Hundreds of books, long and short, have been written about the Chernobyl tragedy. Few people are left indifferent once they understand a little about the biggest technological catastrophe in history. Wladimir Tchertkoff’s book The Crime of Chernobyl: The Nuclear Gulag occupies a central place in this library about Chernobyl.
Many journalists, like Wladimir Tchertkoff, a documentary film maker for Swiss televisionf, were shocked by what they saw in the areas affected by the radioactive emissions following the explosion at Reactor 4 of the Lenin nuclear power plant in Chernobyl (Ukraine). Many witnesses, like Tchertkoff, were revolted by the events that followed in the scientific and political world after the Catastrophe. But very few were able to gather together all the facts to back up these feelings of indignation in a formidable work of documentation.
Tchertkoff’s book does not limit itself to remembering the events. It demands of each of us that we grasp the fact that following the Chernobyl catastrophe, the damage to human health and to the natural environment will be felt for hundreds of years over immense areas of the northern hemisphere contaminated by strontium-90 and caesium-137, and for tens of thousands of years by plutonium in a number of areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
Tchertkoff’s book is reminiscent of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous book The Gulag Archipelago, not simply in its title but in the method used to select and reveal the facts: it is a documentary (supplying names, titles and dates), it is encyclopaedic (the destinies and actions of individuals are accompanied by medical, historical, physical, biological, legal and political documentation) and it is passionate (the author is not a foreign observer but an active participant in events).
The bringing together of all this information, combined with the author’s obvious talent as a writer, makes the publication of Wladimir Tchertkoff’s book an important event for thousands and thousands of people in different countries. For those living in the contaminated territories, or those who have been exposed in any way to dangerous levels of artificial radionuclides, this book will help them towards a better understanding of how to deal with the dangers posed by radiation to themselves and to those closest to them. For those who are trying, in spite of the reaction to the consequences of Chernobyl from governments and international organisations, which was muted, to say the least, to understand more fully and to reduce to a minimum the uncontrolled effects of “Atoms for Peace” – the chronic exposure to low level ionising radiation, the effects of artificial radiation on health – this book will provide great moral support.
This is an important book for the history of contemporary society: it documents the way in which, during the last quarter of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century, political statements diverged, sometimes diametrically, from the real action taken. The corporate interests of the nuclear industry and short-term “political expediency” took precedence over safety considerations and over the lives of millions of people. Finally, the book contains many striking descriptions of human behaviour: cowardice and heroism, baseness and self-sacrifice, selflessness and villainy, a sense of duty and irresponsibility.
This book is a revised and fuller version of the 2006 French edition. It is based on documents from the hundreds of hours of film footage used in the seven documentary films made about the Chernobyl catastrophe by the inseparable team, Wladimir Tchertkoff – Emanuela Andreoli.
When the first French edition of this book came out, it led to the establishment of the international organisation, IndependentWHO, and to demonstrations being held on a daily (!) basis in Geneva, calling on the World Health Organisation to tell the truth about the consequences of Chernobyl, and about Fukushima too (the WHO refuses to do so, bound as it is by the agreement it signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1959).