Chernobyl After Perestroika: Reflections on a Recent Visit

Citation: Technology in Society 14: 187–198 1992


Political change and economic deterioration have drastically affected the handling of the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. A visit to the site is recounted and five lessons drawn. These are the need for new organizations to manage the decontamination of hazardous waste sites, the limited use of emergency preparedness, the importance of longevity of risks and consequences for environmental management, the need to give international status to sites of major environmental hazards, and the surprises about what prove to be environmentally significant technologies.

Keywords: nuclear power, soviet union

Areas of Research: Technology & Human Environment

From Technology in Society, Vol. 14, pp. 187-198, 1992. Copyright ©1992 Pergamon Press Ltd. Printed in the USA. All rights reserved. An abbreviated version of this essay appeared in The Sciences, Vol. 31, No. 6 (1991).

I visited Chernobyl in December, 1990. A little time and much history have passed in the former USSR since then. A blasted nuclear reactor and its fallout remain. In this essay, I convey how economic deterioration and political metamorphosis bear on one of the world’s most important environmental sites.

Some of the drama and gloom of my visit had to do with winter. No one vacations in northern Ukraine in December. The days are gray, cold, and short. It is easy to remember why the grandparents of many Americans left those lands behind and harder to understand why people have fought so hard over them. Sometimes people fight most where the stakes are low. Certainly rural northern Ukraine is poor, and in some ways undeveloped. The underdevelopment accounts for some of its ecological interest.

I will narrate my visit, sharing impressions and drawing lessons along the way. Though my purpose was science, not journalism, I remarked images and forces. For a photographer or sociologist the trip would be rich, but I almost hesitate to describe it. I felt rather as I would taking notes in a devastated American neighborhood such as the South Bronx or a strip-mined region of West Virginia. I felt rude as a scientific guest to record too much.

Why was I invited? I study climate change and the energy systems that may cause or prevent it. I began work on climate change in 1977, when the fraternity of interested scientists fit comfortably in one conference hall and almost as many thought that the world was entering a new ice age as the greenhouse century. Climate is a global question, and those in the network of researchers included several capable Soviet scientists.

One place to study global climate was the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), a US-USSR “think tank” near Vienna, Austria. I spent two years there, and my first supervisor was a Russian, a hydrodynamicist from Siberia. In those years there was some suspense for an American in having a Soviet boss. Andrei Sakharov was in exile in Gorki, and I was working at IIASA while the Red Army moved into Afghanistan. Brezhnev was in power. A kind of bond was established during the Cold War between Soviet and American scientists who worked together fruitfully that may now be harder to achieve. If individuals collaborated under the old adverse conditions, the bond tended to be lasting. The invitation to visit Kiev and the nearby Chernobyl site can be traced through these international links antedating glasnost and perestroika, as well as the April 1986 accident.

In the spring of 1990, reports showed patches of radiation effects persisting around Chernobyl. One might think regular lines of effects would circle the reactor, indicating decreasing concentrations or effects from the accident. In fact, the pattern looks more like Swiss cheese, with all kinds of spots and circles here and there.

Members of the group of scientists in Kiev whom I came to know discovered the pattern. A scientist directing the study visited me in April 1990 at The Rockefeller University. He said he would invite me to Kiev and Chernobyl. Sure enough, in June a letter arrived, saying, “Come discuss matters of mutual interest whenever the time is good for you.” Both the prompt arrival and informal tone of the letter indicated the different world we have come to enjoy, and which was threatened by the August 1991 coup. A scientist directly invited a scientist: no delegation, no workshop, no approval from Moscow. I wrote that I would like to come in early December, and my Ukrainian host telexed saying, “That is fine.” My letter and the telex with a visa application to the USSR consulate won a visa without any problem. That was that.

The easiest flight from America to Kiev is still via Moscow. In fact, scenes in Moscow helped me understand some current and potential problems at Chernobyl. Visiting Moscow anew, I was struck most by the absence of authority. The dog didn’t bark. I encountered virtually no passport control or customs inspection. Formerly, if you were lucky enough to be designated important, someone from the USSR Academy of Sciences might meet you and whisk you through a special side channel. Normal channels meant long delays. In 1990, I passed in without an escort in minutes for formalities, hardly different from arriving in Germany and probably easier than Heathrow Airport in England or Kennedy in New York.

The disappearance of authority is accompanied by the disappearance of goods, which many travelers and, especially, the Russians themselves note. Moscow had no butter, no beer, no cooking oil, and hardly a children’s toy. Store shelves were genuinely empty. People seemed to spend their time foraging.

Russians have a sense of humor. One joke: A long line of people were waiting in a grocery store, a “gastronome.” The only items on sale are jars of pickled peppers and boxes of biscuits. A surly man behind the counter faces the frustrated customers. The line is moving slowly; one person asks for two boxes of biscuits and three jars of peppers, another person for one of each, and someone for three jars and five boxes. A very old man in line finally gets to the front and faces the counterman, who is dressed in a white coat to provide protection against spills and stains, which are most unlikely to come from the goods in stock. The old man announces, “I’d like a kilo of beef, two chickens, two dozen eggs, two kilos of tomatoes, a box of raspberries…” When the counterman says “Old man, you’re crazy,” the person behind in line says “No, he just has a good memory!”

If before the main impression in the USSR was tyranny, now it is poverty. There is begging, and there are shanty towns in Moscow, one of which was bulldozed in early 1991 to some outcry. Popular religious shrines are set up in public squares. Prostitution is less subtle than in the past. The black market exchange rate appeared to make the average monthly Russian salary about 10 or 20 dollars, income as in poor, developing countries. In the past people said that the USSR is a developing country with rockets; with immediate currency convertibility that would be the case.

In Kiev, capital of the Ukrainian Republic, the situation was somewhat better. One reason is that Ukraine effectively has its own currency. Coupons are required to purchase most mobile goods other than bread or milk, or most anything that costs more than one ruble. I tried to buy a record. I was not succeeding. Finally somebody in the line spoke in English and explained that I had to have a Ukrainian coupon along with the rubles. The coupon system instituted in October 1990 to keep goods within the Ukrainian Republic appears to be succeeding somewhat. However, it emphasizes what an artificial economy is functioning.

The Ukrainian Parliament, relatively new or revitalized, was in session day and night while I was there, debating and sometimes passing laws on all kinds of matters, from environmental protection to private property. The sessions, broadcast hour after hour rather like a cable network, seemed to be watched with interest and pride. Ukrainians repeatedly stressed to me that they were Europeans, gesturing about Moscow as if to suggest the partly Asiatic origin of Russia. Two people talked to me about the historic ties of the Ukraine with Greece, Constantinople, and Vienna. The mood is certainly to look west rather than northeast.

The desire to distance themselves from Russia and bring more change seemed the general tone in public, and also within family circles, especially among women, who have the hardest lot. The scientists have a somewhat complicated view. They worry about the fortune of science. Science, in the former Soviet Union, as in the United States, has been funded mostly on an “All-Union” or national basis. With diminished national funding of research, most institutes face large layoffs, and the country perhaps an intellectual migration. Scientific organizations are thus trying to diversify their sources of support, seeking support outside the USSR. The alternative is local money. But economic activity is shrinking and changing in the Republic, at least for the interim, so it will be difficult for Ukraine or other republics to provide from local tax revenues.

A grant or contract from former state or privatized enterprises for either basic or applied research will be hard to get. The Soviet equivalents of IBM or General Electric are likely to restructure dramatically or go out of business in the next few years. In eastern Germany only a few of the old enterprises appear to be surviving. Thus, academic research can look to the nascent Russian or Ukrainian private sector for little. For comparison, suppose California proposed to secede from the United States. How would Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory maintain itself? Almost 100% of its support is federal tax money.

Thus, many Soviet scientists seem little impressed by nationalistic arguments. They know that for 75 years the USSR has set up a national system of research with large units. For example, in Ukraine there are large centers for computer science and cybernetics in Kiev and for materials research in Kharkov. These will shrink if they are supported only by the Ukrainian Republic. Political fragmentation runs counter in practical ways to the scale and integration that are themes of modern research. Nationalist tendencies can also run counter to the universalist ethic of science.

These comments about the complex political situation preface my evaluation of environmental issues. Three days of meetings and briefings in Kiev preceded my day at Chernobyl in the “restricted zone.” Much of the science shared with me was good. I mention some impressive modeling of regional ecosystems, especially integrated ecological modeling of soils, forests, atmosphere, and hydrology. The hydrology was particularly advanced.

The Chernobyl accident made data available to Soviet environmental scientists for their studies. Until recently, Soviet scientists, even in their own numerical models, often used data from Western Europe or North America. For example, this was true for acid rain. They frequently did not have data, sometimes they did not have access to Soviet data that did exist, or, if the data did exist and were being used, the scientists could not share them openly. The urgency of Chernobyl caused many data to be collected and released. So, the models I saw were running on actual data, something different from the past and more motivating for everyone.

Computing power continues limited in Soviet research, which in key respects is a benefit. Scientists were concentrating on scientific issues rather than programming gimmicks. True, the Soviets have a strong hacker culture. A PC is treated in Kiev the way a car enthusiast in Southern California treats a vintage Volkswagen beetle. It is souped up to do everything it possibly can. Fortunately, for much of the needed ecological modeling, a souped-up PC with intellectual fundamentals is sufficient. Fancy color graphics may help communication but do not change the calculations.

Where to begin to describe Chernobyl itself? Amid the beet fields and the mud and marshes of Ukraine, you come to a huge concrete sarcophagus, encasing the damaged reactor. Certainly, the impression is stronger in December. The image is not the warm waving golden wheat of Ukrainian summer. The area around Chernobyl has the ecological appeal of flat wetlands, the low, quiet mystery of marshes. But it is not a wealthy agricultural region, or a spectacular, panoramic landscape. Although grains grow, the impression to an American is more like rural Maine than the expanse of Kansas or Iowa. Poor, now abandoned, villages look much as a hundred years ago, except electricity runs to them, and the main road is paved.

And then you have the larger towns with the typical East Bloc construction. Concrete buildings stand six, eight, or ten stories, built shabbily and without ornament. And, of course, in the evacuated zone buildings are cracking and crumbling, reverting to nature in a weedy, uneven way. At times, Chernobyl evokes the 1959 film of Neville Shute’s novel On the Beach — it has the look and feel of desertion after nuclear war without the blast damage.

Some 125,000 people lived in the main restricted zone around the four reactors of the Chernobyl power station. Some subsidiary zones in Byelorussia and in the Russian Republic are also restricted. The main restricted zone extends roughly to a 30-kilometer radius around the damaged plant. The zone, it is estimated, will require special management for 100 to 150 years.

At the restricted zone, a two-hour drive north of Kiev, you are stopped by a road block and transfer into cars used only in the contaminated area. My colleague from Kiev and I were given a car for the day, a large black limousine that reportedly had belonged to Prime Minister Ryzhkov. Several months before, Ryzhkov had been down to tour the site and was reportedly not warned that once he drove around the site, the car would be contaminated and its use restricted to the site. So, the so-called “Pripet Research Industrial Association” (PRIA), which now manages the site, has one more property besides the sarcophagus.

Another joke: Gorbachev was in his dacha outside Moscow for the weekend and suddenly received word of more trouble between republics. So, he calls a cabinet meeting for all ministers at the Kremlin in half an hour. Gorbachev goes out and calls to his driver, gets into his limousine, and says, “Take me to central Moscow.” The driver starts, but is only going 90 kilometers an hour. Gorbachev says, “Go faster, go faster.” And the driver says, “I can’t. You have put in new laws that we must drive properly and even the big wigs must obey to set a good example.” Gorbachev says, “Well, I’m chairing a meeting, and I have to be at the Kremlin in 20 minutes, and I’ll drive.” Gorbachev takes the wheel. Sure enough, two motorcycle policemen take up the chase. One policeman says to the other, “Look here, we’ve got one! Look at this big limousine.” One of the policeman speeds up and pulls the limousine to the side. The car window rolls down, there is an exchange, and the motorcycle policeman returns to his colleague, who has been waiting behind the limo with his hand on his gun. The limousine speeds off. The policeman who had remained at a distance says, “Did you give him the ticket?” The second says, “No, I didn’t.” And the first, disappointed asks, “Why not?” His colleague responds, “Well, it was a real big wig.” The disappointed officer asks, “How did you know? Who was it?” “Well, I am not sure, but Gorbachev was his driver!”

The PRIA was established to manage decontamination and research on the site. As one might expect, intense turf battles after the accident involved several organizations. Perhaps a hundred altogether have participated in the clean-up. The most important ones: the Ministry of Atomic Energy and the Ministry of Machine Building, which are responsible for building and operating reactors in the Soviet Union; the military, which had much of the capability to respond quickly, including helicopters, trucks, earth movers, and personnel; the Hydrometeorological Service, which had data about where the radiation was going; and the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which had expertise about materials, health, and other matters. Also immediately after the accident some special commissions were set up to investigate and advise on various issues.

Apparently, chaos ensued. Out of this chaos came a new, so-called Combinat to operate the three enormous 1,000-megawatt reactors that continue to generate electricity at Chernobyl. And, more interestingly for science, came the PRIA, which had 6,000 employees and some 350 million rubles in 1991, a large organization for environmental clean-up, even on the Soviet scale. This institutional creation is analogous to some US experiments for dealing with hazardous waste. In particular, it is reminiscent of Clean Sites, Inc., a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that sets up independent entities to manage properties and do research on hazardous waste sites in ways credible to government, industry, environmental groups, and local people.

The first lesson from Chernobyl is that existing organizations in the circumstance of a major catastrophe will not likely have the competence or the credibility to do what is needed. In such a situation government and industry both lack credibility. A third party is needed to clean up, foster settlements, and resolve technical disagreements. The Soviets took three years or so to work out the structure of the PRIA. I was impressed with the seriousness and dedication of the people of PRIA and, more important, it seems satisfactory to concerned parties.

PRIA has its headquarters in the town of Chernobyl, about 10 kilometers from the reactor itself, in a small three-story building built after the accident. Employees live outside the zone, although about 1,000 people have returned to live inside the zone, mostly pensioners who expect the risks of Chernobyl to matter less than old age. People who work for the Combinat and PRIA live either in existing towns outside the zone or in new towns built around the zone for the new work force.

After briefings at the headquarters from experts in decontamination, we went together to visit several places in the central zone. We changed into blue cotton trousers, shirts, and jackets, as well as green coats and hats that would be collected upon departure. No masks or special gear are required for protection of health for routine work on site. The uniforms, in addition to minimizing contamination carried out of the zone, do impart a feeling of safety and solidarity. My measured radiation exposure for the day was considerably less than during a chest X-ray.

We visited several places in the restricted, or “contaminated” or “dead” zone; several phrases are used to describe it. Everything seemed open to visit, and my hosts were open and flexible. I had said I was interested in environmental aspects and hazard management. One could easily spend equally interesting days and weeks on health and medicine, or mechanical engineering and materials.

We drew close to the reactor itself, impressive for its scale, massive in absolute terms and in relation to the low woods, flat lands, and water around. We visited the so-called “Red Forest,” the most damaged ecological zone. We visited several temporary waste disposals. Some 600 shallow trenches were dug for storage of soils, trees, cars, almost anything that needed to be “localized” in the site. We went to the abandoned city of Pripet, whose movie theater, restaurants, shops, and amusement park, complete with bumper cars and ferris wheel, decay, empty and still. Human presence shows only by an occasional truck passing through, small and hurriedly built booths to monitor radiation, and classical music playing over loudspeakers on the main streets. We also stopped at one high-level waste depository, a wall of concrete slabs and razor wire on the surface surrounding dozens of containers resembling those used for marine shipping. My guides were two of the leaders of the decontamination effort, one of whom had been there since a few days after the accident in April of 1986. He was on the roof of the reactor early when vapors were still rising from the fire.

The second lesson I would draw from my visit is that imagining practical preparation for accidents as serious as this is hard. How can one seriously prepare to remove, contain, and bury the topsoil from areas extending over hundreds of square kilometers? The PRIA estimates that they have moved a million cubic meters of soil. It is hard to envision a serious exercise in the United States to plan what you are going to do (whoever “you” turns out to be), how you are going to scrape up a million cubic meters of soil, or how you are going to dig 600 trenches. Openly preparing and publishing maps showing where 600 trenches would be on Long Island or in New Hampshire or the Sacramento Valley is unimaginable. If done, it would almost certainly foreclose siting or operating a nuclear plant.

Replacing the water supply is also a vast job. The water supply for much of the area needed to be temporarily replaced. Hundreds of artesian wells were drilled. Still, water problems continue. Pulses of radionuclides, especially cesium-137 and strontium-90, washed down through the entire Dnieper basin, where tens of millions of people draw their drinking water.

Another vast job is recruiting and keeping the many skilled workers needed, whether the 600,000 who are estimated to have participated in the clean-up altogether, or the 6,000 now at the PRIA. I came away thinking that the question of evacuation and response plans as debated in the United States is not meaningful. If an accident this serious happens, what you have thought about does not encompass the scope of what needs to be done. How can you prepare to think about decontaminating every structure in a 2,000 square kilometer zone? My conclusion is not to abandon emergency preparedness, but to concentrate on engineering systems in which the maximum conceivable accidents are not of the dimensions of Chernobyl.

The third lesson that I took away has to do with longevity. Organizations need to last, both for safe operation of nuclear reactors and to deal with wastes, accidents, and their consequences. How does one design enterprises to operate reliably and robustly for generations and longer? PRIA still has a massive decontamination job for several more years to handle obvious, acute problems and then, if it survives, it must turn to chronic, lesser problems and, no doubt, surprises. A looming question is whether to replace or strengthen the sarcophagus around the damaged reactor in perhaps another 20 years. The sarcophagus was built in haste, and now its walls—180 feet high and from 18 to 55 feet thick—have begun in places to turn brittle and crack, a consequence of irradiation and the temperature difference between the hot inner and cooler outer face.

How must organizations be designed to perform such tasks amidst the breakdown of government? Americans have had the same government since 1790 and take stable governance for granted. A handful of countries can say the same–Switzerland, Sweden (allowing for Norway’s separation), the United Kingdom (allowing for the Irish troubles), and perhaps a few others. Even the US had a war between the States.

Experts have speculated at length about improbable threats to nuclear reactors, such as earthquakes and terrorism. I think these are less serious than “normal” political and economic threats. If one thinks back 100 years, the area of the Soviet Union has had two major invasions, two World Wars; it has had a Civil War in the Ukraine in the 1920s; it has had two or maybe three great depressions. Such fluctuation and change is the case for most countries, including in the West–for example, Germany and France. France, which is heavily nuclear, has had several republics, invasions, and uprisings since 1870. How can one build and maintain organizations that will endure competently through long periods of economic and political fluctuations that occur in almost all parts of the world? Suppose Moscow does collapse and there is a lapse or decline in the money coming to Chernobyl. If the 350 million rubles are not there for 1992 or 1993, what is to be done?

Amidst these problems, the Ukrainian Parliament has debated a decree shutting down the three operating blocs at Chernobyl and possibly all nuclear facilities in Ukraine by 1995. Because five other nuclear centers operate in Ukraine, a large fraction of the electricity in the Republic would be lost. Because most of the rest of the electricity in Ukraine comes from coal-fired plants, increasing their output would have high environmental cost. Moreover, the coal mostly comes from the mines in southern Ukraine, where mine workers have been striking to get basic goods such as blankets, shoes, and soap. So, the energy picture is complicated in Ukraine.

The initial response to the Chernobyl accident was the heroism, communitarian behavior, and sacrifice characteristic of many disasters. Now that some years have gone by the pendulum is swinging, and one hears recriminations and accusations. These are tied to the national political and economic situation, as well as shortcomings of the PRIA and other responsible groups. In Ukraine and elsewhere in the former USSR, there is a strong local desire to find people to blame for everything that is wrong, and it is best to blame people from Moscow.

There is an effort to move management of the Chernobyl site from Moscow, where it is still headquartered, down to Kiev. The Ukrainian nationalists have a slogan “no inch of soil to Moscow.” This is written as graffiti. But for Chernobyl what local responsibility is appropriate? Is decontamination and protection of the site not an “all-union” or even global responsibility?

The major ecological problem for the next few years is expected to continue to be that of radionuclides in the soils. As mentioned earlier, the area is wet, the soils are sandy and porous, and the basin holds numerous large reservoirs and rivers. It was considered a good site for a power center partly because of the availability of cooling water. The soils near the plant still hold much strontium, cesium, and plutonium. In the spring when the ground thaws, snow melts, and the water floods into the Pripet River and down into the Dnieper, it carries pulses of contaminants. This is expected to be serious for a few more years. Building underwater dams on the bottom of the reservoirs and the rivers to stop sediments is debated. Whether any proposals of this type will make the situation better is unclear.

Chronic as well as acute problems are being monitored. Every ache and pain in the Ukraine is now attributed to Chernobyl. For example, several hundred kilometers away, in the city of Chernowitz, some 200 children are reported to have begun to lose their hair a couple of years back, and the loss was blamed on Chernobyl. It might have been associated with the accident or with other, probably local factors. The PRIA, Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and others are trying to sustain research to examine health and environmental consequences of the accident.

This leads to the fourth lesson, a positive one. At least among scientists, the view is that Chernobyl should be turned into an international laboratory, a world heritage site. Governments have accepted the designation of world heritage sites such as the Pyramids of Egypt and biospheric reserves such as the Everglades. Chernobyl is as significant an environmental site as now exists on the planet. In that sense it does belong to everyone. It is an Ur-site of the new green religion.

PRIA has taken first steps to set up an international research center, establishing agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Officials of PRIA repeated that they no longer need approval from Moscow or Vienna to invite people and permit certain kinds of research. PRIA wants direct ties with individual scientists and with other organizations around the world. PRIA lacks money to pay external collaborators, so visiting researchers would mainly have to support their own way. Such research has been difficult or impossible on USSR sites for foreign scientists until recently. It is a new, serious opportunity.

International arrangements have become customary for astronomical observatories and atom smashers. International arrangements for governance, funding, and access to the Chernobyl site are worthy of discussion and could set precedents for research on technological hazards.

The fifth and last lesson is about environmental technology. I asked several engineers what turned out to be the environmentally important technologies for Chernobyl. Environmental technologies are more than the obvious ones such as catalytic converters for auto exhaust or “superbugs” to eat oil spills. They include others that are often overlooked. Chernobyl had answers about what technologies mattered. Among them were: sorters, compactors, and compressors for large amounts of material; furnaces that could heat or burn large amounts of material; and finally, dredgers that can operate on complex relief. None of these technologies is quickly, commercially available in large numbers, especially to be plunked down in the middle of the muddy fields and marshes of Ukraine, brought by the Soviet system for delivering goods and services.

On the theme of delivery of goods, a final, telling joke: It has always taken a very long time to order and receive anything in the Soviet Union. Moiseev was inscribed on the list to buy an automobile and had been waiting for many, many years. Then one day the call comes: “Mr. Moiseev, please come down to the office of the automobile company in Kiev, we have some news for you.” Moiseev hastens. At the office, the factory representative says, ‘We are very pleased, Mr. Moiseev, your car will be delivered on April 14, 1995.” Moiseev smiles and says, “Good, okay,” but then frowns and asks, “Can you tell me will it be in the morning or the afternoon?” The man from the factory replies, “Yes, in the morning, but why do you want to know?” Moiseev says, “Oh thank God, the plumber is coming in the afternoon.”

A society that is not set up to respond flexibly in supplying cars and fixing pipes is trying to decontaminate Chernobyl. It is now a land without markets or hierarchies.

In the end, I review the five lessons drawn from the visit. First is the importance of the design of organizations to clean up hazardous sites and perform research related to these sites. The question is initially the invention of temporary or bridging organizations needed in an emergency, organizations that will be effective and credible, and perhaps not so temporary after all.

The second lesson is the limited use of preparedness and evacuation plans. In the late 1950s and early 1960s in the United States, a great debate concerned the viability and value of civil defense. The main conclusion was that not much could be done. My impression from looking at the 600 trenches and seeing first-hand the scope of what actually needed to be done at Chernobyl is that such planning is largely vain. Deterrence, prevention, and inherent safety deserve the emphasis they receive and more.

The third lesson is the importance for environmental management of the longevity of risks and consequences. How can environmental institutions be built and maintained to survive the rises, changes, and falls in political and economic systems?

Fourth is the need to consider the international status of sites of environmental hazards as well as environmental beauty. Scientists and environmentalists are accustomed to advocate the Himalayas or Amazon as part of a common heritage. Chernobyl is equally important. Governments and researchers need to examine the governance, access, funding, and management of such environmentally significant sites.

Fifth, there are the surprises about what prove to be environmentally significant technologies. There is much room for better understanding of important environmental services that should enhance our appreciation of, and influence research on, a range of technologies.

I will conclude by describing the moment that gave me a sudden, intuitive grasp of the challenge of Chernobyl amidst and after perestroika. Trying to relate to the foreign visitor, a villager in the Ukrainian countryside inquired in simple and striking fashion, “Do you have mud in America?”


Haynes, Viktor and Boicun, Marko (1988): The Chernobyl Disaster. Hogarth, London.

Marples, David R. (1986): Chernobyl and Nuclear Power in the USSR. MacMillan, London.

Medvedev, Grigori (1991): The Truth about Chernobyl Tauris/Basic Books, New York.