Chernobyl Liquidators' Health
as a Psycho-Social Trauma
Chernobyl National-Memorial Park:
The bases of the project
1. The concept
Speaking about the Chernobyl Memorial, and the local Chernobyl monuments as means of commemoration of the Disaster and cure of the PTSD evoked by it, one simply can't help noticing that there already is a certain “monument” of this fateful event. It is — the Chernobyl zone itself.
And this place — as a “monument”, as a social, cultural sign — in its present state symbolises the inaccessible, the unknown, the unsafe about the Chernobyl Disaster; it is a certain “black hole” — both at the map and in the (individual and collective) consciousness, neighbouring (as the accident of 26.04.1986 has shown) to everybody's everyday life — an ALIEN and THREATENING Z-O-N-E. And, as such, it acts as an important traumatising psycho-social factor.
Moreover, in its present state, the Chernobyl zone acts as a certain monument of failure. In particular case of the liquidators, it renders the results of their mitigation work virtually invisible, and the work — done in vain. For example: None of the ordinary liquidators can (or, rather, may) visit the zone with family and say: “Look, I worked here at PUSO (decontamination depot)”, “My mates and I built this road”, “Our parking lot (or camp) was here”. Unfortunately, even building of the Sarcophagus — the unprecedented huge work done under unprecedented severe circumstances — which resulted in protection of the environment from the highly radioactive wreck, at the moment, because in the long run it turned to have serious drawbacks, is often presented as a failure.
Within the approach I applied above, it is but natural to question the way in which “the Chernobyl estrangement zone”, or “the Chernobyl exclusion zone”* is used now, and to suggest a different mode of its use, based upon a concept of national park.
At the moment the zone is accessible for a limited number of foreign and native visitors (correspondents, scientists); for foreigners — usually upon payment a substantial amount of money. It is not open for the general public, and, as I have said above, is perceived as a dark and dangerous space, a symbol of not-cured, not-finished tragedy.
However, at the moment the area (except, of course, some limited sites) doesn't seem to represent an actual radiation hazard, especially for a short-term stay (this crucial statement will be dealt with in detail below). The zone's being fenced against the intrusion of people turned to be very favourable for the wildlife and nature of this area, which is rather beautiful, rich and diverse. Radiation “burns”, left upon the natural objects, are special attractions of the zone. Not to mention, of course, impacts of the explosion and its mitigation — the colossal cultural signs left in the zone. Here I mean, say, the Sarcophagus, a huge (square kilometres in size!) concrete-covered territory at the place of the heavily-contaminated and eliminated Red Forest, abandoned villages, traces of the mitigation works, routine objects and practices of its present life (e.g., decontamination depots (PUSOs) and dosimetric posts at the exits from the zone). One of the decommissioned units of the NPP (and the NPP in general) could be turned into a unique object to show. By the way, to let excursions on a regular basis is a normal practice at great many NPPs in the world.
The Chernobyl National Park seems to be a financially promising enterprise (unlike the Chernobyl zone in its present state, consuming funds), and the money earned could be used to mitigate the other Chernobyl consequences, in particular, to help the Chernobyl-affected, including the liquidators.
The Chernobyl National Park would be an important, unique, unprecedentedly powerful education tool. It seems to be an indispensable tool to cure the PTSD of the Chernobyl-affected populations, for it will satisfy one of the basic needs of the affected — that of recognition, which is a necessary precondition for the recovery from the PTSD.
Though the Chernobyl liquidators were the starting point of my thought, it has naturally enveloped other “obvious” categories (the evacuated, inhabitants of the contaminated areas). However, a certain “Chernobyl PTSD”, in social and cultural sense, affects much wider populations. Here I mean not only the populations of countries affected by Chernobyl fallout, but also (whatever surprising it may sound!) — both the people (managers, experts, workers) of nuclear industry and nuclear- and radiation-connected industries and fields of science, and anti-nuclear experts and activists. (Of course, these groups were “struck” by different sides of the Chernobyl phenomenon, but both do bear a certain trauma, and, as far as I can judge from my experience, it is one of the obstacles in their dialogue, in reasonable assessment of nuclear/radiation “costs”-hazards and its benefits.) Perhaps, the general public as such should be viewed as an affected population: as a rule, it is frightened and misinformed about the Chernobyl phenomenon, and sees it as something incomprehensible, terrible, almost mythological.
Opening of the Chernobyl area, transforming it into a site accessible, known and safe enough — into the national park, a cultural heritage, a place of pilgrimage from all over the world — will much advance solution of Chernobyl and related problems, become a major curing psycho-social factor.
2. Radiation safety of the Park
The issue of the radiation safety of the present Chernobyl zone is crucial, basic, paramount one for turning it into the prospective Chernobyl National-Memorial Park. I can state, that this area, perceived as dangerous — surprisingly, now actually represents no radiation hazard for a short-term stay.
I base this conclusion on the maps of the present levels of gamma- and beta-irradiation in the zone, and comments to them (Atlas of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone 1996: 22—25). In the atlas, gamma-irradiation of “the soil surface” at present is considered as the main source of the irradiation dose. Thus, the contribution of beta-irradiation can be neglected (though wearing the respirators seems to be a reasonable (despite obviously excessive) precaution).
The gamma-levels in the zone are depicted as varying:
— from 0,01—0.02 mR/h (the first value is equal to the normal, pre-Chernobyl background one) in its eastern and south-western periphery, with
— less than 0.3 mR/h (in some parts — less than 0.1 mR/h) in the town of Chernobyl, and
— less than 3 and 1 mR/h in the town of Prypyat'
— to above 3 and 10 mR/h at a small area of the NPP and the nearest neighbourhood.
For non-professionals, for the general public, these latter figures of gamma-levels at the town of Prypyat' and the NPP may appear to be frightening. However, several important circumstances should be taken into attention:
(1) The map actually reflects the maximum expected values (it is stated in the comments to the map (ibid., 24)), and the actual ones are likely to be 1,5—2 times less.
(2) The map gives an average, “smoothed” over the local areas, values of gamma-level. Thus, local places can have both higher and lower levels, these latter being more suitable for making the guided tourist routes.
(3) Special vehicles — with leaded or armoured bottom and sides — can be used to carry visitors in the zone. Now “external visitors” usually move in the zone on usual vehicles (cars, buses) which decreases the gamma-irradiation inside 1,5—2 times. An ordinary military armoured personnel carrier decreases gamma-levels 3-fold. (By the way, the suggested special “armobiles”, or “Chermobiles” may turn to be a special attraction of the zone.)
(4) The map doesn't seem to reflect a decrease of gamma-radiation-levels at the communications with intensive movement (first of all roads, other places where the zone workers gather) as a result of decontamination measures. I assume that at such places gamma-levels are closer to the normal background ones than to those ascribed to the respective gamma-radiation sub-zone in bulk.
(5) Besides, the routes in the national park can be technologically easily decontaminated to absolutely safe levels by using conventional means, like putting a layer of concrete upon the soil (by this not only the effect of shielding will be achieved but also “the protection by distance” one: with increase of the distance from the unshielded source (the soil at adjacent areas) the intensity of irradiation decreases proportionally to the square of the distance), and other well-known means.
Probably, most of these measures are excessive, the prospective routes will be safe enough for the short-term stay as they are — but with these measures they will be radiation-safe for sure.
Design by: M.Opalev
Studio ARWIS Kharkov, 2001