Topic 15. Environmental Degradation and Human Health Problems

Read: Brown, Kate. Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. Penguin UK, 2019. (Part 2 // Hot Survival).

This chapter demonstrates the level of the devastation and human health problems that followed the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in 1986. It tells a story about the wool factory in Chernihiv, which was storing and processing highly contaminated wool collected in Ukraine after the Chernobyl disaster. Hundreds of employees, mostly women, suffered from radiation, and 298 of them requested “liquidator status,” but were rejected. The case describes the working conditions on the factory and reveals the difference between the declared social values and reality. The author argues that in the USSR, “safety gave way to production and profit.” After the accident, agricultural produce from the contaminated territory was still considered as a resource to be consumed, with a few additional precautionary measures.

Questions for preparation:

1. How did the enterprises react to the health-related complaints of employees? Did the decision-makers have a choice to act differently?
2. Why was the factory administration reluctant to recognize health problems caused by contaminated produce?
3. Why did the Soviet authorities decide not to discard the contaminated wool and meat?
4. What does this case tell us about inequality in the Soviet Union? Does this case confirm or deny the thesis that environmental problems cause more suffering among poor people?
5. What does the case tell us about relations between the central and local governments on the one hand and the factory management on the other?