Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Zone is Growing: Level Seven

The Zone, from  A. Tarkovsky's Film Сталкер
"The Zone"  Strangely this term has been used to describe a region of exclusion due to radioactive (or other) contamination several times, both in fiction and real life.  I first heard the term in the film by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky about a Zone sealed off by the Soviet government after an unspecified (extraterrestrial) contamination.  The film, called Stalker  (Russian: Сталкер) is named for the tracker who guides people on illegal journeys into The Zone.   Many people assume this film was inspired by Chernobyl, but in fact it was made about five years before that disaster.  It may have been inspired by the mysterious Tunguska Event, and perhaps the top-secret 1957  Mayak disaster, a radioactive release at a Soviet plutonium reprocessing facility that killed hundreds and was the second worst nuclear accident in history (on the INES scale)...until today.

"The Zone of Alienation"  is the creepy sci-fi sounding official term for the patchy region around Chernobyl that was and still is so radioactive that is it off limits.

At Fukushima, "The Zone" from which people must evacuate was increased to 30 km (18 miles) from the plant as people who have remained behind have now begun to run out of food, while the radiological contamination isn't getting any better.  With a dearth of sketchy information coming from this zone, including disturbing reports of radioactive corpses, some people have decided to brave the radiation and enter the zone, either legally or not.   This video , while not extremely illuminating gives us our first realistic portrayal of the conditions inside The Zone.  There are broken roads, abandoned towns, stray dogs & cows and occasional people in gas masks.  The brave/foolish pair who made the journey wisely took two geiger counters, and left them on, but seem to have the levels set quite low, as they beeped incessantly at the microSeivert levels, a far cry from the hundreds of milliSeiverts the Fukushima workers are getting.

Also inside the Zone, two AP reporters broke off from the officials who let them in, and discovered a man abandoned in his house since the quake!  He hadn't seen anyone for almost a month and braved near freezing temperatures at night.

The big news today is that the event was (finally) upgraded to Level 7 on the INES nuclear incident scale, from Level 5, leapfrogging over Level 6 entirely.   This puts Fukushima on the same level as Chernobyl, confirming the assessments made by the likes of Dr. Michio Kaku, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Arnie Gundersen of fairewinds.com, and disproving the flood of pundits put on the air by the mass media (many of them linked to the nuclear industry) who said "this is nothing like Chernobyl." There will always be ways in which the two disasters are different, but in terms of how much harm they are causing to humanity, they are now on par.


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