Not my average post……
Here are a few dates for you, and the question is : what happened that day and of course what were you doing that day ?
November 22nd 1963.
July 20th 1969
April 26th 1986.
November 9th 1989
The first and second dates are ones that many of my generation should remember , being respectively the day that president John F Kennedy was assassinated and the second being the date of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The third and forth dates might make you scratch your head and reach for the Google button…..
Now, i can’t tell you exactly what i was doing on the early morning of April 26th 1986, i can tell you that i was some 18 months into my life as a junior staff nurse in an intensive care unit so i might have been on shift, might have been asleep after a night shift or i could have been on a day off……whatever and however i can tell you that a few days later radiation fallout was detected over the Cumbrian hills just a few miles north of where i lived and worked.
Sounds familiar yet ?…..well if not then it was during the night shift at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in the now Ukraine that a safety test on the new number 4 reactor went badly wrong and at 0120 and 40 seconds one of the control crew tried to ‘SCRAM’ the reactor : essentially the emergency stop switch…..except that the reactor didn’t shut down : instead it exploded ejecting highly radioactive isotopes into the air and the core then started melting down through the remaining structure.
I have to admit that a few years later , i think it was then, that i honestly believed that the accident at Chernobyl had been used as a convenient cover-up by the then Thatcher government to conceal a leak at either the Heysham reactor or the Sellafield nuclear fuel re-processing plant just up the coast from where i lived. It was most likely true that nuclear fuel and waste was being transported by rail through the town where i lived but that’s a side issue. At the time i thought i knew a reasonable amount about UK weather and the Cumbrian fells were directly downwind of any accident or leak from Seascale/Sellafield. Today i think it is more likely that the fallout over the Cumbrian fells was from the Chernobyl accident .
You might be wondering why i’m including this in a blog about boats and sailing…..and no i’m not converting WABI”’ to nuclear power…..Al would be impressed but, and the order ‘stick the kettle on would have a whole new meaning but no…..wind will do just fine thanks !
Well, it’s because iv’e been working physically flat out for several weeks, first on and underneath the boat, scraping, sanding and painting and then at home trying to rescue the gardens from a year’s inattention. Ok, so sniffing too many paint fumes might be one explanation but the real reason is that iv’e been kicking back in the evening, not doing much blogging or writing but i have been watching the excellent HBO mini-series about the Chernobyl accident and let me just say how damn good it is !
While iv’e been doing the current boat refit my writing output has suffered because i have really had to be at the yard early in the morning to get paint on before the idiot crew arrive…and that’s when i would normally write new material. I do some editing and re-writes in the evening but i haven’t been turning out the new material even though iv’e been thinking about it while laying under the boat with a grinder and covered in ‘fallout’.
At home we don’t have TV, haven’t had one for over 15 years now and don’t miss it in the slightest bit : once in a while we get threatening letters from the private company warning us about the consequences of not having a licence and we in turn tell them politely to just fuck off !. I do use the internet for entertainment though and i think iv’e followed most of the best bits of GOT that way for the last few years…..anyway, about 2 weeks ago what kept coming up on my youtube recommendations list were ‘Chernobyl’ teasers, trailers and clips. A few nights ago i realised that i was compulsively watching so many of them that i bought the first series and i’m treating myself to one episode every night.
At this stage, 4 episodes in, i can say that it’s the best recreation docu/drama that i have ever seen : very moving, very gripping and really quite shocking in parts, iv’e just seen episode 3 which shows the horrific state of some of the early victims of acute radiation syndrome….like severe burns but with organ failure and sepsis thrown in. If there’s a link with my own life it was those scenes of extreme suffering that reminded me of dealing with things like that in the intensive care unit as a young staff nurse : not exactly light entertainment for the faint-hearted.
There isn’t much humour here, nor should there be although i do like the attitude of the cantankerous Ukrainian miners, just about the only characters in the film who aren’t afraid of their bosses and not watching their speech or their backs for being denounced. For this ex nurse there is some bleak humour in the actions of the nuclear plant director and his side-kick : both of them doing as slope-y shoulders as quickly as possible to try and make sure that neither of them can be held responsible for the accident….kind of reminded me of management level in the NHS when something goes wrong and their usual action which is to find someone else to blame !. Everyone except the miners seems afraid of the state, right up to the head of the KGB, who is bleakly, coldly sinister : i can’t help but think that a state should be afraid of the people….not the other way round.
The blog post title by the way, isn’t taken from the bible or something like a Milton poem, i had to go and check because it sounded so familiar….rather it’s the title of episode 3 during which the open core core of the reactor is being ‘buried’ under a blanket of sand and Boron to quench the radiation, where the first casualties are being buried in welded metal caskets covered in cast concrete and where Russian/Ukrainian miners are tunneling literally naked and by hand under the reactor building to try to prevent the core from melting through into the groundwater.
That’s jumping forward 3 episodes though, i don’t intend to write a synopsis of each episode although i would like to put across a few of the things that the film-maker does really well : there are so many separate threads which are great that it’s almost hard to pick out one…..the first one that comes to mind is a scene inside an ordinary apartment in one of the accommodation blocks in the nearby city of Pripyat, now abandoned of course which is where most of the site workers live.
In that scene a young woman is having a dose of pregnancy sickness, we hear sounds of retching from the bathroom….then as she walks past the apartment’s living room window we see a bright flash in the distance like a candle suddenly being ignited….then a few seconds later comes the sharp ‘boom’ of one of the explosions at the plant : there were 2 at first and nearly a third !. One of the many things i didn’t know until watching the series is that there could have been a devastating 3rd explosion which could theoretically have destroyed the other reactors and made most of Europe uninhabitable for centuries to come.
The characters in that scene are the young woman who is pregnant and her husband, asleep until the explosion, who is a sergeant in the local fire crew and one of the first on scene to deal with the initial fire. We know, but they don’t, that this isn’t a simple fire as reported by the site director but a full on explosion and the core of the reactor is open to the air. What happens to the fire crew is almost immediately apparent when one of the crew picks up a chunk of hot and intensely radioactive graphite from the core and is soon in agony from the pain.
The film then works across many levels : the build up to the explosion in the control room, the response and fate of some of the early characters and the total incomprehension and denial of characters like the plant director who looks like and comes across as a rather seedy , low league English football manager, right down to the cheap suit and dodgy haircut.
As i have said already the film making is very good and it’s good across many levels from the characters, the ‘flatness’ and drabness of the Soviet era and even the response of the politburo itself : i’d completely forgotten that this was the era of Mikhail Gorbachev, ‘Biopreperat‘ and a still very active KGB.
Part 2….not the second episode of the Chernobyl series but a bit of a meditation on ‘secrets and lies’ from the series, and Dr Jordan Peterson’s rule no 8 from his book ‘12 Rules for Life’. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Peterson’s book ‘Rule no 8’ goes as follows : “Tell the truth-or, at least don’t lie. Regular readers will know that i dished out a fair amount of criticism to Saint Greta : current poster child of the green-ism and i based that little essay on 2 of the other ‘rules for life’ from Dr Peterson’s book…..this is along similar lines but the idea of ‘truth’ here is harder to pin down.
While it is true that the accident at Chernobyl was caused ultimately by just one man and perhaps the inexperience of the crew that night, that is a convenient, ‘expedient‘ but insufficient explanation and the real reason for the accident was something that the operators didn’t and couldn’t know……because the Soviet state in the form of the KGB had declared it a state secret. To understand what that secret is you’ll just have to watch the final episode.
It’s a bit of a spoiler about the series that the ‘other’ events surrounding the accident include the political machinations at local party level right up to the politburo and the show ‘trial’ of the so-called culprits….it having been officially determined that the accident was purely due to operator error. In one of the final scenes the senior nuclear physicist is explaining to the court how the impossible could have happened : that is how such a reactor could have exploded. To do so, that scientist : Valery Legasov basically made himself a ‘non person’ of the Soviet state because he had the temerity to tell the truth and the truth was a step too far for the state.
Just before he committed suicide, exactly 2 years after the explosion the senior scientist ,Valery Legasov recorded some of his final thoughts* : “The real danger is that if we hear enough lies then we no longer recognise the truth”
In my previous essay i said that my generation grew up under the direct threat of nuclear annhilation from the Soviet Union and i would say today that the Soviet Union and it’s ideology casts a long shadow on the world today, a shadow of lies….JBP might describe it as an almost medusa like way : cut one head off and another dozen appear.
Today i think we should be deeply worried about the lies that our society seems to be telling itself : not all of it but certainly many of it’s so called elite, it’s leaders, mainstream media and academics. The Soviet state, ultimately responsible for events such as the Holodomor and a death toll of greater than 60 millions or higher started with an ideology and according to it’s last general secratary ended with the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl….today that same ideology seems to be hip, cool and acceptable again : idiots in this country, Europe and the USA gaily waving the hammer and sickle banner and far left anarchy symbols. Those same people seem to detest the truth, preferring a twisted ideology over fact, political correctness over honest speech…..and want to shut down, de-platform, demonetise and ban from social media anyone who doesn’t toe the line and parrot the party line.
So, aside from geeking out on the science of nuclear reactors ” now i know how a reactor works….i don’t need you” iv’e been thinking a lot about secrets, lies and truth. If i remember this correctly from Peterson’s first London lecture for which i had a front row seat….JBP said something along the lines of truth being difficult because we can’t always judge what the truth is…..but we can sniff out lies really easily : our own and those of others.
It seems to me that anything that stems from an ideology, be that nazi-ism, communism/marxism, feminism, social justice-ism etc and etc….all come with implicit lies already pre-loaded. I can’t function at JBP’s kind of level but i agree when he says that many things can be studied at multiple levels….for this simple sailor, today my ‘lie’ detector : i call it my BS detector, seems to running off the scale just as the dosimeters did at Chernobyl.
Valery Legasov . 01 09 1936- 27 04 1998
“The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants, it doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions…..it will lie in wait for all time
And this at last is the gift of Chernobyl…..where i once would fear the cost of truth i only ask : what is the cost of lies ?”
*One of the few anomalies in the film is that Legasov wrote, rather than recorded his dying testimony.