60 Minutes blog

Liz Hayes: Fallout

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I can’t say I’m the thrill seeker of our team.

I love an adventure and I’m still up for a new experience, and acknowledge risk-taking is part and parcel of a job like mine.

But frankly dear reader, I like to do the calculations. Some additions and subtractions before leaping head first into the unknown.

So when I realised my only safety devices on my latest assignment were a couple of Geiger counters, some pretty flimsy pieces of protective clothing and a burly bloke named Frank, I must say I feared this was one of those times when the risks didn’t add up.

However, with my trusty producer, Phil Goyen, and crew, Scott Morelli and David Ballment, in toe, I headed into the exclusion zone of Chernobyl, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Chernobyl is about three-and-a-half hour’s drive from Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, a country still carrying the scars of a human and environmental catastrophe.

In April, 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant exploded, ironically during a safety test. What followed affected the world. A massive plume of smoke and a cloud of radiated particles swept across Europe and around the globe.

25 years later, the contamination is still showing up in the air, the soil, the food and worst of all - the people.

At a specialist hospital in Kiev, set up specifically for victims of Chernobyl, there are children born years after the explosion, who are suffering serious illnesses that doctors there believe are a direct result of nuclear contamination.

So it was with some trepidation we ventured into Chernobyl.

The radiation levels are inconsistent … high and dangerous in some areas and low in others. But without instruments to tell you, you have no idea where this radioactive contamination is.

You can’t just roll up and get in to Chernobyl. The Ukraine government has to give you permission.

It’s an eerie place.

A dead zone, where remnants of lives once lived can be seen everywhere. Homes and schools and playgrounds frozen in time from the day workers and their families were ordered out, never to return.

We entered a hospital where the first fire fighters to attend the exploding nuclear plant were taken. Their uniforms are still in the basement, and still highly radioactive.

It was a moment I will not forget. For the first time I had a sense of the fear and horror those rescue workers must have felt. A terrible death from something they couldn’t see or touch or smell, but certainly felt.

The shrill of a Geiger counter was the only way of me knowing I was in a dangerous place.

I didn’t like it.

The accommodation in Chernobyl, understandably, is basic. And so, too, is the food.

We gingerly ate what was provided and drank with caution. We were not allowed to sit or place any of our equipment on the ground.

There are people still working in Chernobyl. They undergo regular health checks and are sent away when it’s deemed their accumulated radiation dose is nearing a dangerous level. We, all of us, and our vehicle were checked for radiation before leaving.

So by now you’re wondering who the hell is Frank!

Good question.

Frank was our radiation expert, because after Chernobyl we travelled to Japan and the contaminated territory of Fukushima.

Japan’s nuclear disaster in Fukushima is ongoing. There is an exclusion zone and thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes.

These are not earthquake or tsunami victims. These are radiation refugees - people who miraculously survived the horrors of that dreadful natural disaster in March, only to be made homeless by the meltdown of nuclear reactors in their region.

With Frank and his Geiger counters, we ventured into the exclusion zone. Like Chernobyl, the radiation levels varied. And when they got too high, Frank shouted at us. We listened to Frank, well, mostly when he shouted.

Actually, Frank did a bit of shouting.

We had a habit of forgetting the rules. No equipment on the ground. Clean your shoes. Don’t get out of the car until Frank says.

Journalists, Frank found out, hate rules.

Frank, I think, might now hate journalists.

Much of the region is rural and deceptively peaceful. A Geiger counter the only indication radiation, the invisible enemy, is present.

The human face of this dreadful situation can be seen in shelters in public buildings. It’s where you’ll find families, old and young, struggling to retrieve their lives - a near impossibility when all you have is a cardboard box to mark out your spot, your home.

I don’t know how Japan will recover, and how these refugees will survive. Like Chernobyl, Fukushima could well become a dead zone, where no one will ever be able to return.

User comments
Excellent, actually - surprised to see it on 60-Min when the rest of lamestream media has blacked out relevant coverage. Now you're circulating on the indy news circuits, YouTube, etc. Keep this up, you might tempt me & others to again watch 60-Minutes like we used to - what a thought. This now global catastrophe is proof Prof. Kaku has been holding the correct ("anti") nuclear position all along. Now who is advising anyone, especially pregnant & the young, the protections that should be taken, like iodine supplementation etc.?
I have been teaching a course on the Fukushima 'accident' at a university in China. The Sechuan 'accident' targetted a mountain containing a major Chinese nuclear weapons facility. So called 'climate change' is no accident. All these natural disasters and anomalies are caused by battering the ionosphere with extremely low frequency resonant beams that release exponentially larger amounts of potential energy in the resonant medium concerned, depending on the frequency. The earthquake that caused the tsunami was caused by a 2.5 hz beam that was bounced off the ionosphere for 3 days and was reportedly backed up by nuclear weapons placed in the seabed and a small nuclear weapon concealed in a large camera in Reactor 3. The ELF weapon has been referred to several times in official US statements. It was used in an experiment in 2008 to knock out the magnetosphere. Official statements in China recently warned the Chinese to expect this in 2013 during an massive solar storm that is expected.
In Germany the Government is still compensating farmers for lost income due to radioactive pigs from the Chernobyl accident 25 years. The Government forbids the sale of meat with high levels of Cesium-137 which was released from Chernobyl. Now look how far Germany is from Chernobyl It's at least 1700km.
I was one of the foreigners who needed to evacuate Fukushima when the earthquake hit.... We can certainly measure radiation with a geiger counter. But who can measure the psychological and emotional wounds that this disaster has left on the minds and hearts of the people in Japan?
There is no doubt that Fukushima is a disaster, and alot of innocent people lost their lives on that eventful day. Live footage of a world class horror story unfolding in front of your eyes, makes people realise how tenuous life can be on this planet. Sixty minutes should be asking themselves this question . . . will Liz Hayes blame" Fukushima" or "Sixty Minutes", for any later health issues relating to that Gamma radiation she absorbed through the exposed parts of her hands and face, while extolling the evils of the statistcally safest and cleanest energy source on the planet ?
Although undoubtedly a very serious incident,even chernobyl has not had any wide spread effect on human health as many would beleive.The fact is that cancer rates have not changed by any significant amount since the chernobyl disaster.Even wildlife which live out their entire lives in areas close to the doomed reactor have been shown to be in good health,with no evidence of gene mutation.
The Fall Out report was so one sided anti nuclear sensationalism. Turning the bus around for a reading of less than 3 microsieverts. Get real Liz. You got more radiation dose flying to the location. The experts- Dr Michio Kaku, a long-time campaigner against nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. What do you expect him to say. Iryna Labunska, whom Sixty Minutes describes as a scientist who has been testing food “from areas affected by Chernobyl” . Iryna Labunska is an organic analytical chemist who has been employed at the Greenpeace Laboratory in Kiev and who is also Greenpeace’s radiation safety advisor. A better report would have been to look at nuclear power. Compare the Gen I reactors to the modern reactors of today. Provide information not hypocritical sensationalism.
LIz , Great story, about time we got a bit more insight into the effects of radiation fallout . Our goverment doesnt seem to care to much about us, But i think your company should take more care of you ! I noticed you when you went touring around the disater site you were not dressed correctly in proper PPE. A paper suit and a dust mask will not protect you from radiation or chemicals . Also your hands were not covered . you might as well not have worn any protective garments at all .
Last night on 60minutes Liz Hayes did a very informative show on the radiation present in Japan,it was actually stated that this radiation has already circulated the entire globe, yet the Australian people still have not been informed as to the radiation levels on our beaches, grazing land and oceans,affecting those who swim in the water and consume products from the sea. Meanwhile innocent children on our beaches are playing in the sand with surfer's trustingly surfing the coastal waters who may be getting badly contaminated. Do you know why the government is not testing our waters and our beaches? Keep in mind that not knowing we are contaminated will continue bringing in the tourism dollars. Is money more important than human life? Please do a story on our country regarding the contamination of Australia from Japan. We deserve to know.
Your report was a one sided ratings grab, Fukushima is not Chernobyl, they are poles apart. A more balanced review of fukushima and the fact there are 100's of workers risking their life into ensuring a cold shutdown of this plant by the end of this year and their daily efforts and heroics would have been more appropriate.You had a chance to be fair and reasonable and you went with ratings, sensationalism and fear mongering.

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