Full text of Why Stay in Chernobyl? Because It’s home by Holly Morris at TED conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Mp3 – Holly Morris on Why stay in Chernobyl – Because it’s home.
Three years ago, I was standing about a hundred yards from Chernobyl nuclear reactor number four. My Geiger counter dosimeter, which measures radiation, was going berserk, and the closer I got, the more frenetic it became, and frantic. My God.
I was there covering the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident, as you can see by the look on my face, reluctantly so, but with good reason, because the nuclear fire that burned for 11 days back in 1986 released 400 times as much radiation as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the sarcophagus, which is the covering over reactor number four, which was hastily built 27 years ago, now sits cracked and rusted and leaking radiation.
So I was filming. I just wanted to get the job done and get out of there fast. But then, I looked into the distance, and I saw some smoke coming from a farmhouse, and I’m thinking, who could be living here? I mean, after all, Chernobyl’s soil, water and air, are among the most highly contaminated on Earth, and the reactor sits at the center of a tightly regulated exclusion zone, or dead zone, and it’s a nuclear police state, complete with border guards. You have to have dosimeter at all times, clicking away, you have to have a government minder, and there’s draconian radiation rules and constant contamination monitoring. The point being, no human being should be living anywhere near the dead zone. But they are.
It turns out an unlikely community of some 200 people are living inside the zone. They’re called self-settlers. And almost all of them are women, the men having shorter lifespans in part due to overuse of alcohol, cigarettes, if not radiation. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated at the time of the accident, but not everybody accepted that fate. The women in the zone, now in their 70s and 80s, are the last survivors of a group who defied authorities and, it would seem, common sense, and returned to their ancestral homes inside the zone. They did so illegally. As one woman put it to a soldier who was trying to evacuate her for a second time, “Shoot me and dig the grave. Otherwise, I’m going home.”