The documentary, directed by Thomas Johnson, was broadcast on Friday on the French TV channel France 3. It was presented only a few days before the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl Accident of 1986, in which an explosion occurred in a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, the northern Ukrainian city.
The incident is considered the worst in the history of nuclear power. A nuclear reactor exploded causing a strong fire that burned for ten days before being extinguished. This resulted in a plume of radioactive fallout drifting over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, and Scandinavia. Contamination was even detected in rainfall in the US Pacific Northwest.
The northern Ukrainian city was evacuated after the accident and remains inhabited until now. More than 400,000 people were displaced from the most heavily contaminated areas.
The documentary comes also as a reminder that the effects of the Chernobyl disaster are still taking their toll. International reports and researches are revealing alarming health risks in the highly contaminated areas where the health conditions are described as “disquieting” by the UN.
“A significant increase has been observed in the incidence of thyroid cancer among children in Belarus, [where] a particular form of malignancy was virulent and had appeared earlier than expected,” said a UN report.
The Russian Centre for Independent Ecological Programs has recently revealed that in the highly contaminated areas of Russia mortality rates have risen nearly 4% since the explosion, indicating the Chernobyl toll in Russia alone could be calculated at 67,000 people.
The 2005 Chernobyl Forum, organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), found that 9,000 Soviets are expected to die from solid cancers.
The incident also caused ecological effects. Vegetation near the explosion died, the air, rain, and soil were contaminated in many areas.
But the Chernobyl legacy could have been much heavier. A second, more devastating explosion was avoided thanks to the efforts of thousands of “liquidators” – soldiers, firefighters, construction workers, and volunteers who were mobilised in a 30 Km radius around the plant to clean up the plant premises and the surrounding area.
A 2005 staff report issued by the IAEA said that in the first three months after the incident, the group of “Early Liquidators”, those first on the scene, lost 28 members to Acute Radiation Sickness. Nineteen others died over the eight years following the accident.
Among those who survived, hundreds of liquidators are still suffering physical and psychological sequels.
Twenty years after the disaster, the liquidators have been paid tribute by the 90-minute documentary.