I viewed the recent TV series Chernobyl and found it an excellent docu- drama. Yes, of course, the programme was a dramatised version of true events, but successfully brought home the reality of the disastrous consequences for humanity and our planet when nuclear energy technology goes wrong.
The series showed the bravery, heroism, sacrifice of the doomed reactor liquidators and the incompetence, arrogance and intransigence of the plant leadership and the weakness of the closed Soviet system. And yet in this country, we still use nuclear energy to generate electricity! Will we need even more nuclear power stations when electrically powered transport replaces petrol and diesel? Sustainable energy sources are, of course, the long term answer but in the immediate future, we are faced with the ongoing dilemma of what is the lesser of two evils to produce electricity – fossil fuel or nuclear energy?
When I wrote my political thriller novel ‘Sarcophagus’, I researched Chernobyl and Pripyat and wove that landscape into my story. (Read that extract below after book link. Book available from Amazon, Lulu)
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Bogdan Katchenko awoke late in his dacha on the outskirts of Chernobyl, barely outside the exclusion zone. Another disturbed night. Once he came here for companionship, for solace with his wife Raisa. Now he came alone when he needed solitude. Despair was never far away. Raisa had died within a year of the disaster, breathing in the concentrated nuclear poison. That day, he had left her in the dacha, while he travelled to Kyiv, two hundred and fifty kilometres away, to deal with a turf war in the old Jewish and craft quarter of the city, the Podol. On that day he killed two men in Andreyevsky Spusk; a dispute over a drugs deal. They had tried to take his goods without payment. He had put a bullet in the head of one and a bullet in the heart of the second with a Berretta. When he killed them Bogdan Katchenko suffered no remorse, more a sadness they could be so stupid. Stupid people, he believed, were not cut out to make quick money, they were destined to come to sad ends if they tried. He drank his first glass of vodka and closed his mind to stupid people.
To this day the arbitrariness of life and death still left him embittered. Kyiv, the capital, saved by the caprice of the wind direction at the time, a wind that took the deadly radiation to his dacha, then north and east through Belarus and then, the deadly vapour diluting, across Scandinavia, Scotland, even as far west as the Welsh hills in the UK.
He was nearly back home in the dacha from his work in Kyiv when it happened. A matter of business, he later told Raisa when he got to the dacha. He saw from the deadness in her eyes she knew his business only too well, but she would never challenge his ways.
Their son Gennadi also absorbed the toxins at the same time; in his throat, his lungs, and in his blood. He was five then, now twenty-three and living somewhere in Kyiv, a drug addict, occasionally contacting his father but effectively a stranger. Weakening from the sickness and under a death sentence that must come soon, he got through life a day at a time as a user of the drugs his own father sent spiralling through the city and the country.
Over the years, Katchenko railed against the people he believed had taken from him the only person he ever loved in his life, his beloved Raisa, taken by filth thrown into the precious air the world breathed. When she died he cried for the last time ever and vowed he would never love again. Hate and bitterness were his legacies, a deadness entered his soul. It had not always been so – in the aftermath of the greatest nuclear accident known to mankind, Katchenko was moved by compassion for his fellow citizens. A compartment in his mind, separate from another that enabled him to kill without compunction, still functioned then. Not any more. The memory of the blast and his frenzied work at the plant with other volunteers including Taras Prakhov still haunted him nearly twenty years later. So many colleagues, friends, killed. Because of bureaucrats, politicians, cheap materials, cutting maintenance, not enough training, not enough safety. One day they would pay. The world would pay. Raisa would be avenged and his tortured son Gennadi.
He had been about ten kilometres from the blast and close to his dacha when it happened. He stopped his car and got out, stared in disbelief at the plume of smoke in the distance. Instinctively he knew what had happened. There was no point in going back to Kyiv, trying to get away; the damage was done – to them all. He went first to Raisa, then to the reactor.
Now every morning, restless after waking from troubled sleep and nightmares, a terror as if a thousand rats gnawed at his innards welcomed him. His cancer cells multiplied, remorselessly bringing closer the day he yearned for, the day when oblivion would come at last. This was the only time he knew terror or felt fear, at that moment of waking. He dreaded sleep and even more, he dreaded waking up. Awake, he closed one compartment in his mind and opened another. Then his rage boiled over; a volcano of hatred erupted. And with it came his only succour. His master plan – to disseminate nuke material and rip the world apart.
He yelled to the heavens, ‘Let others taste my bitterness’.
‘This is as far as I go.’ Prakhov pulled on the handbrake of the pick-up truck and cut the engine. He stared through the windscreen. Dull daylight filtered through dense, frosty woodland on both sides of the track. A silence known only to the deaf surrounded them; no birds, no animals, even the wind was absent. They were deep into the contaminated zone.
O’Neill hopped out of the truck followed by Greg. They undid ties holding two motorcycles secure on the truck base and released the tailgate, dragged the vehicles off and pulled on helmets.
Greg went to the driver’s door. ‘Thanks, Taras, we will see you soon.’
Prakhov continued to stare straight ahead, his face gaunt and shadowy in the frosty morning air. ‘Irina – she wants to stay in our apartment. It’s her home.’
Greg yelled, ‘Taras, you need a safe house. Sean, did you know they wouldn’t move out?’
O’Neill kick-started his bike, shouted, ‘Let’s go, Greg, only one way in from here.’
Greg moved away from the front of the truck when Prakhov said, ‘If you have a God, may he look after you.’
‘Move, Taras, get away. Think of Irina, your dream!’ Greg started his bike and pulled alongside O’Neill. Picking up speed they drove alongside each other along the murky, rutted road. Greg recalled Taras Prakhov’s words, ‘Travel in parallel, if not the one behind breathes the disturbed dirt. Breathes shit.’
From Prakhov’s directions, they estimated an hour’s ride would get them to their destination. Greg saw the peeling sign for Pripyat; he indicated to O’Neill and they swung the bikes off the road and on to a rough track through the woods. They estimated about ten minutes off the road would allow them to safely skirt the checkpoint Prakhov had identified. The path was bumpy and tested the bikes’ suspension while they tried to keep the revs low and quiet as possible. The frozen ground threw a grey sheen across the landscape; periodically they passed derelict farmhouses, splintered wood buildings, overgrown gateways; there was a feeling of nature reclaiming what belonged to it, but this ‘dead zone’ would take centuries before it became habitable. And yet Prakhov had told them how some people had chosen to stay, prepared to die from radiation poisoning rather than pine their lives away in places that weren’t home.
They regained the road and opened the throttles, heading for the factory where the materials and methodology existed to wreak bedlam across three capital cities; New York, London and Kyiv. O’Neill’s words the previous evening to Greg were ‘The internet chat’s at fever-pitch.’
Greg patted his leather jacket for the reassuring bulge of his Glock pistol.
O’Neill flagged Greg to stop. He removed the hand-drawn map Prakhov had drawn and pointed ahead. ‘Not far. Ready?’
Greg gave a thumbs up and they pulled away; he braked in a hurry when two wolves leapt from the wood to the road, their eyes glinting in the half-light. He swerved past them and caught up with O’Neill who jabbed his finger to the right-hand side of the road as he slowed down, stopped and once again consulted the map.
A vast field full of rusting, abandoned trucks, fire engines and vans stood jumbled in eerie confusion; a cemetery of contaminated metal. Greg thought of Sergei Perozhak; of the men driving this fleet of polluted transport to their final resting place. Sergei, absorbing radiation at terminal levels of Roentgens per hour.
O’Neill pointed past the transport graveyard, indicated a right turn. Greg thought of Natasha and once more patted the Glock 22 pistol inside his jacket.
END OF EXTRACT