Is nuclear power back?

Is nuclear power back?

By Jose Santamarta

Twenty years after Chernobyl, only 12% of Europeans support the use of nuclear energy, a figure that in Spain is reduced to 4%, data that new sorcerer's apprentices, determined to revive nuclear energy, should take into account , an expensive, dangerous and unnecessary source of energy.

Twenty years after Chernobyl, only 12% of Europeans support the use of nuclear energy, a figure that in Spain is reduced to 4%, data that new sorcerer's apprentices, determined to revive nuclear energy, should take into account , an expensive, dangerous and unnecessary source of energy.

The favorite energies of Europeans, who in their vast majority reject nuclear energy, are solar and wind energy, but one day in and another also a small group of enlightened ones try to resuscitate the nuclear option that is, without a doubt , the worst and the most undesirable of energy sources, say it James Lovelock or Loyola de Palacio. The president of the Nuclear Industry Forum, Eduardo González, called for the installation of 15,000 megawatts (MW) of power in nuclear power plants in the 2008-2020 period to guarantee supply in Spain. For asking, that is not. In the mainstream media it seems that only 4% of pronuclear cells can be expressed, while the 96% who want the gradual closure of existing nuclear power plants and, of course, no more, are relegated and our arguments are silenced.

The reasons given by pronuclear are not very different from those of 30 years ago, but with some touches of modernity: they reduce dependence on oil and natural gas, they do not emit carbon dioxide, they make it possible to meet growing electricity needs, they are safe , also cheap and the now unsolvable problem of radioactive waste, the seriousness of any accident (as Chernobyl demonstrated) and nuclear proliferation, as evidenced by Iran and its attempts to acquire nuclear weapons to defend itself from the United States, are obviated, or the more than 30,000 nuclear warheads.

In Spain, the Ministry of Industry has created a dialogue table on nuclear energy, the composition of which leaves no doubt: a couple of environmental representatives, to keep up appearances, and the entire nuclear lobby. The position of the Minister of Industry contrasts with those defended by President Zapatero, the electoral program of the PSOE itself, or the PSOE Los Verdes agreement. The Generalitat, in the Pla de l'Energia de Catalunya 2006-2015, proposes “a gradual strategy of effective closure from 2022 with the least possible environmental and economic repercussions, taking advantage of the progressive decrease in nuclear production, which will go from 55.8% of electricity production in 2003 to 34.8% in 2015 ”.

The Vandellós nuclear power plant in the province of Tarragona, where an accident occurred in a graphite-gas reactor on October 19, 1989, is the only nuclear power plant that has been closed so far in Spain, but on April 30 2006 will be joined by Zorita and Garoña will soon follow in his footsteps. The PSOE government plans to abandon nuclear energy in the coming years, although some sectors are pressing to relaunch it, in the interests of supposed realism. The peak of global oil and natural gas production is likely to come in 20-30 years, pushing prices up, but there is more than enough time to make the orderly transition to a more efficient, less energy-intensive model in energy and in which renewable energies gradually replace fossil fuels, without the need to resort to nuclear energy, the most dangerous source and the one that will leave us an inheritance of radioactive waste and nuclear weapons. In any case, natural gas reserves, the cleanest among fossil fuels, are superior to those of oil and give us more than enough time to carry out a transition that conjures up both the threat of climate change and that of the nuclear route. .

But the real advances of renewable energies, despite the meager budgets dedicated to them and the lack of political will of the United States and many other countries, are ignored and despised by the pronuclear sector, represented by the political and economic right that controls much of the media. The cut of the natural gas supply from Russia to Ukraine for a few days, due to a discussion about prices, has been enough for them to return to the charge with renewed vigor, while ignoring Iran's attempts to access the atomic bomb, the nuclear agreement between the United States and India signed by George W. Bush, the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, or any other news contrary to their interests, such as the rise of wind, solar photovoltaic or solar thermoelectric power.

The story is stubborn. George W. Bush has been promoting nuclear energy in the United States for six years, without any success, and in the entire European Union, only Finland is building a new nuclear power plant, with the help of the state, hiding the real costs and without subjecting it to the market laws, because in the end it is a disguised subsidy to its paper industry, which is a great consumer of electricity. In 1990, in what is now the European Union of 25 countries, there were 164 nuclear power plants, while now there are 147; Around the world, in the last twelve years, 33 plants have been closed and only 54 have been inaugurated, less than two reactors a year.

Nuclear power is the most expensive

A Life Cycle Analysis is required, from cradle to grave, which includes the entire process, from uranium mining, enrichment, nuclear power plants, fuel reprocessing, decommissioning and waste management, that they will continue to be radioactive and dangerous in 250,000 years, and that analysis is ignored by all promoters who consciously falsify the data on costs they offer, which are authentic surrealism, if not an insult to the intelligence of the citizenry. The nuclear industry is a real ruin, which can only live on the basis of direct or indirect public subsidies, as in France and in practically all countries, and where it has the best chance of prospering is where there are dictatorships and a total absence of democracy and transparency, as in China. Energy illiteracy is practiced by the promoters of nuclear energy, but the situation today is not that of 1970, when the nuclear programs were launched. Nuclear power, which was to be so cheap that it would not need meters, has been shown to be the most expensive way to produce electricity when the full cycle is considered. It was also the safest, and Chernobyl showed it to be the most dangerous. Peaceful uses and nuclear proliferation go hand in hand, and today, thanks to nuclear energy, the world is more dangerous than ever, with new nuclear powers, such as Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, and in the near future Iran. . And what would happen in the event of a terrorist attack against a nuclear power plant?

The investment of a nuclear power plant is more than 2,000 euros per kW of generation capacity, while in natural gas combined cycle plants it is 450 euros per kW and 900 euros per kW of wind, which does not require fuel or emit CO2 does not generate radioactive waste for thousands of years. Construction times for a nuclear power plant range from seven to fifteen years, compared to two for a combined cycle power plant or about eight months for a wind farm, and are subject to enormous uncertainties and popular opposition. The construction of a nuclear power plant causes enormous long-term debt, subject to fluctuations in interest rates. The best proof of their zero profitability is that they have not stood the test of the market, and are only promoted by public companies without any transparency. An energy source must internalize all its costs, including the decommissioning of the plant and the management of high-level radioactive waste. Even if it is only in the salaries of sworn guards for thousands of years, the costs of the entire cycle are ruinous. But when they talk about costs, all these externalities are omitted, assuming that we will be the citizens who pay them. The business is to build nuclear power plants, and even manage them, but the waste and the dismantling of the plants, how much does it cost? Who pays for it? Who bears the insurance policies in the event of an accident? Nuclear energy is the clearest example of privatization of profits and socialization of losses.

The huge investments that nuclear power plants require come at an opportunity cost, drawing resources from other more employment-intensive and more sustainable sectors, such as demand management, increased energy efficiency and renewable energies. Nuclear power plants have disastrous effects on the regions where they are established, mainly on tourism, being enclave industries that hardly create jobs and harm the development of other sectors.

Nuclear power plants only produce electricity

Nuclear power plants only serve to produce electricity, much more expensive and dangerous than with wind energy, a real alternative, badly despite the promoters of nuclearization. Nuclear power plants are unnecessary and will never replace oil, as only a tiny and increasingly smaller percentage of oil derivatives is used to generate electricity. Bioethanol and biodiesel, and in the medium term hydrogen obtained from renewable primary energies, are the alternative to the use of fossil fuels, and not a source that only serves to produce electricity, which can be generated from many other sources with much less impact. Furthermore, nuclear power plants are not very efficient, as their energy efficiency barely reaches 30%, the rest dissipating as residual heat through the water used to cool the reactor. Water consumption, even in closed circuits, is high, so they must be located on the coast or near a large river. In 2005, coal accounted for 28% of the participation in Spanish electricity production; nuclear energy 19.6%; natural gas 26%; oil, 8.9%; wind power 7%; hydraulic 7.9% (it was an exceptionally dry year) and other renewables 2.6%. Renewables, especially wind, have undergone great development, and in the coming decades will allow us to produce the necessary electricity, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and the gradual and orderly closure of nuclear power plants at the end of their useful life, without the need to build any more. In the past, 5 nuclear power plants have been paralyzed in Spain, and attempts to revive a dying, expensive and dangerous option are very likely to be doomed to failure.

Immature technology

Neither science nor technology is neutral, having considerable social, environmental and ethical repercussions. Nuclear technology, in addition to being sophisticated and centralized, has undoubted military applications, is in the hands of only half a dozen multinational companies and is immature, being far from solving the problems of safety, dismantling and disposal of radioactive waste. It's like getting into a car, not knowing how to stop it. Nuclear energy will increase technological dependence in most phases of the nuclear cycle (especially enrichment and reprocessing), and also on fuel, since we buy uranium, which is a resource as scarce as oil, and we depend on its enrichment as much as oil or natural gas.

In statistical terms, nuclear energy is considered “national”, which is one of many falsehoods. It is as national as the natural gas that we import from Algeria. And in order to reduce dependency, it is sensible to invest in wind and solar energy, where we have important companies (Gamesa, Acciona, Isofoton, Ecotecnia ...) that export sustainable energy to the whole world, without waste and without the risks of proliferation or terrorism. .

Nuclear power plants are ecologically disastrous

Nuclear power plants hardly emit carbon dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides), but neither do wind energy or the different applications of solar energy, and renewable energies, unlike nuclear energy, do not suppose a risk to the environment throughout its entire life cycle. Nuclear power plants pollute in all phases, starting from the same uranium mines, where they release radon gas and other radioactive substances, such as radium and polonium, and destroy large areas of land (to obtain one kilogram of uranium, more than one ton must be removed of land, and of this kilo only 0.7% is U-235). The radioactivity emitted throughout the entire life cycle is concentrated and accumulated in the trophic chain, and it is not possible to speak of minimum admissible doses, since all are dangerous.

Waste for eternity

The National Radioactive Waste Company (Enresa), after more than 20 years, has not yet found any municipality that wants to host the cemetery for high-activity radioactive waste, neither the temporary nor the definitive one, despite all that it offers . Today, Enresa's goal is modest, but difficult: to find a Spanish nuclear centralized temporary warehouse (ATC) with a capacity of 6,700 tons, a life of 100 years and a cost of 500 million euros.

The urgency of the ATC responds to three factors:

• The saturation of the cooling pools of nuclear power plants, where high-level waste is currently stored; • In 2010, 12 cubic meters of high-level waste returned from France, together with 650 cubic meters of low-level waste, from the reprocessing of the Vandellós 1 fuel, sent after the fire suffered by the nuclear plant in 1989. In the agreement signed with the French company Cogema penalties of 50,000 euros per day were set, starting in 2010;

• Starting in 2011, the 600 kilograms of plutonium and 100 tons of uranium returned, sent to the United Kingdom by the company that owns the Santa María de Garoña nuclear power plant (Burgos). Enresa has a nuclear warehouse in El Cabril (Córdoba) for low and medium level radioactive waste, but it is not allowed to store high level waste. The Trillo (Guadalajara) plant had to build an individual temporary warehouse (ATI) when its cooling pool reached its capacity cap in 2002, and Zorita (Guadalajara), which closes on April 30 this year, will also have your own ATI. And if the ATC is not operational in 2010, as is likely, individual temporary warehouses will be required in Cofrentes (Valencia) and Ascó (Tarragona). Enresa announced in 2005 that the municipality hosting the ATC will receive twelve million euros per year, a figure that will be increased to eighteen million when from 2030 the estimated life of the Spanish nuclear power plants begins to expire. But even so they have not found any municipality that offers itself, and the situation will get worse when the construction of a definitive warehouse is approached, the so-called deep geological warehouse (AGP), whose cost would rise, according to Enresa itself, to 12,000 million euros . The logical thing is that all these costs were assumed by the owner companies, which are the ones that have embarked on the nuclear option and have invoiced the kWh produced. And what do the advocates of nuclear power say about this hot potato that is high radioactive waste, and that nobody wants or knows how to fix? And while they have no solution, it would be better for them to shut up.

Nuclear proliferation

Nuclear power plants are the profitability of the huge investments made in the military industry. A good part of its subsequent success is due to its military applications and rare is the government that does not aspire to have its atomic bomb, for which it is enough to have a nuclear power plant, to master enrichment or reprocessing, extracting plutonium. A world without nuclear power plants will be much safer and more peaceful. The US and Russia have 30,000 nuclear warheads and there are 5,000 tons of enriched uranium and 450 tons of plutonium in the hands of various countries, enough to make several thousand atomic bombs. If any of them fell into the hands of one of the many terrorist groups, the consequences would be catastrophic. The silence that surrounds everything related to nuclear proliferation reminds the ostrich that in the face of danger sticks its head under the ground, but proliferation is still present and is a much greater and more immediate threat than climate change. There are registered more than half a thousand incidents of smuggling of nuclear products confirmed since 1993 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN agency that ensures compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a document that is increasingly ignored. , and of course arbitrary, since it seeks to sanction the monopoly on terror. Any country threatened by the US or Israel will sooner or later try to gain access to atomic weapons, something that is becoming easier. Many of the nuclear programs only mask the determined will to acquire nuclear weapons. The best known cases are Israel, South Africa, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and India, but the truth is that the so-called peaceful uses of nuclear energy have always been linked, from their origin, to military uses.

The nuclear energy crisis

Today the nuclear industry is in deep crisis. There are 443 commercial nuclear reactors in operation in the world, with an installed capacity of 369 Gigawatts (1 GW = 1,000 MW). Nuclear energy, presented 35 years ago as the alternative to oil, natural gas and coal, today only represents 5.7% of the world's primary energy consumption, despite dubious accounting methods, since heat is considered produced in fission and not the electricity actually produced. With less manipulated methods, and identical to those applied to renewable energies, the share of nuclear energy is reduced to less than 2% of the world's primary energy consumption.

Today only 26 plants are being built, with a power of 20.8 GW, the lowest number in 35 years, responding to orders from previous years. The number of orders is insufficient to maintain a nuclear industry, which only survives thanks to the waste of public resources. The installed power in 2006 (369 GW) is only 12% higher than in 1990 (328 GW), a figure twelve times lower than the 4,450 GW forecast by the IAEA in 1974 for the year 2000. Nuclear energy, overwhelmed by problems security, final disposal of radioactive waste, crazy costs, better alternatives such as natural gas combined cycle plants and wind turbines, increased efficiency and renewable energy, and the opposition of a well-informed public opinion, no it has no future, despite efforts to design new, safer reactors, using huge public resources. Meanwhile, a total of 110 reactors with an installed power of 35,309 MW have closed permanently. The average operating life is less than 18 years, very far from the 40 years expected by construction companies, who even want to extend the life of fully amortized plants to 60 years.

Current situation

United States: There have been no orders for new reactors since October 1973 that have not been canceled. In the last 40 years, 120 reactors have been canceled, with a power of 132 GW. The 104 nuclear power plants existing in 2006, with less power than canceled, produce 20% of the electricity. 23 nuclear power plants have been closed, and none are under construction.

France: has 59 nuclear power plants, another 11 closed and none under construction. The debt of the public company Electricité de France amounts to about 25,000 million euros. Installed overcapacity, security and waste problems, and debt costs, jeopardize the future of a nuclear sector supported by direct and indirect public subsidies, and a total lack of transparency. In 2007 the government will try to start the construction of a new reactor, perhaps to try to revive the dying French nuclear industry, in a country where the development of wind energy, unlike Germany and Spain, is nil.

Japan: it has 56 plants and a capacity of 47.8 GW. In 1999, one of the largest nuclear accidents occurred in a nuclear fuel factory, and in 2004 4 workers were killed at the Fukui nuclear power plant. In December 1995 the fast reactor at Monju suffered a serious accident. Popular opposition, rising costs, several serious accidents and the lack of places, in a country that suffers frequent earthquakes, mortgages the nuclear future. There is only one reactor under construction and the vast majority of the population is anti-nuclear.

Former USSR: the Chernobyl accident and the economic crisis have almost wiped out the nuclear industry in Russia, a country that signed a contract with Siemens for the development of a new type of reactor, the VVER 640. Some 50 nuclear power plants under construction o in advanced project they were paralyzed after Chernobyl. Operating reactors in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Armenia pose serious safety concerns, as do those of the same technology in Bulgaria and Slovakia.

Germany: the 6 existing reactors in East Germany, after unification, were closed, and the 5 under construction abandoned. No new plant has been commissioned for 30 years. The anti-nuclear movement has always been powerful. The government of Social Democrats and Greens planned to close the 19 existing nuclear power plants in the coming years, a commitment that has not been questioned by the new coalition government between the right and the Social Democracy. 19 nuclear power plants have already been closed, 17 remain in operation and none are under construction.

Canada: The construction of new reactors is paralyzed, after several projects in the province of Ontario have been canceled. There are 18 reactors in operation, 7 closed and none under construction.

UK: Proof of how ruinous nuclear programs are was the inability to privatize UK nuclear power plants. There are no plans to build any new nuclear power plants, although the government periodically launches probe balloons, as is the case in most countries, where pressure groups from the nuclear sector always have a great echo in the media controlled by big business. . It has 23 reactors in operation, another 22 closed and none under construction.

Sweden: after the 1980 referendum, the plans are to close the 13 Swedish nuclear plants before 2010. Three have already been closed, and only 10 remain in operation.

South Korea: in 2006 there were 20 nuclear power plants and currently does not build any new reactors. In 1988 the first anti-nuclear demonstration in the country's history took place. In January 1996, the Yonggwang Municipality withdrew the authorization to build two nuclear power plants. Recently it became known the government's intention to build atomic bombs.

Spain: the definitive moratorium since January 1995 on 5 nuclear power plants that will never work (Trillo II, Valdecaballeros I and II and the two Lemóniz groups) has cost consumers more than 10 billion euros. The business was always construction, even if the nuclear power plants never worked. The state has already been in charge of making consumers pay. Zapatero's PSOE plans are to gradually close the 9 existing plants. Zorita will be closed in 2006, and environmental organizations are pushing to close Garoña. Despite the probe balloons, in the eight years of the PP government, the construction of any new nuclear power plant did not begin. One thing is the minute of glory and a headline for a statement in favor of new nuclear power plants, and quite another to make them, obtain licenses, financing and overcome the foreseeable opposition of the vast majority of the population, which in 96% it does not want more nuclear power plants.

Belgium: the 7 reactors produce 55% of the country's electricity. There are no plans to increase the nuclear park.

Taiwan: the 6 nuclear plants produce 32% of the electricity. Plans to build two reactors at Yenliao have been delayed. In September 1994 a policeman was killed in an anti-nuclear demonstration, and the anti-nuclear opposition is growing.

China: has 9 nuclear power plants in operation and 3 under construction. It has a 288 MW reactor of its own technology in Qinshan and another 2 of 906 MW each of French technology in Daya Bay, near Hong Kong, where more than a million people (20% of the population) have signed a petition. calling for the closure of the two reactors for safety reasons. In 1994, the construction of 2 nuclear plants in Qinshan of 600 MW each began, and it has ambitious plans to reach 36 GW in the year 2020, and to this end it maintains relationships with French, Russian and Canadian companies.

India: has 15 small nuclear power plants (totaling 3,040 MW) with an impressive history of accidents and malfunctions, and is currently building another 8. It has a major nuclear program for military use directed against Pakistan and especially China. Indian wind power (4,430 MW in 2005) is already higher than nuclear power, something that happens in several countries, and will be the norm in the coming years.

Mexico: has two reactors of 654 MW each in Laguna Verde, despite the country's energy resources.

Argentina: the Atucha 1 plant was inaugurated in 1974 and Embalse (600 MW) in 1983. Nazi refugees Ronald Richter and Walter Schnurr played a key role in the Argentine nuclear program and in the contract with the German firm KWU, of the Siemens group. The intentions to possess the atomic bomb were evident, although the end of the military dictatorship redirected the situation.

Brazil: the Nazis Alfred Boettcher and Wilhelm Groth are at the origin of the Brazilian nuclear program, and above all in the absurd and leonine contract that Brazil signed with the Kraftwerk Union (Siemens) to acquire 8 nuclear power plants. The program was paralyzed, but the country continued to pay Siemens. Today only the Angra 1 and Angra 2 nuclear power plants operate.

Cuba: in 1992 the construction of the Juraguá nuclear power plant with 2 reactors of obsolete and dangerous Soviet technology was paralyzed due to lack of funds. Since then, they have been talked about again from time to time, as in the wake of Putin's visit to Cuba in December 2000.

Pakistan: Kanupp, the 125 MW Canadian-technology reactor inaugurated in 1972, is linked to the program that led to the atomic bomb. The conflict with India over the Kashmir region makes the area the "most dangerous in the world", and a nuclear war between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out. Abdul Qader Jan, the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, punished and pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf, organized a nuclear technology supermarket with North Korea, Libya and Iran, among other countries.

Austria: In 1986 it was decided to permanently close down the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant. Italy: in the referendum of November 1987 it was decided to abandon nuclear energy, closing the plants in operation or under construction, such as Garigliano (150 MW), Latina (153 MW), Trino (260) and Caorso (860 MW).

20 years after Chernobyl

The accident at the Three Miles Island nuclear power plant in the US in 1979 could have had catastrophic consequences, narrowly avoided, but it was serious enough to end nuclear programs in the largest economic power. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, which has left more than 25,000 dead, between military and civilians, since 1986, although nuclear propaganda aims to reduce the figure to a tenth. The number of people affected by cancer as a result of this disaster will reach its peak between now and 2020. Thousands of people suffer from thyroid cancer in different areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.

On the night of April 25-26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m. on Saturday, at Chernobyl reactor number 4, the largest accident in nuclear history took place. The effects of radioactivity have exceeded all expectations, and the true magnitude of the damage is being known years later. More than 25,000 people have already died, and at least 7 million have been contaminated by radioactivity. The Chernobyl disaster severely affected Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, causing incalculable losses and terrible damage to people, flora and fauna. More than 160,000 km2 are contaminated. The Chernobyl accident was one of the biggest environmental catastrophes, and its costs exceed 250,000 million dollars, according to an official study of the Russian government, revealed by the Wall Street Journal.

Los cuatro reactores existentes en Chernobil eran del modelo RBMK-1.000, un peligroso modelo de agua en ebullición, moderado por grafito. Todavía hay en funcionamiento varios reactores nucleares del tipo RBMK, y su cierre ha sido pospuesto por razones económicas, a pesar de sus riesgos, puestos de manifiesto en la catástrofe de Chernobil. En Chernobil funcionaban 4 reactores, y se estaban construyendo dos más.

Curiosamente el accidente se produjo al realizar un experimento relacionado con la seguridad, en el que se pretendía demostrar que la electricidad producida por el alternador a partir de la inercia de la turbina sin vapor podría usarse para alimentar ciertos componentes del sistema de refrigeración de emergencia, durante periodos cortos, hasta que pudiera disponerse de los generadores de emergencia. Inicialmente se preveía experimentar con una reducción de la potencia, desde 3.000 megavatios térmicos a 1.000 MWt, pero sin embargo el reactor no pudo estabilizarse con suficiente rapidez, y la potencia se redujo a sólo 30 MWt. Al acumularse una energía en el combustible del orden de 300 cal/g, se produjo una disgregación del combustible seguida por una explosión. Dos o tres segundos después ocurrió una segunda explosión, causada probablemente por la liberación de hidrógeno cuando el vapor oxidó al zirconio de las varillas del combustible.

La violencia de la energía desprendida provocó la elevación de la losa soporte del reactor, de dos toneladas, haciendo inoperativo el sistema de contención. La entrada de aire facilitó la combustión del grafito. Fueron necesarios nueve días de heroico esfuerzo para poder controlar el incendio posterior a la explosión del reactor. Para controlar el fuego y contener la radiactividad, los helicópteros lanzaron sobre el núcleo del reactor más de 5.000 toneladas de plomo, boro y otros materiales. Posteriormente se construyó un gigantesco sarcófago, hecho con 410.000 metros cúbicos de hormigón y 7.000 toneladas de acero; el sarcófago fue terminado en noviembre de 1986 y hoy debería ser sustituido por otra estructura. El reactor dañado permanecerá radiactivo como mínimo los próximos 100.000 años.

El accidente fue detectado el lunes 28 de abril de 1986, a las 9 de la mañana, en la central nuclear sueca de Forsmark, unos 100 kilómetros al norte de Estocolmo, donde los contadores Geiger registraban niveles de radiactividad 14 veces superiores a lo normal. Primero se pensó en un escape en la propia central (las primeras noticias de las agencias de prensa hablaban de un accidente en una central sueca), pero un exhaustivo control mostró que la central funcionaba perfectamente y que la radiactividad venía de lejos. Cuando los suecos reclamaron una explicación, las autoridades soviéticas respondieron con evasivas. Doce horas después de la primera alerta de Forsmark, un comunicado del consejo de ministros de la URSS leído en la televisión reconoció que se había producido un accidente en Chernobil. La población de la zona no fue informada en los primeros días de la gravedad de la situación, lo que agravó los efectos.

En el accidente de Three Mile Island, en Pensilvania (Estados Unidos), en 1979, se liberaron 17 curios. En Chernobil, según las autoridades soviéticas, fueron 50 megacurios (50 millones de curios) de los más peligrosos radionucleidos, a los que hay que añadir otros 50 megacurios en gases radiactivos inertes. Las cifras reales fueron mayores que las declaradas por el gobierno soviético. Para la OCDE las emisiones ascendieron a 140 megacurios. Según la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) en el accidente de Chernobil se emitió 200 veces más radiactividad que la liberada por la suma de las bombas nucleares lanzadas sobre Hiroshima y Nagasaki en 1945, aunque el gobierno de Ucrania afirma que fue 500 veces más.

Toda la población en un radio de 30 kilómetros fue evacuada. Aún hoy cerca de 375.000 personas no han podido regresar a sus hogares, según la OMS. La ciudad de Pripiat, que contaba con 50.000 habitantes antes del accidente, hoy está abandonada. La radiactividad, a no ser que se reciban dosis extremadamente altas, mata lentamente y no hay dosis admisibles por debajo de las cuales ésta deja de ser peligrosa. Cerca de 800.000 personas, los liquidadores, participaron en la construcción del sarcófago que envuelve el reactor o en las tareas de descontaminación y limpieza, recibiendo altas dosis de radiactividad, superiores en un 7% de los liquidadores a más de 250 mSv (milisievert), aunque muchos superaron los 500 mSv; la dosis máxima admisible reconocida internacionalmente para la población normal es de 5 mSv/año. Una de las consecuencias de la catástrofe de Chernobil fue la absorción por el organismo de miles de personas de grandes cantidades de yodo-131 y cesio-137. El yodo-131, aunque tiene una vida corta, se acumula en la glándula tiroides, causando hipertiroidismo y cáncer, sobre todo en los niños. El cesio- 137 tiene una vida media de 30 años, por lo que sus efectos aún se harán notar.

El ADN de las células germinales que transmiten la información genética fue dañado por la radiactividad, algo que no ocurrió ni en Hiroshima ni en Nagasaki, según un estudio dirigido por Yuri Dubrova, del Instituto Vavilov de Genética General con sede en Moscú, publicado en la revista Nature. Las secuelas de Chernobil perdurarán durante varias generaciones.

José Santamarta es director de World Watch. [email protected],

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