jueves, 26 de diciembre de 2013

“Clean-up workers”, volunteers to die

The ‘liquidators’ (clean-up workers) are the first forefront at any catastrophe. According to the dictionary of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española, the word ‘liquidate’ has, among other meanings, that of ‘stopping something from going on, remove it or make it disappear’.
The human activity impact on the environment did not acquire a really dramatic scope until the last century. Therefore, ‘liquidators’, those people who firstly try to counteract the effects of a disaster, risking their lives, were not necessary.





From Chernobyl… with fear
There seems to be consensus that the term ‘liquidator’ was created by Russians to refer to those people, poorly equipped, who faced the hell of fire and radiation untied after the accident of a reactor in the nuclear plant of Chernobyl (Ukraine), in 1986.
The cinematographic precedent of the film “From Russia with love” has been followed years later with a happening –not fictitious- that we could synthesize as “From Chernobyl with fear”. Obviously, the undeniable fear of European nations, near or far to the scene of the tragedy, that were bathed in a radioactive cloud, surely unprecedented in the history of mankind.
We’ll never be able to assess the environmental and human lives cost of the poisoning cloud. However, we can say that if it did not acquire apocalyptic proportions was due to the self-denying work of the liquidators, volunteers mostly, who faced radiation and fought it precariously with a mass of concrete that was dropped upon the stricken reactor, and that the world came to call the Chernobyl sarcophagus. Many of those liquidators of the collective mistake that was the Ukrainian plant were themselves liquidated in turn by the effect of the lethal doses of radiation received. It was an act of generosity and dedication that has been repeated recently in Japan.

Fukushima and the silence of the Japanese
Life is beautiful, even in Fukushima despite the devastating effect of the earthquake, combined with a tsunami that hit the Japanese nuclear plant. The Japanese authorities have sought to keep a prudent silence for minimizing the severity of the loss and the pain of its wounded national pride. Again in this nuclear emergency liquidators played their role, although in a limited number. Official figures established a quantity of 50 (The 50 of Fukushima), who would have been working in shifts. The total figure would be between 180 and 800 brigade-liquidators. Nonetheless, the actual number will never be known, since it seems that there had also been the selfless collaboration of civilians. And among those helpers, most people would be elderly, who sacrificing themselves, tried to prevent other young people helping the emergency from suffering the effects of exposure to lethal doses of radiation. The director of the stricken plant died two years after the accident.
Chernobyl and Fukushima show the paradigm of self-sacrifice on the part of the liquidators. Though the word seems to be reserved for major emergencies brigades, we believe that should be extended. Liquidators, according to dictionaries and evidences, are all those contributing to stop an emergency, whether it is a nuclear accident or an oil spill, earthquake, cyclone or hurricane, floods, terrorist attacks, major fire…, endangering their own lives.

Read the Spanish version