Josephine Vallentine is a former senator for Western Australia and an anti-nuclear campaigner.
I distinctly remember the day I heard the news of the accident at Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear reactor complex. I was looking out the window of my tiny office in the old parliament house when the news came via ABC radio. I froze, immediately realising some of the nightmarish implications. But I could only anticipate a fraction of the results of such an accident, and of course, information was sketchy.
Fast forward to 2012, when I met the man who tried to raise the alarm, biologist Professor Alexander Sergeivich. He had immediately seen radiation levels skyrocket on his tracking instruments at the Novozybkhov Pedological College, 180km east of Chernobyl on that fateful day.
From the first hours that radiation escaped, the authorities ignored him but he continued tracking the levels. Eventually, his figures were believed but by then the word had got out via neighbouring countries.
Sergeivich was brave, and determined not to be silenced. His former student, Dr. Olgey Kalmikov took us through the college’s records, including all the radiation statistics, the cancer rates of students over the years, and some horrifying specimens, including deformed foetuses. It was shocking.
But in this most-irradiated-still-inhabited town in Russia, people live their lives as best they can. They are beyond the evacuation zone, but the radiation is still with them and is constantly on the move.
Kalmikov took us around the grounds of the college, with his ever-present Geiger counter, and showed us readings of 400milli sieverts (background is around 20ms). We made sure the young women in our group (who haven’t had babies yet) stayed well away from that area. But this is a daily routine … to check the radiation levels, in order to warn students which areas of the grounds to avoid!
For the rest of this opinion, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/26/30-years-after-chernobyl-australia-still-hasnt-learned-to-leave-uranium-in-the-ground