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Brown Unpacks the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster

The Chernobyl disaster triggered far-reaching social, political, and economic ramifications that shaped today’s world, according to Kate Brown, a professor of science, technology, and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Today, data scientists struggle with the planetary scope of climate change and the scaling up of the catastrophe from the human paradigm, ” Brown said. “So this has led me to continue to search for reasons other than texts and to understand that [the Chernobyl disaster] was a social, political, and economic event”

Brown visited Boston College on Wednesday to speak about her new book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. The Chernobyl disaster was the accidental explosion of a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, which released radiation into the surrounding areas and atmosphere.

According to Brown, the United Nations and the major world governments did not take the necessary steps to successfully avert the crisis and to ensure that all the harm it caused was adequately studied.

She said the United Nations neglected the incident to prevent the world from realizing the possible impacts of nuclear power—whether in the form of weapons or energy. 

“UN official delegates vetoed a resolution in the form of $1 million in today’s money for both resettlements and to carry out a long-term health study,” Brown said. “So I just want you to know that there has been no long-term health study of medical expertise.”

Brown also shared stories about the various ways in which livestock in present-day Ukraine were impacted by the long-term effects of the Chernobyl disaster.

“Animals living near the grounds were dead,” she said. “About 200,000 livestock were unwell, and birds had also passed away. The radiation led to the mass slaughter in the region.”

The effects were similarly detrimental to humans, she said.

“The girl has very dark blue lips,” Brown said, referencing a photo in her presentation. “Her lips are blue because she picks up the berries from the area and collects them in baskets. But she is also like the soldiers because of the radiation exposure. She’s living in a toxic residue from the disaster.” 

Brown said the impact of the radiation still poses a threat to anyone who visits the area today.

“Russian soldiers were sent to Chernobyl in the most radioactive part, the Chernobyl red forest that harvested radiation,” She said. “They dug trenches, and they made their homes there for a full month. This is a place where the daily dose[of radiation] surpasses the annual threshold of radiation.”

The current consequences can still be felt around the world, proving that nuclear power should not be pursued further, according to Brown. One example of this is the effect radiation has on Ukraine’s exports to the European Union and North America, she said.

“[A] Homeland Security report says that there was a radioactive mass in the blueberries being sent into the U.S.,” she said.

October 27, 2023