After the Meltdown

The situation in Japan is incredibly sad and alarming. As worst case scenarios are presented, it’s worth recalling the one time the worst case scenario actually occurred. In this haunting article, “Chernobyl: the unreadable sign,” Sonja Zekri of Sight and Sound talks to Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich, who is “obsessed by Chernobyl.” The article begins, “Chernobyl changed space and time, and it lies beyond the boundaries of culture.”

Alexievich recounts this arresting scene shortly after the reactor meltdown.

In the zone helicopters were taking off, technicians were running about in their thousands, but no one had any explanations. It was a new reality. It was forbidden to sit on the ground. It was forbidden to stand under a tree for any length of time. Fishermen said they couldn’t find any worms, that the worms had bored a meter and a half down into the earth. Nature had obviously received signals. I find this fascinating. People reported they’d not only seen a fire, but also a raspberry-coloured glow and that they’d never thought death could be so beautiful. Former Afghanistan fighters were flown in with helicopters and machine guns and were asking: What good are our helicopters here? An entire culture collapsed, the familiar culture of war.

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