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October 15, 2018

Ukraine's recent nuclear reactor scare harkens back to ghosts of historic nuclear accidents

One of the reactors in Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine suffered an accident that triggered an automatic shutdown this week. Reports suggest that damage occurred to a transformer in one of the 1000-megawatt reactors at the Zaporizhye plant, which provides over one-fifth of the country’s electricity.

Ukraine’s energy minister said that it was a “technical fault” and assured the public that there was “no threat” to the reactor’s safety, according to BBC News

With the country already suffering fuel shortage, Ukraine this winter will probably be forced to import electricity from Russia.

Accidents at nuclear rectors makes folks understandably nervous, and is also a reminder that despite all the climate change benefits we get from nuclear energy – like cutting greenhouse gas emissions – there are a lot of risks associated with it, too.

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima all grabbed the world’s attention over the past 30 years when the crises unfolded at those plants. But what happened after they left the headlines?

The worst-ever U.S. nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, near Middletown, Pennsylvania, was a partial meltdown that occurred on March 28, 1979

The facility was only 3 months old when a cooling problem caused one of the reactors to overheat and release radioactive gases and iodine into the environment, but it wasn’t enough to cause any confirmed health effects to local residents.

The reactor was shut down permanently, was decontaminated and put into what is known as “post-defueled monitored storage,” with plans for dismantling only after its neighbouring reactor on site is shut down sometime in 2034.

In April 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred at Ukraine’s Chernobyl power plant. technicians lost control of nuclear fission reactions in the reactor core and heat rose quickly until pressure built up and explored the core, releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. After the initial explosion occurred, fire broke out that sent large clouds of radioactive particles high into the air, which was then swept over a large part of Western Europe. 

Thirty-one people – technicians and firefighters mostly – died from the accident itself, and untold thousands may have contracted cancer. Exact numbers are still being debated

If you want to see the devastation that this nuclear accident wrought in its immediate surroundings check out newly-released video footage obtained via a remote-controlled drone. This is the first time that the nearby ghost town Pripyat has been filmed from the air.

The power plant itself is entombed within an aging concrete structure that was hastily built back during the old Soviet era.

Currently, an internationally-funded project is underway to build a massive 32,000 ton metal arch that will contain the entire building. Hopes are that it will be ready by 2017, before the existing shelter collapses and releases more radioactive-laden dust into the atmosphere like a dirt bomb. It is expected that the arch should last anywhere from 100 to 300 years.

Finally, the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami showed us that there can be natural forces that have to be considered with nuclear power. The Fukushima Daiichi power plant, located 220 km northeast of Tokyo on Japan’s east coast, had three of its six reactors melt down when it got hit by tsunami waves triggered by a 9.0 earthquake. This knocked out its generators which caused its reactors to overheat, explode and release radioactivity into the environment – contaminating food, water and air.  

Over 300,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding villages. Nearly 16,000 residents are still unable to return to their homes because clean up efforts are being hindered by unsafe levels of radiation in the soil and water.

All this radiation from the disaster has definitely not been isolated to just Japan. Researchers monitoring the Pacific Ocean, in which much of the radiation spilled into, have detected radioactive isotopes this past November just 160 km off the coast of California.

So this story will continue to unfold for many years to come.

See the original article here – 

Ukraine's recent nuclear reactor scare harkens back to ghosts of historic nuclear accidents

West Berlin recalls "island" of freedom that vanished with Wall

By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) – With East Germany in the limelight of celebrations of 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, people who spent the Cold War in the capitalist enclave of West Berlin can be forgiven for feeling overlooked.

But after a quarter of a century of “Ostalgie” – the often morbid nostalgia for the former communist east – the west side is quietly telling the story of an “island of freedom” that vanished with the Wall, in an outpouring of “Westalgie”.

“West Berlin really existed, people!” wrote a member of the Facebook site “West Berliner Mauerkinder” (‘Wall child’), set up this year as a platform for reminiscences of the west.

“Westalgie” is a hard sell to tourists drawn in ever-growing numbers to sites in the east associated with the Nazis or Stasi (the secret police of the German Democratic Republic) and the museums and few historic buildings that survived World War Two.

There are some attempts to compete directly. Tourists can tour the west in vintage VW Beetles as well as the east in GDR-made Trabants. Teufelsberg, the delapidated Cold War listening post on a manmade hill from debris from wartime bombing, is popular with tourists. A guide jokes that U.S. intelligence could hear Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev brushing his teeth.

But most attractions are on the east side of the Wall and even western traffic-lights are being colonised by the jauntily-hatted GDR “Ampelmaenchen” (traffic-light people) from the 1970s which are a hit on souvenir T-shirts, mugs and mouse-pads.

“It’s a shame to lose this part of West Berlin’s identity,” said Jeanette Chong, founder of the Facebook group which has grown to over 2,000 western Mauerkinder in a few months.

Born the same year as the Wall in 1961 to a German mother and Chinese father, Chong is less concerned about competing with the east than reminiscing about what she and many others refer to as a happy West German “island” surrounded by the GDR.

This is captured in an exhibition opening next week called “West:Berlin – an island looking for the mainland”, portraying what curator Thomas Beutelschmidt says was a unique socio-economic, political and cultural “biotope” under the benign occupation of the Americans, French and British.

CRAZY AND CREATIVE

West Berlin had no military draft and remained afloat on generous Western subsidies. It became a magnet for draft dodgers from West Germany, East German exiles, low-budget bohemians, all coddled by a 160 Km (100 mile) white double concrete screen that coiled around the territory.

“There was incredible investment in education and culture – the Berlin Film Festival, exhibitions, theatre, music, writing and intellectual life – which helped make it so attractive,” he said. “There was a feeling of liberty. Anything was possible.”

West Berlin’s musical scene of the 1970s and ’80s lured the likes of David Bowie to experiment and party at legendary clubs like the “Dschungel”, as did local talent like Blixa Bargeld.

The Wall itself became a canvas for artists, a hoarding for anarchists, tourists and lovers alike to record their feelings.

Many bridled at being called “Wessies”, declining association with a West Germany separated from them by hundreds of kilometres (miles) of East Germany. Nor were they “Ossies”. They were something special, distinct: West Berliners.

Paulina Czienskowski wrote in Die Welt that unification was the beginning of the end for a scene which sought new kicks in the east: “The Berlin of the ’80s was a pool of crazy, creative and inspiring people. After the Wall fell, the city changed.”

Changes on the visible level were dramatic. The border area, a broad strip of raked land between two walls, was quickly swallowed by construction, blurring familiar lines of division.

The United States, Britain and France formally surrendered their occupation sectors and withdrew their garrisons only with Berlin’s reunification. But the memory of the three victor powers – the fourth, the Soviet Union held sway in the east – lives on in street names they left behind like Dickensweg, Clayallee or Avenue Charles de Gaulle.

As West Berlin lost its privileges, the former GDR sucked up subsidies for reconstruction, leading to the relative decline of the west that is now being stemmed with refurbishment projects like glamorous “Bikini Berlin”, a 1950s landmark by the zoo.

“The pendulum has now swung back,” said Beutelschmidt.

For Chong, the restorations of “City West” are too chic. Her group swaps snaps from family albums of old favourite haunts and she celebrates the way Kreuzberg, the Turkish quarter, has kept its West Berlin identity while turning outrageously hip.

The reappraisal of West Berlin is partly down to what some consider an excessive focus on the GDR in anniversaries set to continue next year with the 25th anniversary of reunification.

In a poll by Infratest, 54 percent of people in the west and 51 percent in the east said they had had enough of GDR history, though they still believed it should be taught in schools.

Nor has the old east-west rivalry died out. “I don’t like Ossies and can’t stand being around them,” said west Berlin native Monika Bruecker. “They’re different and strange.”

But a generation that has grown up since the Wall no longer differentiates and a recent poll suggested that more than half the city of 3.5 million simply consider themselves Berliners.

“It’s a shame it’s all over. But everyone gets to feel like that from a certain age,” said Chong.

(Additional reporting by Emma Anderson and Erik Kirschbaum; Writing by Stephen Brown; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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West Berlin recalls "island" of freedom that vanished with Wall