New Chernobyl?

David Satter wonders if another Chernobyl is possible in Russia, given their technology and a persistent culture of secrecy and unaccountability.

Of course, in a fascinating book, Mary Mycio argues that Chernobyl’s effects were more complex and less simplistically devastating than the pop press or Greenpeace might have it (the area is now a vast wildlife sanctuary for rare species among other things!) But I still can’t help thinking it is a bit like the old George Leonard Herter chestnut: “Being eaten alive by hyenas is less painful than you would think”.


  1. The Hanford Reach in Washington State where a big piece of land is also contaminated and off limits to humans has also become a wildlife refuge. And Cahill, Matthiessen and Quammen have talked about how beneficial war is when it prevents the poachers from whatever no man’s land is imposed.

    Prairie Mary

  2. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (27 sq. miles in size) just outside metro Denver ( is another site where the U.S. produced chemical weapons/pesticides beginning with WW II and into the late 50s. It is now home to a diverse list of species and prairie and wetland habitats. It’s too contaiminated to ever be developed, unless we come up with some amazing new cleanup technologies. The public can visit this refuge on weekends though, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, has developed an extensive chldhood environmnetal eduaction program with both onsite and classroom outreach programs in place. Reid and I did an archaeological survey on the arsenal back in the early 80s when they finally figured out is was a chemical stew pot and that something needed to be done. Even then, the site was teeming with wildlife.

  3. I once had the chance to take a tour of the Idaho Nuclear Laboratory’s buffer zone, which is closed to the public for security reasons. The sagebrush and wildlife is just amazing on that site. There were also huge numbers of artifacts scattered around the landscape, because collecting is not permitted.

    I would love to be able to get on INL during the spring when the reported thousands of rattlensakes emerge from their hibernacula. I am told it is quite a spectacle.

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