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In 1989, Grigori Medvedev wrote The Truth About Chernobyl, which was translated into English and published in the US in 1991, winning the LA Times 1991 book prize for best science and technology book. (Two short reviews are here and here.) At the end of Medvedev’s look back at what happened, he also looks ahead:
What, then, in my opinion, is the main lesson to be learned from Chernobyl?
Above all else, it is that this horrible tragedy summons us forcefully to the Truth — to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That’s the first thing. My second conclusion derives from the truth.
. . . Like all tragedies of the past, Chernobyl showed us how great is our people’s courage and how strong its spirit. But Chernobyl calls us to use our reason and our analytical powers, so that we will not forget what happened, and will look clearly at our misfortune and avoid glossing over it . . .
Accordingly, the main lesson of Chernobyl is to sharpen our sense of the fragility and vulnerability of human life. Chernobyl demonstrated both man’s immense power and his impotence. And it served as a warning to man not to become intoxicated with his own power, not to take that power lightly, and not to seek in it ephemeral gains and pleasures and the glitter of prestige. Since man is both the cause and the effect, he must be more responsible and scrutinize himself as well as the things he has made. When we remember that man’s works carry over into the future, with all its joys and hardships, we realize with horror that those shattered chromosome strands and those genes, either lost or distorted as a result of radiation, are already part of our future. We will be seeing them again and again in the years ahead. That is the most horrible lesson of Chernobyl.
Like the residents of the Ukraine and neighboring Belarus, the residents of the Gulf coast will be learning first hand this very same lesson, as the BP oil disaster teaches us about the fragility and vulnerability of marine life, reshaping not only the life in the Gulf but also the lives of the people tied to its waters.
It is a horrible lesson, indeed.