Tuesday, 9 March 2004

Logan's Run Damnation Alley Reprised

The original book (before the godawful movie) was about the last of the Hell's Angels being coerced into making a transcontinental motorcycle run through the radioactive hell that was the centre of the USA, to carry medical supplies to counteract an epidemic.

Thanks to The Evil Pundit of Doom, there's a pictorial account of a motorcycle trip through "The Death Zone" around Chernobyl. Basically, Russian Nuclear Physicist's Beautiful Daughter takes her humongously powerful Kawasaki 1100cc bike on a tour of the less dangerous parts (and watches her dosimeter with great care).

I was astounded at the levels of Radiation still there, after nearly 20 years. Normal background count at sea level is about 0.2 milliRoentgens/hour, but in mountainous regions with lots of granite can easily be 2 or more mR/Hr. When flying on a 747, you'd typically get 4-8 mR/Hr, and a single chest X-ray would give you a minimum of 10 mR, often 30 mR.

The maximum permitted dose for industrial workers is about 0.6 mR/hr of uninterrupted exposure, but a few weeks of 10 mR/hr or even higher is totally safe. There's a J-curve effect: too little radiation is as bad for you as too much, when you're talking about really, really low levels. 5 Roentgens/year is the industrial limit, but below 25 Roentgens ( 3 mR/Hr, 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year) there's no detectable effect on the body. (I'm simplifying : not all Roentgens are created equal - the proper measurement is the Rem, which can correspond to anything from 0.5 to 20 Roentgens IIRC, depending on the type of radiation and part of the body is exposed).

But in Kiev, the count is about 30 mR/Hr, totally safe for a couple of days or even a week or two. A nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. Yet people are doing. Near Chernobyl itself, in the "Death Zone", it's more like 90 in the middle of the road, 180 at the edge, and 300 in the fields.

The site also shows pictures of vast quantities of military equipment, literally too hot to handle. Just passing by it caused her dosimeter to scream a warning. Inside abandoned houses, where the rains haven't washed away the dust, there's hot-spots in the hundreds of mR/hr. And this is after 18 years.

These numbers indicate to me that not only will there be a greatly increased risk of cancer to everyone in the area, but the people who actually flew the helicopters now rusting in the fields must have received a very, very high dose indeed. Quite a number must have died within months. Casualties must be in the 10's of thousands by now, far worse than my previous reading had indicated.

(Note : The site is temporarily down, will be back in May, darnit).

Thanks to reader Clive for the correction of the title.

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