For us, and for many of our readers, it has become a tradition to mark the August 6 and 9 anniversaries of the atomic bombings in Japan with public prayers and protest. At those gatherings our theme is often simply to remember the victims. This year it won't take much imagination to remember the nuclear victims. In the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, they are all around us.
As this is written, Soviet radiation victims are still dying. Radioactive "hot spots" are still turning up in Scandinavia, and crops are being plowed under in large portions of Europe. Meanwhile, the invisible poison is settling into the blood and bones of countless longer-term victims, who will become the guinea pigs in a ghastly real-life experiment.
By now there have been scores of articles, commentaries, and editorials (from Pravda to "Nightline") on "the lessons of Chernobyl." On the U.S. side, the lessons have mostly been about the Soviet Union's unique brand of totalitarian inefficiency. On the other side, the lessons have involved the heroism of the firefighters and medics, with a mild slap at bumbling party officials in the Ukraine. The ruling elites on both sides remain largely unshaken in their devotion to the peaceful atom. Very few have learned the lesson that there simply is no safe or democratic way to manage nuclear technology, peaceful or otherwise.