BELLACIAO - CHERNOBYL : Hell on Earth, the world’s worst environmental disaster in 1986 - Joan - Collective Bellaciao:
He took precautions but he also kept meticulous - albeit illegal - records of his own accumulating exposure. Every year the authorities told him he was "fit for duty", and when he left Chernobyl they gave him a letter saying he had received just under the safe lifetime dose of radiation. He knew he had received more than five times that amount.
What he saw in those years, he says, appalled him: young men dying for want of the simplest information about exposure to radiation; the wide-scale falsification of medical histories by the Soviet army and the disappearance of people’s records so the state would not have to compensate them; the wholesale looting of evacuated houses and abandoned churches; the haste and carelessness with which the concrete "sarcophagus" was erected over the stricken reactor; and, above all, the horror of seeing land almost twice the size of Britain contaminated, with thousands of villages made uninhabitable.
It was sometimes surreal, he says. He had people beg him to leave their homes or villages contaminated because that would guarantee them a pension; he recalls how several carriages of radioactive animal carcasses travelled for five years around the Soviet Union being rejected by every state, returning to Chernobyl to be buried - train and all. He helped fill a 4 sq mile dump with radioactive lorries, cement mixers, trains and helicopters. He knows where the Chernobyl bodies are buried, he says, because he was the grave digger. "We made up the response as we went along," he says. "It was hell."