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Chernobyl a Big Nuclear Tragedy: A Warning

Updated on November 17, 2014

From Los Alamos to Chernobyl, nuclear accidents are too frequent and have huge risks

This photo montage shows shots taken from the air over Chernobyl during the meltdown. Two show the red glow of molten nuclear material in a run away meltdown. Radiation around the area was intense.
This photo montage shows shots taken from the air over Chernobyl during the meltdown. Two show the red glow of molten nuclear material in a run away meltdown. Radiation around the area was intense.
If you are near a nuclear plant and see something like this; get out fast and as far away as possible; preferably up wind.
If you are near a nuclear plant and see something like this; get out fast and as far away as possible; preferably up wind.
Three Mile Island was the US brush with a nuclear meltdown.
Three Mile Island was the US brush with a nuclear meltdown.
One of the reactors in Chalk River that stands as a risk today due to antiquated parts and leaks.
One of the reactors in Chalk River that stands as a risk today due to antiquated parts and leaks.
Nuclear war, frightful as it is, is by far, not the only risk that comes from handling radioactive material. There has been more damage done by meltdowns and mishandling of radiological materials than in Hiroshima and Nagaski combined.
Nuclear war, frightful as it is, is by far, not the only risk that comes from handling radioactive material. There has been more damage done by meltdowns and mishandling of radiological materials than in Hiroshima and Nagaski combined.

Chernobyl was just one of many nuclear accidents

The Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union was not the first nuclear accident, nor is it likely to be the last. Chernobyl stands out as one of the worst nuclear accidents that ever occurred. It also stands as one of the worst environmental disasters of our time, rendering a large area of the fertile growing areas of Russia uninhabitable and unusable. Chernobyl ought to be a wake up call about the suitability of using fission of heavy radioactive elements as a source of electrical energy when so many other options exist.

"On 26 April 1986 at 01:23:44 a.m. (UTC+3) reactor number four at the Chernobyl plant, near Pripyat in the Ukrainian SSR, exploded. Further explosions and the resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. Nearly thirty to forty times more fallout was released than had been by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[1]

The plume drifted over extensive parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Northern Europe, and eastern North America. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people. According to official post-Soviet data, [2] about 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus.

The accident did raise concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, slowing its expansion for a number of years, while forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive. The now-independent countries of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been burdened with the continuing and substantial decontamination and health care costs of the Chernobyl accident. It is difficult to accurately tell the number of deaths caused by the events at Chernobyl, as the Soviet-era cover-up made it difficult to track down victims. Lists were incomplete, and Soviet authorities later forbade doctors to cite "radiation" on death certificates.[3]"

In the beginning, the Soviet government kept quite about the disaster. The fact that something was dreadfully wrong was noted in Sweden when a radioactive cloud was detected at one of their own nuclear plant when a radiation monitor detected a radiation leak. Thinking it was their own problem; they checked it out and found it to be coming from an outside source, spreading over their territories. The news flashed around the world and the Soviets were forced to disclose what had occurred.

"The 2005 report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organization (WHO), attributed 56 direct deaths (47 accident workers, and nine children with thyroid cancer), and estimated that there may be 4,000 extra cancer cases among the approximately 600,000 most highly exposed and 5,000 among the 6 million living nearby.[4] Although the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and certain limited areas will remain off limits, the majority of affected areas are now considered safe for settlement and economic activity.[5]"

Many people refused to be relocated, preferring to remain in the area where they had farms and had grown up. Most were relocated with the result that several towns and cities became ghost towns virtually overnight. They remained that way for over a decade. Meanwhile, the Soviets had a major problem with a, molten mass of radioactive elements burning its way into the ground and continuing to spew out radioactive dust.

Internal corruption concerning the suitability of the steam turbine back in 1983 helped to contribute to the accident. Payoffs and quick scheduling ensured that a faulty turbine was installed that was to have dire consequences down the road.

The whole thing began when an experiment was scheduled to test a new electrical monitoring system. An unexpected power failure elsewhere forced the abandonment of the experiment now underway. By the time the graveyard shift arrived, there was considerable confusion. Conflicting instruction created a situation where a run away reaction occurred. The safety control rods had been partly removed from the reactor allowing for an uncontrolled chain reaction in that part of the reactor without the control rods. The automatic control system that normally would have shut down the reactor had itself been shut down.

At 1:23:04 am. when the experiment began, the unstable condition was unknown to the reactor operators. The steam to the turbines was shut off. Lack of steam meant that cool water was not pumped through the reactor. Stagnant water began to boil and steam voids were created. As the rods were not fully removed, the heat did not reach the cooling water. There was a resulting massive steam build-up and neutron generation increased. With the manual and automatic neutron absorbing control rods removed, nothing prevented a runaway reaction.

"With reactor output rapidly increasing, the operators pressed the AZ-5 ("Rapid Emergency Shutdown 5") panic button at 1:23:40 (36 seconds into the experiment), that ordered a "SCRAM"; a shutdown of the reactor, fully inserting all control rods, including the manual control rods that had been incautiously withdrawn earlier. It is unclear whether it was done as an emergency measure, or simply as a routine method of shutting down the reactor upon the completion of an experiment. The reactor was scheduled to be shut down for routine maintenance. It is usually suggested that the SCRAM was ordered as a response to the unexpected rapid power increase.[6]

The control rod insertion mechanism operated at relatively slow speed (0.4 metres per second) taking 18 to 20 seconds to travel the full seven meter core-length. A worse problem was a flawed graphite tip control rod design, which initially reduces the amount of coolant present. In this way, the SCRAM actually increased the reaction rate. At this point a massive energy spike occurred, the core overheated and some of the fuel rods fractured, blocking the control rod columns. The control rods became stuck after being inserted only one-third of the way. At this point nothing could be done to stop the disaster. Within three seconds the reactor output rose above 530 MW. By 1:23:47 (seven seconds after the AZ-5 panic button was pressed) the reactor jumped to around 30 GW thermal, ten times the normal operational output. The rapid increase in steam pressure destroyed fuel channels and ruptured the large diameter cooling water pipes. Fuel rods began to melt and reached the cooling water in the flooded basement. At 1:24, only 20 seconds after the panic button had been pressed, the first powerful steam explosion took place. (7)"

From here, the situation rapidly deteriorated. The 2,000 ton lid was blown off the reactor. Water on the floor in contact with molten reactor material caused the water to be reduced to oxygen and hydrogen, resulting in a second explosion when the massive build up of hydrogen ignited. Burning lumps of molten reactor material and sparks shot above the reactor into the air. The control rods had also blown out allowing the atmosphere to come in contact with the naked melting core remains. A graphite fire started, which added to the problem by injecting radioactive dust into the air from its combustion. The remains of the reactor roof, covered with bitumen, also caught fire and added to the problem.

"The radiation levels in the worst-hit areas of the reactor building have been estimated to be 5.6 roentgen per second, which is equivalent to 20,000 roentgen per hour. A lethal dose is around 500 roentgen over 5 hours, so in some areas, unprotected workers received fatal doses within several minutes. However, a dosimeter capable of measuring up to 1,000 R/s was inaccessible due to the explosion, and another one failed when turned on. All remaining dosimeters had limits of 0.001 R/s and therefore read "off scale". Thus, the reactor crew could ascertain only that the radiation levels were somewhere above 0.001 R/s (3.6 R/h), while the true levels were 5,600 times higher in some areas.[9]"

Despite evidence strewn about the outside of the reactor, some thought that the reactor was still intact due to low readings on the meters. An attempt was made to flood the new melting core with water by the staff. Most of them died of radiation exposure in weeks. So too did the firemen who showed up later in the morning and made a similar attempt to cool the melt down. The firemen were told it was an electrical fire, which exposed them to lethal doses of intense ionizing radiation. The fire inside Reactor No. 4 continued to burn until 10 May 1986. It is possible that well over half of the graphite burned out. The fire was extinguished by a combined effort of helicopters dropping over 5,000 tonnes of materials like sand, lead, clay and boron onto the burning reactor and injection of liquid nitrogen. Ukrainian filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko captured film footage of a MI-8 helicopter as it lost its bearings while dropping its load and got its rotors tangled in the gibbets of a nearby construction crane, causing the wrecked copter to fall into the damaged reactor building and killing its two-man crew almost instantly.

The explosion and fire threw particles of the nuclear fuel and also far more dangerous radioactive elements like caesium 137, iodine 131, strontium 90 and other radio nuclides into the air: the residents of the surrounding area observed the radioactive cloud on the night of the explosion. This cloud drifted on the prevailing winds and was detected in Sweden.

The molten remains that had burrowed into the ground were "contained" by burying them in a thick concrete sarcophagus. The elements under there will remain radioactive for a very long time. People working on the burying could only work for 40 seconds before receiving the maximum allowable damage from radiation. It took a huge crew to bury the melt down remains.

The radiation including an exotic mix of radioactive isotopes was spread into the surrounding city, forests, farms, soil and watershed. 20 years after the accident, many of these areas are still highly radioactive. Though some people remained behind, they were told not to eat their own produce. They did anyway. Many children developed radiation related illnesses such as leukaemia.

The Chernobyl disaster serves to remind us of the dangers of nuclear power plants. There has been a nuclear accident almost annually from the days of the first experiments at White Sands and Chalk River in 1945 and 1952 respectively.


Medvedev, Grigori (1989). The Truth About Chernobyl. VAAP. First American edition published by Basic Books in 1991. ISBN 2-226-04031-5.

1. "Inside Chernobyl" National Geographic, April 2006

2. "Geographical location and extent of radioactive contamination". Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. (quoting the "Committee on the Problems of the Consequences of the Catastrophe at the Chernobyl NPP: 15 Years after Chernobyl Disaster", Minsk, 2001, p. 5/6 ff., and the "Chernobyl Interinform Agency, Kiev und", and "Chernobyl Committee: MailTable of official data on the reactor accident")

3. "Folks near Chernobyl still cloudy about health". Retrieved on 2007-11-23.

4. "IAEA Report". In Focus: Chernobyl.

5. The Chernobyl Forum: 2003-2005. Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental, and Socio-Economic Impacts and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and UkraineHYPERLINK ""PDF. IAEA. 2nd revised version. pg. 6

6. There is some controversy in this respect. Dyatlov writes in his book: "Prior to 01:23:40, systems of centralized control … didn't register any parameter changes that could justify the SCRAM. Commission … gathered and analyzed large amount of materials and, as stated in its report, failed to determine the reason why the SCRAM was ordered. There was no need to look for the reason. The reactor was simply being shut down upon the completion of the experiment." [(Russian) Anatoly Dyatlov, Chernobyl. How did it happen? Chapter 4.]

7. Medvedev Z. (1990):31

8. (Russian) Фатахов Алексей Чернобыль как это было - 2]

9. Medvedev Z. (1990):42-50

Chernobyl as shown in vidoe

Illustrated video of the metldown


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    • syzygyastro profile imageAUTHOR

      William J. Prest 

      10 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      You all have justifiable grave concerns for nuclear energy. Consider the fact that nuclear power was deployed as a weapon of mass destruction before it was used for so called peaceful purposes. Ever since the advent of the "peaceful atom" there has been nothing but trouble. Germany is now going to end the use of nuclear power by 2022. Other countries are now following the same path. The US however, has not and they are the ones who holistically used it as a weapon.

      Now that several reactors are either in meltdown or soon to be, we are seeing sharks dying en-masse from radiological poisoning. This is probably true in other massive fish die offs in the Pacific. If we think we are somehow immune from this, we are guilty of mass self deception. The fall of this year will reveal the folly of our ways as the consequences of our actions direct us down the road to chaos.Many countries, particularly in the Middle East, Europe and Africa are already there. Can we turn this mess around?

      Unfortunately, we are already post tipping point and it is going to take super human effort to correct the mess. As we live in a world of profiteering, where wealth is more important than anything else, it is remote and extremely unlikely.

      You have every right to be extremely concerned and I am concerned with you. One of the worst things about nuclear power is the use of spent uranium in the battlefield in the Middle East and elsewhere that is causing no end of problems and misery.

    • profile image

      shaukat awan 

      10 years ago



      A part of Gabriel's poetical work in Urdu has been published, by the Name of Naara-e-Gabriel that means the Dire yell of Gabriel. And the dire yell indeed it is. It is a sonorous thunder, it is a warning trumpet. It is an advice. It is a message that touches the heart and smites the inner conscience. It is a war cry against the dire consequences of the immoral, ungodly, materialistic and devastating culture of this present world. It is an exhortation to the Islamic Ummah to stand up to the occasion, and save this world and themselves from the consequent hazards by affecting a reform. It is a prayer for a religious, peaceful and prosperous future of mankind.

      The work from the beginning to the end is well rendered, sublime, and effective. Form, number, weight, measure, rhyme, rhythm is perfect and evinces a masterly touch. The verse moves with ease and elegance. The diction throughout is sonorous and exhibits utmost purity and simplicity. The sincerity of the purpose is the conspicuous characteristics. It is the voice of a sincere heart. Therein is power as well as pathos. Seldom in any poetical work exhortation with such brevity and vehemence and simplicity could be seen. Indeed the work is a wonderful and splendid proof of poetical genius and considered in itself it may be classed among the noblest productions of human mind.

      When I read the work, two thoughts never left me. First was how a man without prior training and exercise could compose so technically perfect poetry. Second thought was about the perplexing resemblance this work bore to the work of great Iqbal, both as regards basic thought and style of expression. This identity between the work of Iqbal and Gabriel was given out by Dr. Javed Iqbal, the son of Allama Iqbal in his review that is included in this work of Gabriel, as the echo of Iqbal and identical in thought. The fact that Iqbal is a poet immutable while his standard and status is unapproachable. And also that no attempt at parody has ever approached even to an appreciable point of resemblance, not to speak of perfect identity with the original due to the different intellectual levels of the original and the imitator. Here was a cast in which all the previous assumptions were shattered. I, therefore, decided to meet Allama Yousuf Gabriel for information. Following is the gist of what Gabriel said:-

      “Allamah Iqbal died in 1938. It was a coincidence that on the day the Allamah sahib died in Lahore, I was in Sialkot, Allamah Sahib's birth place. At that time I was totally ignorant of my future destiny. In 1942 in my 25th year I was assigned my mission in Mussayyib in Iraq, a mission in succession to that of Iqbal. It was to save God's creation from the two-fold devastation of atomic hell. By two--fold is meant the atomic devastation in this present transient world as well as in the next eternal world. In 1945 the appearance of atomic bomb afforded a proof and ushered in a new era. My address was in English and to the entire human community. And address originating from the Quran, corroborated by science. Obviously the Islamic Ummah would be expected to play a prominent part in such a movement as their religious duty. But unfortunately the Islamic ummah was not in a position to play any part therein. The anxiety of Allamah Iqbal for Islamic Ummah is not unknown. My mind too, despite my obscurity might have been in a state of distress about their plight, yet I was miserable and insignificance, in the commonwealth of nations, pre-occupied with my work that was entailed by my mission. My poetical work therefore has to be viewed in that light as a warning trumpet to awaken the Islamic Ummah to their duty in the atheistic and atomic calamity of the world.

      It was one winter night in 1962, my 45th year that I was laboring to get some sleep after the day long routine academic mental torture. But the sleep would not come. I lay in my bed in a supine posture, face up, and wide aware, that I perceived a human figures, like a picture a few feet high and a little to the right over my head. That was a mental vision. I did not turn my head to see with my eyes. He was man of brilliant yellow colour and had the features of a Kashmiri. Suddenly I felt a stir in my mind and lines of Urdu poetry began to appear therein. These were six in number on the pattern of Iqbal's famous poem "Shikwa". Then there was profuse perspiration and I was lost in Sleep. Next morning I noted down the lines. The first line read:-

      ‘The spirit of Iqbal I am,

      Have come in the guise of Gabriel.

      Thereafter, while lying in bed after the day long routine study, or when walking or travelling in the bus I composed poetry to the year 1969, till about 2000 verses were accumulated. A curious circumstance is worth mentioning. Namely, that whenever I was engaged in composing poetry, I often sensed the presence of Allamah Iqbal a few feet behind me, dressed in white Muslim apparel, and floating in air a few inches above the ground, and waving his hands before him continually right hand and left hand as if weaving the cloth and tossing the invisible shuttle to left and to right and continually went into the motion with his hands like a weaver tossing the shuttle left and right while weaving the cloth. His presence meant a peculiar kind of awe to me. I have since my knowledge of always felt an inmate affinity existing between his mind and mine. He was a peerless master in his field and was a great and good master. And although I might have had poetical genius, yet the credit of my poetical work justly goes to him. Another circumstance which deserved mention is that Allamah Iqbal's verse

      “I will keep it, to be sung. In my throat is a Gabriel-stirring song, which I will studiously keep for the la-makan (that is where I go after death)".

      This particular verse was not present in my mind when I began the poetical work, nor even occurred to me during the entire course of writing my poetry. It is now, that its portentous significance dawned upon me. Strange are the works of Scheming providence. Hali's dirge; Iqbal's protest (Shikwa) Complaint; Gabriel's Naara (Yell). If you please you can say Gabriel stirred by the song of Iqbal blew a trumpet to awaken the dead out of his grave.

      Abdul Ghaffar AAmir,

      Daily Pakistan Observer,


    • syzygyastro profile imageAUTHOR

      William J. Prest 

      10 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      There are a few new developments. First there is a link to geothermal energy. Second, Germany has announced that it is no longer going to pursue atomic energy, nor develop that form of energy and to dismantle what they have. The rest of the world should follow suit. Yes, much of what people do is making a hell of the world by their actions, mostly driven by greed.

      Radiological isotopes exist in nature, always have and always will, but they are usually well dispersed and thus safe. Life has adapted to these mild conditions, but not to a meltdown of super heated plutonium and uranium that is now running like treacle to the sea to pollute the oceans. Last year, in our greed, we ruined that Atlantic and this year it is the Pacific Ocean that is going to ruination.

      We can take limited measures to protect ourselves nutritionally as long as the radiation is not excessive and overwhelming like it is now near the nuclear meltdown in Japan. The only option there is to move well away and post a ban on the region for the extent of the existence of the planet.

    • profile image

      yousuf gabriel 

      10 years ago




      And now lest you say you were not told. You are today a race flushed and blinded by the greed of wealth. And you, this present generation, no doubt have a chance to pass away enjoying the fruits of atomic energy and leaving the grievous debt to future generations, unless you are caught in atomic war. Yet mind that you stand on the very brink of the atomic pit. And there are but two alternatives to you. Either you will perish through the atomic bombs, or you will perish under the atomic radiations in a slow, decaying manner, to die a painful, lingering death. Yet know that this will come in right justice and none of the heavens will cry over your ruin. If this, however, were the matter of perishing in this world only, it was not much. The painful fact is that they, who will go down in the atomic pit of this world deservedly, will find in the next eternal world the eternal atomic hell ablaze to welcome them.

      Remember that this modern, science-guided, machine-ridden, continuos, systematic, ever-increasing progress has to expand endlessly. It is based on the Baconian philosophy of man’s dominion over nature for material benefit as the real business of man, and demands full, continuous engrossment in the pursuit of wealth. It will keep on increasing and expanding till the resources of earth are consumed and this mankind entangled in the economic-industrial set up will be obliged to swallow even any poisonous energy, just as it is obliged at present to swallow the poisonous atomic energy, with dire consequences yet unmindful due to the acute necessity.

      Let this flushed, misguided, mistaken and blinded mankind at present knows that is not energy. It is merely poisoned. The atomic bomb is not the weapon of defence. It is a means of complete annihilation of life on earth. And yet the entire mankind may be seen carrying on their heads the loss of fuel for the atomic Pyre, which is their own. The plain truth, that there is no protection against radiation possible for those Millions residing in the neighborhood of reactors which have every likelihood of leaking and at that times exploding to inundate the neighboring districts with deadly radiation and ruinous consequences to those involved will not be understood by men. What else then is the blindness if this is not? No sure cure for radiation sickness has not been discovered, nor any in sight. The adoption of atomic energy before gaining full control of it radiation is clearly an act most unscientific. Yet the experiment of atomic energy is being conducted on the principle of research cum utility involving the entire list of species in it and employing them as the guinea pigs. Yet the entire world is blind to this fact despite their knowledge of the insidious nature of such an experiment and the dreadful consequence thereof. Only if the question of death or sickness was there, it could have been said, well rid, but grievous is even the though of the Radio-genetic effects. The mutated genes move secretly from generation to generation till at last they manifest their existence in the form of abnormal births. This abnormality being inheritable multiplies through marriage till considerable proportions of populations may be changed into the herds of cancer-ridden, miserable chimeras to perish after a spell of miserable existence on earth. The same could be said of animals and plants. Indeed this world has given blind to all this for the influence of the doom is grievous. The vengeance of Nemesis is indeed terrible. The scientist will tell you that neither there is any means of detecting the mutated genes, or destroying them, nor there could be done anything after the mutated genes have commenced to manifest themselves in abnormal births. And everyone in the world will with pride tell you that to atomic energy was a type of Energy. That the atomic bomb was a good means of deterrence.

      It may sound false to you, or it may appear as a paradox, yet it neither is false, nor ever it is a paradox, but it is a hard and fast reality, that this present generation of mankind is most ignorant, since it is most ignorant of the subject that of nuclear science on which the entire life and the whole future of this world is staked. It might, however, come as surprise to many, rather a discovery, that leaving aside the ignorant masses of the world as ignorant; even the non-scientist intelligentia of the world is ignorant of even of the alphabet of the subject of nuclear science. Not even this, but rather, the scientist community itself has to be divided into numerous categories regarding this matter. Few scientists are there, indeed very few who know all that knowledge of the subject of nuclear science which to this day is available. The knowledge, however, which is available on the subject is enough to establish the fact that the experiment of atomic energy ought to be conducted in the laboratory, and the recommendation of the adoption of the atomic energy made only after full Control of the subject has been gained and Full protection to the masses is provided against the radiations of the exploding reactors etc. and that the experiment of atomic energy on the principle of research cum utility must never be conducted. But the pity is that this world is in haste and is hastily adopting the atomic energy for peace, and thinking that by labeling this energy with peace its injurious nature will by itself be transformed.

      This world today is in complete anarchy, politically, economically, socially, philosophically. But the atomic anarchy is among these the most hazardous. There are nations on this very earth that have mountainous stockpiles of atomic weapons, and yet they would try to check other nations from doing the same fearing the dangers of proliferation. Just think yourself the attitude of the peoples of this age. The thing simply could not be explained it rather causes exasperation in the nations so checked and further stimulates them to the action of having atomic weapons as their right of defence and remember, that all these no-atomic-war-treaties, and all these attempts on the curtailments of armaments are of no avail. Nor will the stockpiles forever remain deterrent. The actual method of averting the atomic danger from this mankind is to remove the causes of the appearance of the atomic energy and the atomic bombs. These causes are the slander, the wealth accumulation, and the solicitude in the durability of the material works of the world to a degree as if one had to live in this world forever. Yet if you are so blinded by the influence of these causes, and overwhelming is the influence of the grievous doom, then know that if you perish in the atomic hell, the hell which you have with your own hands prepared. It will be in right justice .The causes above stated is no minor guilt. Nor is more production the remedy of the ills of the atomic age. It is I the miserable that have found it as my duty to cry, to yell, to shout, to wail, as long as I live and perhaps after that. This duty of mine may come as wonder to you. Wonder it is to me also. Only augmented with pain and misery.

      Allama Muhammad Yousuf Gabriel

      Adara Afqar e Gabriel QA St. Nawababad Wah Cantt Distt Rawalpindi Pakistan


    • syzygyastro profile imageAUTHOR

      William J. Prest 

      10 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Keep your eyes open for a hub on geothermal energy.

    • lobonorth profile image


      10 years ago

      I've just finished writing about the effect of the tsunami on Japan's nuclear power stations and found your article as a very useful link. I suspect we're again developing way to cavalier an attitude to nuclear power and need article's like yours to remind us of the dangers. We seem to forget even our own living memories let alone the lessons of history.



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