In memory of Valery Legasov

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the accident at the Soviet nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, it is appropriate to commemorate the life of the academician, Valery Legasov, who in addition to his indisputable scientific accomplishments, also demonstrated a total independence of spirit and complete sincerity regarding this disastrous accident. 
The accident took place on 26 April 1986 and it was in the following August at a special meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, that Valery Legasov presented a detailed account of the accident to some hundreds of experts, revealing its astounding causes and the truly tragic consequences. 
This honest presentation which shared details of the errors in the actions taken by skilled persons within Soviet society was something quite unusual, even inconceivable. Within a few days the rest of the nuclear community learned further reliable information concerning the destroyed RBMK type reactor; about the way in which it was exploited and how it was poorly operated during the transient which preceded the accident and what happened during the accident itself. 
Over the three months preceding, the nuclear community had devised numerous hypotheses on the cause of the accident; all were wrong. 
Valery Legasov, in stark opposition to the normal secrecy exhibited by his political leaders, had made a truthful presentation of what had happened.
Having been exposed to radiation himself at the Chernobyl site and having undertaken in Vienna to implement immediately the most urgent provisions to avoid a repetition of this accident, two years later physically weakened and demoralised by the absence of such provisions, the brilliant academician, Valery Legasov, committed suicide. 
Currently, the nuclear disaster which has taken place in Japan is often reminiscent of Chernobyl. Nevertheless, the types of reactors are very different, the geological and geographic environments are completely different and the consequences will be different too. Let's hope that there will be a Japanese Valery Legasov who, when the time comes, will reveal the causes and exactly what happened in the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. 
Some countries are preparing to decommission their nuclear power plants or at least, abandon the construction of any others. Some countries are refusing to take such measures. It's their choice. But the accident in Japan should at least give rise to a universal critical assessment, in a reliable and in-depth manner, and eventually lead to the same levels of security being adopted throughout the world. It's no easy task, but from an ethical perspective it's a crucial obligation.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011