Kate Brown at Eurozine:
The race to relegate the Chernobyl disaster to history books shows that humans don't have the patience for the time scale that nuclear accidents require. The period for half of the cesium and strontium fallout to decay elapsed at thirty years. It will take another thirty years to extinguish the remaining half. Americium as it decays over several hundred years issues radioactive iodine, a powerful and harmful, short-lived isotope. Plutonium will continue to pulse with destructive energy for thousands of years.
In the dawning age of the Anthropocene, humans are grappling with new temporal orders presented by a mounting, steadily accruing layer of toxins and carbons produced and released by human activity. One thousand years from now geologists will find substances in the sedimentary layer, among them radioactive isotopes, which they will date starting about 1945. The scientists of the future will be able to track the remnants of plutonium, uranium and other isotopes as they multiplied on the earth's surface in the decades of nuclear weapons testing followed by decades of furious reactor construction. They will locate hot spots of concentrated activity, but generally the isotopes will embrace the planet like the sweet icing glaze encircling a donut: existing everywhere, holding fast, spiking the flavour of life.
Looking back now, it is easy to see how resistant scientists were in the months after the accident to accepting the fact that Chernobyl was a problem with very long legs. In August 1986, Soviet and international scientist met at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. The anxious body of experts rushed to tell the public that the accident was under control.