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Speaker: After the Apocalypse

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  • Russell Brown,

    Thanks so much for permission to republish your work, Clinton.

    I landed in London, at the other end of Europe, two or three weeks after the meltdown. It was on everyone's mind, even far to the west.

    In the years that followed, we drank a lot of "Chernobyl wine" – Hungarian reds that sold for a quid or two a bottle, their market price shaded by the cloud that drifted over Hungary in that strange, dark week. They really weren't a bad drop.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 21721 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Great story, Clinton. IIRC Chernobyl is the setting for a post apocalyptic PC game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It struck me as bad taste at the time, but I guess bad taste is a hallmark of horror oriented post-apocalyptic works.

    Very, very eerie place. Amazing to think that even now there is an entire industry just dedicated to containing the aftermath of this disaster, and it's nowhere near big enough. It's like a giant scientific graveyard.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10278 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    Great story, Clinton. IIRC Chernobyl is the setting for a post apocalyptic PC game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It struck me as bad taste at the time, but I guess bad taste is a hallmark of horror oriented post-apocalyptic works.

    Was it my son who introduced you to that game?

    He developed a strong interest in Chernobyl via the game. The Chernobyl clean-up team medal I found for him at an army surplus store was possibly the most successful birthday present we've ever given him.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 21721 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to BenWilson,

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

    I assume this is a pop-culture resonance with Tarkovsky's haunting film 'Stalker' and its enigmatic 'Zone'....
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x141hfz_stalker-1979-pt-1_creation?GK_FACEBOOK_OG_HTML5=1

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7153 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    was it my son who introduced you to that game?

    He showed it to me at length, yes. Also, my former business partner, who is an avid gamer. It was an interesting concept, although ironically the idea of a post-apocalyptic FPS set in a nuclear plant had been done many times before - Half Life and such greats. But the creepiness of that game was that this meltdown had actually happened and the location was actually real. It's a place in this world, right now. If you go there, you will actually get radiation sickness from too much exposure. It's an idea made for horror. Added to that is all the secrecy surrounding it.

    I hope you checked that medal for radiation!! :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10278 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    I hope you checked that medal for radiation!! :-)

    Oops.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 21721 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Both Stalker the movie and the Stalker video games are loosely based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's "Roadside picnic". (The Strugatskys also wrote the screenplay for the movie).

    I spent far too long playing that game, modding it heavily and playing it again...

    the first stalker was "STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl", the second was STALKER Clear skies, (a prequel of sorts) and the third was STALKER Call of Prypiat.

    Their mechanics got steadily better, and the atmosphere got steadily worse.

    One mod turned off the detectors, so the way you could tell you were about to step into an anomaly was the low frequency bass that made my neck hairs stand on end.

    My wife laughed a lot the first time I encountered some of the bad-guys and nearly fell off my chair jumping sideways...

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 239 posts Report Reply

  • nic.wise,

    Thanks Clinton - and Russell - reminds me (esp the photos) of my trip there in 2012 or so. One of the most interesting and fascinating places I've ever been. I'd love to go back and spend more time there.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 86 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19158 posts Report Reply

  • Fraser Gardyne,

    Great haunting video Sacha. It's amazing to think that thirty years have passed. Very sad.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Whoops, in reply to BenWilson,

    The Metro games (2033, last light) are worth a look too (now a little old, but worth a play)

    here • Since Apr 2007 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Ten months after the Chernobyl explosion my five year old daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. She was in New Zealand and Chernobyl was a long way away but I have often wondered whether it had an influence. They say that every growing thing at the time on the planet has traces of the Hiroshima bomb, and the radiation fallout from Chernobyl drifted around the world. So who knows who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and became susceptible to the effects.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2985 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    have often wondered whether it had an influence

    Over 10,000km, the short answer has to be, no.
    Not that that ever stops parents worrying :-/
    (For comparison: I was 300km from Fukushima in 2011 … fielding calls from my parents in which I had to point out that hopping on a flight back to NZ would expose me to more additional radiation than staying a year in Tokyo.)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1507 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason,

    Compelling reading, Clinton, and bone-chilling. Many thanks.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 241 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to linger,

    Why then do traces of radiation show up in animals and trees around the world? They could age those very old Greenland sharks by radiation traces in their eyes of nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and 60s which weren’t anywhere near Greenland.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2985 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    (unrelatedly, what has happened to your Twitr?) #hacked?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19158 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin McCready,

    I'm guessing Hilary that the answer is in the word "trace". The amounts are small enough to measure by not appreciably larger than background radiation. That said, I was taught in med school that there is no known safe dose of radiation - a bit like alcohol and Chernobyl Reds.

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    I think the issue is more that our exposure to natural background radiation is vastly greater than the additional exposure related to distant nuclear incidents.

    The Ministry of Health monitored the impact of the Fukushima incident and reported last year that:

    Atmospheric dispersion has been largely restricted to the northern hemisphere although small traces were detected at Darwin for several days in April 2011. The only nuclide detected that was attributable to Fukushima Daiichi was Xe-133 at a level that would result in a radiation dose 100 million times smaller than the annual natural background radiation routinely received by members of the public.

    As linger notes, air travel results in exposure to cosmic radiation, more so if you fly over the poles:

    In the US, pilots and flight attendants have been officially classed as “radiation workers” by the Federal Aviation Administration since 1994. Staff regularly working on high-latitude flights are exposed to more radiation than workers in nuclear power plants.

    What's shocking is the measurable increase in radiation caused by atmospheric nuclear testing:

    Frequent above-ground nuclear explosions between the 1940s and 1960s scattered a substantial amount of radioactive contamination. Some of this contamination is local, rendering the immediate surroundings highly radioactive, while some of it is carried longer distances as nuclear fallout; some of this material is dispersed worldwide. The increase in background radiation due to these tests peaked in 1963 at about 0.15 mSv per year worldwide, or about 7% of average background dose from all sources. The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 prohibited above-ground tests, thus by the year 2000 the worldwide dose from these tests has decreased to only 0.005 mSv per year.

    Of course, there is also a scientific view that a little radiation is good for you.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 21721 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Of course, natural background radiation isn't any better for you than artificial, and a substantial number of cancers result from it. (Both where natural radiation is concentrated, in the form of radon, mostly, and just from general exposure).

    The generally accepted theory in health physics is that biological damage is directly proportional to the dose, so if we receive 10% higher radiation than background, this will cause a corresponding increase in radiation injury. Obviously this is rather inconvenient to the nuclear industry.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5400 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    The generally accepted theory in health physics

    I’m not sure it’s generally accepted. From your Wiki link:

    One of the organizations for establishing recommendations on radiation protection guidelines internationally, the UNSCEAR, has recommended in 2014 policies that do not agree with the Linear No-Threshold model at exposure levels below background levels of radiation to the UN General Assembly from the Fifty-Ninth Session of the Committee. Its recommendation states that “the Scientific Committee does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels.” This is a reversal from previous recommendations by the same organization.[2]

    There is three active (2016) challenges to the LNT model currently being considered by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. One was filed by Nuclear Medicine Professor Carol Marcus of UCLA, who calls the LNT model scientific “baloney”. [3]

    Whether the model describes the reality for small-dose exposures is disputed. It opposes two competing schools of thought: the threshold model, which assumes that very small exposures are harmless, and the radiation hormesis model, which claims that radiation at very small doses can be beneficial. Because the current data are inconclusive, scientists disagree on which model should be used. Pending any definitive answer to these questions and the precautionary principle, the model is sometimes used to quantify the cancerous effect of collective doses of low-level radioactive contaminations, even though such practice has been condemned by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.[4]

    So there’s a range of views on the impact of very small exposures, including the view that they’re beneficial.

    is that biological damage is directly proportional to the dose, so if we receive 10% higher radiation than background, this will cause a corresponding increase in radiation injury. Obviously this is rather inconvenient to the nuclear industry.

    And yes, otoh – the dose makes the poison. But the additional radiation experienced here as a result of Fukushima was, at worst, several orders of magnitude less than 10%. And even flying home from Tokyo after Fukushima would imply a higher dose than simply staying put there.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 21721 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    There are a range of views, some of which are informed by the nuclear industry (obviously, if you can take a view that moderate amounts of radiation, such as a contained nuclear accident, are harmless, then there would be much less decontamination/evacuation needed after an accident such as Fukushima, the cost of such an accident would reduce, and hence the insurance costs would drop - except that few, if any, nuclear reactors actually carry any liability insurance).

    There are various confounding factors around the idea that radiation is beneficial. It's been suggested that Japanese atomic bomb survivors outlived people in other cities not exposed to radiation - but this was found problematic - one issue being that survivors would have been the most resiliant part of the population and received better support and medical treatment post-war.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5400 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Why then do traces of radiation show up in animals and trees around the world? They could age those very old Greenland sharks by radiation traces in their eyes

    The atmospheric bomb tests doubled the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, and it gets absorbed by living things from the environment.

    The proportion of carbon-14 in the eye lens is fixed at birth, because the eye lens does not exchange carbon through the protective layer.

    They caught a shark where the proportion of carbon in the eye lens indicated it had been born around 1950. They measured how big the shark was, and thus how old. This gives a baseline for measuring the age of other sharks.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1429 posts Report Reply

  • Bevan,

    Fascinating article, thanks.
    Apologies for the bluntness, but how much would that visit have reduced the author's life expectancy?

    Wellington • Since Sep 2013 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Bevan,

    He’d certainly have received several years’ normal radiation dose (of the order of 10 mSv) within a few days, but the effect on life expectancy probably isn’t as much as you’d think … not least because there are many possible causes of death that are not affected by radiation exposure. (Cheery thought, eh!)
    Normal background exposure from all sources is about 4 mSv/year.
    For adults, the lowest dose directly linked to an increased cancer risk is 100 mSv/year. (Though it’s not just dosage that’s important: the shorter the time period, i.e. the more intense the exposure, the greater the risk.)

    Reference: XKCD’s rather helpful visualisation of radiation doses

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1507 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    Aha! I had a niggling feeling we’d covered models of radiation dose effects before – and yes, it's back in this thread.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1507 posts Report Reply

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