The horrendous stories coming out of Japan since the earthquake, and especially the very real possibility of a nuclear meltdown, made me remember what I usually try to forget: the power for my lamps and washing machine and computer here in Paris comes from nuclear plants.
In 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor melted down in Ukraine-- still in the Soviet Union at the time-- I was living in Munich, Germany. The Soviets told no one about the meltdown. The radiation from Chernobyl, swept by the wind, blew to Sweden where the Swedes detected it and warned the world. But it then blew south over all of Germany and in Bavaria, in fact right over Munich, fell to the ground as rain. I was out in that rainstorm and got soaking wet; we had received no warning. A radiologist taking a walk with his child that day sued the government for endangering its citizens.
Below: A map from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation of the Surface ground deposition of caesium-137 in Europe
"The Germans ran article after article in all the newspapers about what measures to take, what not to eat (wild mushrooms and berries), what the exact dangers were. As the wind and rain from Chernobyl swept across Europe, the German government ordered all the cattle and schoolchildren in Germany indoors for a couple of weeks, forbade the sale of wild mushrooms and berries, and had the wooden structures in every playground in the country planed. The newspapers were full of advice about radiation and iodine and what measures everyone should take.
"In the middle of the crisis, I took the train to Paris to meet my brother. As soon as you crossed the border, there were cattle grazing peacefully in the fields again and children playing outdoors. The newspapers were full of other things. If you mentioned Chernobyl, the French would say, “That was a week ago!” The reason for the different approaches: France got and still gets most of its electrical power from nuclear plants." The French government did.... nothing.
From the Greek government's Demokritos Institute of Nuclear Technology (below) -- A Map of the Risk of Nuclear Accidents in Europe:
I still don't eat cheap wild mushrooms-- a lot of them come from the Ukraine.