Posted: March 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

While in Chicago, I had the somber honor of participating in a memorial service commemorating the victims of the Fukushima-Daichi radiation meltdown in Japan. The Fukushima-Daichi nuclear power plant suffered many meltdowns after it was hit by the horrific tsunami and earthquake which in total killed nearly 20,000 people in northeastern Japan last year. 

            The memorial was hosted by the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), a valuable and dedicated organization who were instrumental in hosting several fundraisers for LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE, our documentary-in-progress about Chornobyl (www.lifeinthedeadzone.com) Image My good friend, and NEIS Director, Dave Kraft was recovering from surgery, but even so, he wrote a spirited and fabulous speech calling for an end to all nuclear power.  Carol Kurz did a great job of reading Dave’s words and emceeing this outdoor event which took place fittingly in front of the Henry Moore statue of the Atomic Atom on the campus of the University of Chicago  (where the first atomic chain reaction occurred).

            Among the speakers were Norma Fields, Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago who presented her own impressions of March 11, 2011, and Yuki Miyamoto, a visiting journalist from Japan whose eyewitness accounts of Fukushima were harrowing and enlightening. There were several similarities of the evacuees’ experiences that were reminiscent of those relocated out of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. For example, Ms. Miyamoto mentioned how the displaced people  returning to their homes in the exclusion zones, are being told by the store owners that wine is a cure-all for radiation, much like vodka was the magic elixir for the Chornobyl returnees.

            I was honored to participate and represent Chornobyl and to honor the victims of Japan. Here is the gist of my speech:

When the nuclear reactor exploded in Chornobyl, Ukraine in 1986, the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima nuclear bombs was released into the atmosphere. 600,000 people were evacuated and over 145,000 people died directly or indirectly. The Soviet government lied to its citizens—they did not immediately evacuate them after it occurred and downplayed its devastation. To this day, the nuclear reactor is not properly contained. To this day, there is radiation leaking into the atmosphere from Chornobyl

When the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear plant was hit by the tsunami and earthquake a year ago, multiple meltdowns of the reactors also resulted, and the Japanese government downplayed the radiation damages, allowing 130,000 residents to stay in the villages nearest the plant. What was not said was how contaminated the air, water and soil were. Now, a year later, the Japanese Science Ministry projected that 22% of the 50 contaminated sites would easily exceed 100 millisieverts, five times higher than the safe level advised by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. On March 3, 2012, Prime Minister Noda of Japan finally acknowledged the government shares the blame in their blind belief that Fukushima was infallible.

These facilities are never infallible especially in crisis situations. Fukushima is a tragic reminder that during natural catastrophes, the unnatural catastrophe of a nuclear meltdown is always a threat…

In Ukraine when we mourn our dead, we say “Vichnaya i pamyat”—“forever in memory.” To the victims of Japan, Ukraine, Illinois and the countless generations who will be faced with similar catastrophes, we humbly say , “Vichnaya i pamyat”—“forever in memory”. We will never forget.

PHOTO: Irene in front of the Henry Moore statue at the U. of Chicago campus during the NEIS Fukshima Memorial Service, Chicago, IL, March 11, 2012. (I. Antonovych photo)

Copyright 2012 Wheat Street Productions, Inc.

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