Commercial media recollections of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe almost always minimize its global impact. A New York Times editorial last Dec. described the April 26 explosions and fires as “a volcano of deadly radioactivity that reached Poland and Scandinavia.” This picture is both factually true and grossly understated — because Chernobyl’s carcinogenic fallout went far beyond northern Europe and all around the world — a fact that is easy to verify.
For example, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) concluded in 2011 that the disaster “Resulted in radioactive material becoming widely dispersed and deposited … throughout the northern hemisphere.” Then, hammering the lesson home like a drill sergeant, UNSCEAR’s report (“Health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident”) repeats the phrase “throughout the northern hemisphere” at least five times on pages 310, 311, 315, 316, and 343. Chernobyl’s hemispheric contamination was well known long before the UNSCEAR review, noted in hundreds of books, journals and scientific papers. The March 30, 2005 Oxford Journals reported, “The releases of radioactive materials were such that contamination of the ground was found to some extent in every country in the Northern Hemisphere.” An Environmental History of the World (2002) by Donald Hughes says, “There were measurable amounts throughout the Northern Hemisphere.”
Yet trivialization is the mainstream media rule, especially after three simultaneous reactor melt-downs at Fukushima-Daiichi have contaminated the whole of the Pacific Ocean. On April 23, Abu Dhabi’s “The National” said about Chernobyl: “Half a million ‘liquidators,’ mostly military reservists from all over the Soviet Union, tried to clean up the affected area.” This is flatly untrue, because no one decontaminated the entire Northern hemisphere. Soviet conscripts worked only the region knows as the “exclusion zone” around Chernobyl reactor No. 4 in Pripyat, Ukraine.
Of course ignoring the fact that reactor disasters have poisoned the whole earth misinforms the public, but why?
One reason is that downplaying the severity of Chernobyl — and Fukushima-Daiichi as well — sugar-coats the threat posed today and every day by operating power reactors beyond their original license limits, or near earthquake faults, volcanic regions, or tsunami zones. The hidden agenda behind the profit-driven media’s deliberate belittling of reactor accidents — and the dangers of radiation — is to protect significant advertising revenue. Big utilities, big pharma, big mining, big universities, and big weapons labs makes billions of dollars from increasing the “background” level of radiation. Official background exposure was 170 millirems per-year for decades; 18 months after Chernobyl it doubled to 360 mR/yr; and it nearly doubled again a few years ago to 620 mR/yr.) “Nuclearists” intend to keep it this way, even if it means buying pricey ads claiming that reactors are safe and small radiation doses are harmless.
In his 2002 book An Environmental History of the World, Donald Hughes notes, “For example, an increase of [radiation in rainwater] recorded on May 12 in Washington State was more than 140 times the background level measured immediately before the Chernobyl cloud reached the USA.” Today, remember to read corporate minimization of Chernobyl’s effects with a radioactive grain of salt.
Read more at “Wherever it rains in the United States”