience and greatly contributed to the safety of nuclear reactors. They have focused on making nuclear plants foolproof, since it was the human factor which triggered off the Chernobyl tragedy. Today, the most regrettable aspect of Chernobyl is that the West shows practically no interest in this unique Russian experience - either in enhancing the safety of nuclear plants, or in dealing with emergencies.
Associates of the Kurchatov Institute, Russia's center of nuclear science, have complained many times that their foreign colleagues are ignoring what they have done in the twenty years of incessant research on the Chernobyl reactor. This is, of course, regrettable. Academician Yevgeny Velikhov, the head of the Kurchatov Institute Research Center, had every reason to say:" The Russian nuclear physicists have learnt by heart the lessons of Chernobyl once and for all."
To sum up, the only positive aspect of the tragedy is the practical experience and ensuing precious recommendations, but foreign experts took no interest in them. Meanwhile, they know only too well that many Western countries have been through most dangerous accidents, which could trigger off even worse tragedies. The list is so long that I won't quote it here, but the U.S., U.K. and Switzerland are all there. Those who are well versed in the subject know perfectly well that Russian nuclear technologies are the safest of all. Everything else is just commercial tat. The only difference is that it's not about Pepsi.
There is one more consequence of the Chernobyl disaster, which is rarely mentioned. I think it was Chernobyl that exploded the U.S.S.R. Needless to say, the reasons for the disintegration of such a colossus were bound to be multiple. Some people say with good reason that the founders of Marxism programmed the elements of self-destruction into the Soviet Union's policy and economy. Others justifiably quote the arms race or Afghanistan, which also undermined the Soviet might. Still others blame the then leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus for signing a document in secret from President Gorbachev in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. They believe, not without a reason, that this document finished the U.S.S.R off.
However, I still think that Chernobyl was one of the major factors behind the Soviet collapse. The tragedy was not just about radioactive
contamination. It produced a huge pack of lies, which shocked the Soviet people. The authorities concealed from them the truth for several days. In blissful ignorance, children and adults were walking under the genial spring rain in Kiev and Minsk, eating fruit, fishing, going to Ukrainian and Byelorussian resorts. If they had known the truth, they would have been running away. When rumors finally got through, people panicked. They rushed to railroad stations and drug stores. Only the first semi-truthful official reports outlined the enormous scale of the catastrophe.
Importantly, the liars were the Party reformers whom many people had trusted when they said that the Soviet system could be reformed. After this lie there was nobody to believe. So, when a report on the Soviet Union's demise came from Belovezhskaya Pushcha, nobody tried to resuscitate it. The lie proved to be as deadly as radiation.