[Podcast] As an American teenager during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Doc recalls being cautioned to stay inside whenever it rained due to radioactive rain; camera companies warning people that film images might be peppered with blotches due to radiation; isotopes destroying farm fields; and to brace for an outbreak of cancer. In this livestream, he explains why the coronavirus event is similar to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and also the flaws with calling the pandemic “our generation’s 9/11.”
DIRECT LINK to MP3 of this Episode: https://tinyurl.com/SDP129-AUDIO
MEET TEENAGE DOC
In 1986, Doc lived with his parents and brother in a small town in central Wisconsin. He played baseball, mowed lawns and fished under the bridge. And, a bomb shelter in his home’s basement was a daily reminder that the United States and Soviet Union were on the brink of WWIII. The radio station played Nena’s chart-topper “99 Red Balloons,” a song protesting nuclear war; the movie Rocky IV portrayed Russia as corrupt, evil and powerful – only to fall due to the determination and grit of American boxer Sylvester Stallone. ABC’s 1983 TV movie “The Day After” left an indelible mark on Americans questioning what would happen if the US was pulverized by Soviet ICBMs.
CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR REACTOR DISASTER
On April 26, 1986, there was an explosion in the number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Power Plant in Prypyat (Ukraine) spreading radioactive clouds all over Europe and a large part of the globe.
CHERNOBYL CONTINUED TO DETERIORATE
The accident caused the largest uncontrolled radioactive release into the environment ever recorded for any civilian operation, and large quantities of radioactive substances were released into the air for about 10 days. This caused serious social and economic disruption for large populations in Russia and Europe – and placed the entire northern hemisphere on high alert for months.
THE RESPONSE TO CHERNOBYL – WHAT THE PUBLIC WAS TOLD
The Russian government and state-controlled Russian media were slow to alert the public. Police wore gas masks, but residents only heard rumors. In Prypiat, life briefly went on as usual and seven weddings were held the day following the disaster. The government was uncertain how to stop the radioactive fires. Water would just intensify the blaze. Sand was an option, but it had to be delivered by helicopters – dumped into the damaged reactor – that could take weeks or months – and it might not work. 36 hours after the explosion, the 47,000 inhabitants of the nearby city of Prypiat were evacuated via more than a thousand buses.
PERMANENT TEMPORARY EVACUATION
Residents were told to take few personal belongings and identity papers and that they would return home in several days. They never returned home. Prypiat, and a large swatch of land around Chernobyl, was deemed inhabitable for at least 180 years.
HOW THE CHERNOBYL DISASTER IMPACTED DOC
Nuclear radiation was hard to comprehend and you couldn’t perceive it with your senses (similar to a virus). Fires, floods and tornadoes were tangible – radioactive isotopes were obscure sci-fi, but the tone of the reporters, the behavior of adults, it was obvious that this was a serious situation. Media advised people to avoid the rain because it might cause cancer. Doc’s baseball coach rambled about radioactive particles on the field and how players should “wash up” after practice or a game to chase away radioactive particles. Doc’s mom canned vegetables throughout the summer and fall to offset potential food shortages due to contaminated farm fields and livestock. Ironically, the shelves of the 1960s era bomb shelter were stocked to capacity in the fall of 1986.
WHEN IT BECAME REAL FOR DOC
Radiation became tangible to Doc when his science teacher walked around the campus with a brick-sized Geiger counter that made static-sounding clicks as it detected radioactive particles. It clicked a lot outside.
US MEDIA COVERAGE OF CHERNOBYL
On Sundays, Doc’s household received the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel which was considered the “big city, reliable news source. The story about the Chernobyl explosion described “a deadly could of radiation across large sections of Russia and Europe.” But, the disaster was still portrayed as being remote and not something to worry about in the USA. The local library had an array of newspapers all clamped onto large wooden poles (remember those?). Per the Duluth Minnesota Herald, May 15, 1986: “Airborne radioactivity from the Chernobyl nuclear accident is now so widespread that it is likely to fall to the ground wherever it rains in the United States, the EPA said.” Doc had been to Duluth – it wasn’t that far away!
It was around that time, in mid-May, when local news, teachers and parents began talking more about radiation in America – in Wisconsin. People speculated about the government’s game plan. Would everyone be required to stay indoors? Doc and his peers were aware and invincible.
WHY CORONAVIRUS IS SIMILAR TO CHERNOBYL AND NOT LIKE 9/11
Chernobyl and Coronavirus are rapid onset disasters that remained “in progress” for months. 9/11 – as horrific as it was, concluded on 9/11. Nobody feared another attack on September 13th and two weeks later, the NFL resumed and comedians returned to comedy clubs. Radiation and a virus are invisible. Humans best perceive them through secondary face validity such as watching what authorities are doing and supplies at stores. A flood is tangible. When a flood destroyed homes near Doc’s town in 2008, he went atop the levee and joined a crowd of onlookers watching and snapping photos of decks, shingles and water heaters bobbing down the river. Furthermore, it’s a different psychological construct to battle a fire or flood versus swinging at a ghost. In addition, both events continue to build to a peak – the onset isn’t the peak. And, these events might be corralled, but never eradicated. In fact, present-day wildfires near Chernobyl are releasing large amounts of radiation that was temporarily absorbed by trees.
WHEN THE DISASTER IS PROLONGED – THE BREAKING POINT
In podcast #34 back in 2017, Doc talked about WWII psychiatrist, Dr. Appel, who studied frontline soldiers. He found that infantry soldiers survived a maximum of 238 aggregate combat days (ACD) before a fate of (1) physical casualty, (2) prisoner of war, or (3) psychiatric casualty. For the first time, it was realized that every soldier had a “finite voltage” and sooner or later would break – even if they appeared to have held up magnificently under incredible stress. So we have to ask, what’s the finite voltage for each of us now that we are 30 days into stay-at-home orders and a high velocity of information of changing contexts and situations?
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