“I can see war. I cannot see radiation. I look around one day and I am dead.”
—Dick Gregory, 1979
Illinois is a state of nuclear renown. The first ever atomic chain reaction took place at the University of Chicago in 1942. In 1960 the nation’s first full-scale, privately financed nuclear power plant, Dresden Generating Station, opened in northern Illinois. Today, Illinois continues to be the number one nuclear power producer in the U.S. and a nexus of the debate around its ethical implications.
Last Tuesday, April 26th,marked the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history. Caused by complications during a systems test, a power surge led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of steam explosions. By the year 2000 over 350,400 people had to be evacuated from the most contaminated areas in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine. While there were 31 killed in the accident itself, the Chernobyl Forum anticipates the total number of deaths eventually caused by exposure to radiation will reach 4,000. Other sources suggest much higher numbers, with Greenpeace reporting the figure as high 200,000 or more.
The 1986 tragedy at Chernobyl was a horrific realization of the dangers of nuclear power that its critics had warned against for decades. However, public concern reaches beyond the risk of disasters. Critiques of nuclear power include the environmental risks, creation and disposal of nuclear waste and the dangers of radiation leakage from nuclear power stations. In this video we see the revered comedian and activist Dick Gregory speaking at a rally in 1979, about the invisible and real danger of radiation as he calls the public to action.
This video is taken from an Image Union episode, Nuclear Illinois, a compilation of short pieces examining the dangers of nuclear power in Illinois by Lily Ollinger. Watch the full episode on mediaburn.org.