People who know little about U.S. grain exports or even less about geography say the Chernobyl nuclear accident has contaminated "the breadbasket of the Soviet Union." Actually, Nebraska is the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.
Soviet agriculture bureaucrats must be musing: it is indeed an ill wind that blows no good. A wind that blows radioactivity onto prime farming land blows for the bureaucrats this benefit: after blaming bad agriculture since 1917 on 69 years of unusually wet and/or dry weather, they have a new alibi.
If the wind had not blown radioactivity over Sweden (doesn't the wind know Sweden is elegantly neutral?) and others, the accident would have remained an Orwellian nonevent. The good for the West that is blowing in this wind is a stark reminder of the kind of regime that runs the Soviet Union.
Environmental depredation is almost a principle of Soviet "scientific socialism," a doctrine that accommodates only materialist values. Negligence about nuclear contamination also is a Soviet pattern. In the past 10 years, there have been two incidents of leakage from U.S. underground nuclear tests, each provoking Soviet complaints. There have been well over 100 leakages -- that we know of -- from Soviet tests.
It was predictable that the Soviet regime would issue the particular lies it issued ("Spy plane!" etc.) after the Korean Airline massacre. It was predictable that the first Soviet reaction to the nuclear accident would be a comprehensive lie: "What accident?" (Soon to become: "Accident? There was no accident, and Western nations should help cope with it.") First the Soviet regime jeopardized neighboring nations by not notifying them; then it began announcing grudging, partial quarter-truths ("two killed"), as usual.
In 1979 there was an epidemic of anthrax near Sverdlosk. The Soviet regime lied robustly, saying it was animal anthrax. There are, in fact, several different strains. But the epidemic was of the kind that afflicts humans and was probably produced in a biological weapons plant that is a violation of an arms control agreement. That probably is why the Soviet regime refused all requests for on-site inspections of the area. This is the regime that arms control lobbyists say is ready to negotiate verifiable arms reduction agreements.
A reasonable surmise is that the accident became serious because the facility was built without proper containment structures. To some extent that may merely represent misplaced Soviet confidence in technology. No society, and no technology, can be regulated in accordance with a no-risk criterion. A few U.S. reactors are without containment structures. That lack may represent a mistaken calculation of costs, risks and benefits. But when the Soviet neglect of containment structures is viewed, as it should be, in a cultural context, it has a sinister aspect.
The fire at Chernobyl illuminated a fundamental fact of Soviet culture. Throughout its dark history, the Soviet regime has been willing, even eager, to trade human lives for forced-draft economic development.
A ghastly constant of Soviet policy has been to regard the Soviet population as an abundant, renewable and hence expendable raw material. The huge ongoing system of slave labor is a manifestation of this mentality. Readers of the second volume of Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" will remember his account of the construction of the White Sea Canal. Uncounted scores of thousands of lives were squandered because foreign exchange was considered more valuable -- too valuable to "waste" on labor-saving (and life-saving) machinery.
A survivor recalled: "At the end of the workday there were corpses left on the work site. . . . At night the sledges went out and collected them. The drivers threw the corpses on the sledges with a dull clonk." That "clonk" was and is the sound, almost the voice, of the regime. It is reasonable to suspect that in the construction of reactors, as in the construction of canals, the Soviet regime is reluctant to spend money merely to minimize risk to life. Certainly the regime's behavior regarding the Chernobyl accident illustrates the lesson that must be learned over and over concerning the Soviet ruling class: they are not like us. Never mind the "common humanity" of the Soviet people. It is the regime with which we must contend.
The science editor of the Financial Times says we must "ask hard questions of Moscow about its obligations to neighboring states and why it tried to conceal an accident with manifestly far-reaching consequences." These are not science questions, and neither are they hard to answer.
From Poland around to Afghanistan, it is easy to see the Soviet regime'se of its "obligations" to neighboring states. And the regime tried to conceal the accident because mendacity is the regime's ruling principle.