Journalist Adam Higginbotham's definitive account of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster involved a multi-year investigation. Joining George Knapp in the first half, he outlined how propaganda, secrecy, and myth obscured the true story of what happened in April 1986 when reactor number four of the plant exploded. The incident, he noted, has become lodged in the collective nightmares of the world about what can happen when a careless state endangers its citizens and the planet with greed for energy. He considers Chernobyl to be a bigger disaster than Fukushima, as more radioactivity was released, and a larger number of lives were affected-- some five million people in the surrounding areas of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The USSR had previously hushed up a severe nuclear incident-- a 1957 accident in the Urals at a plutonium processing factory that was kept secret. Many problems contributed to the Chernobyl accident, said Higginbotham, and the plant designers knew of them up to 10 years before the incident "but they did very little to fix them, and tried their best to cover them up." Faulty tests led to the reactor going into a state of extreme instability, leading to two massive explosions, one of which blew the roof off the building, releasing "a colossal torrent of extremely toxic radioactivity into the atmosphere," he recounted. Two of the workers performed heroic acts that day-- one managed to "close this huge airlock door against this roiling tide of radioactive steam." Clean-up efforts were an enormous undertaking, he cited, with some 600,000 people working on the project and passing through the "exclusion zone." Curiously, Chernobyl is now a major tourist attraction.
In the latter half, animal rights advocate and former president of the Humane Society of the US, Wayne Pacelle, talked about animal welfare issues, looking at some of the recent successes and failures. Many animal breeds are facing extinction (some 1,000 species are on the endangered list), and he suggested the leading cause of this is the rapid expansion of the human population. The acceptance of trophy hunting has been waning after there was an outcry over the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. Subsequently, major air carriers have decided they would not transport the bodies of exotic big game animals, which Pacelle considers a significant turning point in attitudes about such types of hunting.
He spoke about the problem of killing animals for specific body parts-- sharks for their fins, bears for gall bladders, and rhino for horns. These practices are wasteful and putting animals in jeopardy, Pacelle remarked, and animal welfare legislation has been proposed to curb them. He also reported on a barbaric practice called "horse soring" where Tennessee Walking Horses' feet are damaged intentionally so they can perform an exaggerated gait in competitions. For more information on opposing cruelty to animals, people can visit the Center for a Humane Economy, and sign up for an email newsletter at Animal Wellness Action.