April Skies  ·  Rainy Days and Dry Gardens

Nuclear Test Edition

In the spirit of the season, here’s a minor and probably temporary aesthetic adjustment. I’ve also worked out a couple of kinks in IE. Ever since I launched this design I’ve been tweaking, and a lot of that work has been “under the hood” stuff that isn’t apparent to anyone viewing the site. At some point I plan to document some things that have made theme development and updating far easier for me.

Right now, though, I’m going to address a more weighty subject. Being three at the time, I have no conscious memory of the Chernobyl disaster, but I suspect that nonetheless, it has had a profound influence on me.

Parents like mine, conscious of world affairs, must have found bringing up young children in the mid-eighties to be fraught with undercurrents of anxiety. The Red Army was entrenched in Afghanistan, and Reagan’s confrontational foreign policy seemed to be heating up the Cold War.

Into the midst of all this came Chernobyl. It looms in our imaginations, our memories laced with the stark facts of the disaster, and with the significance it has assumed. Tarkovsky’s Stalker seems so prescient now. The 30km exclusion zone around reactor 4 is littered with rusting, radioactive vehicles, abandoned after the clean-up operation. Pripyat, once a model town of 49,000, is inhabited only by ghosts—of the dead and of the living.

Elena’s photos, taken on her trips through the zone, made the rounds of the internet last year, and I think—I hope—a lot of people were quite profoundly affected by them. They give us a glimpse of the end of the world, of the brief decades after humanity abandons its works; when they are still standing, but have already begun to decay.

We accept the existence of deadly enemies whom we cannot see: bacteria; viruses; radiation. The threats they pose have a different psychological tenor to that of a gun, or a starving wolf. The danger that lurks within the zone reaches deep within us: it is the threat of emptiness, of the unknown, of an invisible, incremental death that creeps closer with the clicking of the Geiger counter.

An empty room is a question. Perhaps the zone, like Borges’ Aleph, contains all questions.

4 responses

I love the adjustment. It’s a massive shame that the Chernobyl disaster happened for more reasons than the many deaths. It made one of the world’s cleanest and most abundant energy sources look bad, very bad.

I was fifteen already then, but that doesn’t mean we knew much about what had taken place. I suppose it was just another of the ‘bad things that happened’ in parts of the world where life was different from ours and nothing much came out but the moaning hum of strangeness and threat. The Unknown, indeed.

Not much has changed then, come to think of it.

You are right, though: the eighties seemed a very unhappy decade, covered by a blanket of grit and greyness (although I like this look I have to confess — a radical contrast with the brightly-coloured world of some sites).

Thank you for the photographs link.

People used to refer to areas near radioactive sources as “fields.” It’s much like that in a sense, a region of hazard rather than a specific threat, but anytime I have ever been around sources of radiation I visualize high energy photons slamming through my body, being absorbed by tissue, hopefully avoiding the sensitive nuclei, and darkening a photographic plate behind me (some hospitals use phosphor screens to digitize images with no film.) Or if I’m working with radio-labeled compounds, I think of the tiny bombs with a population of variable length fuses, going off and spraying harmful particles through the air, which yet bury themselves harmlessly in the first peice of dead skin they hit. The object here is not to get the bombs on you, into you, so they can find a nucleus by the time the fuse reaches its end.

This is an excellent memory of Chernobyl. In my opinion, disasters such as Chernobyl, though disturbing and wasteful of human life remind us just how much we are in control of life itself. As a race, we need to consider and take such incidents in a strong first person perspective. Only in doing so can we ever really understand the gravity of hte situation.

P.S. Great blog, do keep it up.

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