Twenty four years ago 26 April 1986, The Number 4 reactor exploded at Chernobyl. It was the worst nuclear accident the world has ever seen, The musical output of these times was also significant – The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Heaven 17, ABC all come to mind.
But there were a number of less heralded acts who became embroiled, to a greater or a lesser degree, in the political machinations of the day. Clock DVA, Hula and Chakk, industrial funksters all, took the independent spirit of greater Sheffield and transported it to their recordings.
Meanwhile Pulp, in one of their early and many incarnations, came face to face with with the realities of the pit-head struggle. Guitarist and violinist Russell Senior recalls rushing to the NUM Headquarters on the first day of the dispute and volunteering for action. The next months would see him play the role of flying picket as strikers attempted to persuade strike-breakers from going into work.
In neighbouring Nottinghamshire, the coalfield where Miners ( “No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with.”) snubbed the workplace walk-out because Scargill had failed to call a national ballot, tensions ran highest, as the second largest body of pit workers continued to toil throughout the year of the dispute.
These stories, both musical and political, are captured with great power in a film that featured, at the in the year we are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the end of the Miners’ Strike. In the week of The Chernobyl disaster, Eve Wood is realising the DVD of the film The Beat is the Law – Krushed by the Wheels of Industry, is both art house celebration and gritty documentary account as rock culture meets the front-line of an extraordinary tussle for the soul of Britain.
Sheffield throughout that time was living under the paranoia of the cold war as Threads was released in1984 as a BBC television play set in the city of Sheffield, depicting the effects of a nuclear war and its aftermath on the United Kingdom. Two years on The Number 4 reactor exploded at Chernobyl reminding us the impact of nuclear war, you need only watch the bleak film Black Rain dealing with the aftermath of Hiroshima to witness the horrors of radiation poisoning. CRASS played their last gig as a benefit for the Miners’ Strike in 1984 one year before they recorded Nagasaki Nightmare, for me music has to ask things of yourself, move you and kick your head in, film has to be the same.
Threads was Written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson, Threads was filmed in late 1983 and early 1984. The premise of Threads was to hypothesise the effects of a nuclear war on the United Kingdom after an exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States escalates to include the UK. The primary plot centres on two families: the Kemps and the Becketts—as an international crisis erupts and escalates. As NATO and the UK prepare for war, the members of each family deal with their own personal crises.
Meanwhile, a secondary plot centred upon Clive J. Sutton, the Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council serves to illustrate for the viewer the UK Government’s then-current continuity of government arrangements. As open warfare between NATO and the USSR-led Warsaw Pact begins, the harrowing details of the characters’ struggle to survive the attacks is dramatically depicted. The balance of the film details the fate of each family as the characters face the medical, economic, social, and environmental consequences of a nuclear war. Both the plot and the atmosphere of the play are extremely bleak.
Sheffield at the time was going through change, the old industry laid in ruins, a monolithic reminder of the past was my playground, in these ruins I sniffed glue, running from the shadow of my own ghost. At night I got drunk to the sounds of The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire Heaven 17 & ABC in The Limit Night Club, we moshed in The Hallamshire Hotel West Street (I was there for that Pulp gig of just 20 people) to Conflict, Citizen Fish, The Nylistics The Plague Dogs, Don Valley and The Rotherhides, at the same time the Leadmill was in full flow and the first gig was The Dead Kennedys, by day Holiday in Cambodia came across on The MW mono radio, and the nights I was at home and like all teenagers of the time it was under my pillow, 12 midnight falling to sleep to white noise. I woke on 26 April 1986 to the news of The Chernobyl disaster.
Two people were killed in the explosion. Thirty-seven died of acute radiation sickness soon afterwards. According to engineers who were there, dozens were killed while building the reactor’s concrete sarcophagus. More than 2,000 villages around Chernobyl were contaminated by radioactivity. More than 330,000 people were evacuated and relocated. Statistics predict approximately 270,000 cancers and 93,000 fatal cancer cases will be caused by Chernobyl. At least three million children required medical treatment. The effect on the health of the survivors and their children has been devastating: accelerated ageing, cardiovascular and blood illnesses, psychological illnesses, chromosomal aberrations and an increase in foetal deformations.
Twenty-four years later and how do things look? Not good. There are few signs of improvement around Chernobyl. Although at first sight nature appears to be recovering, scientific research has shown continuing impacts on the wildlife in the most contaminated areas. People have started to move back to the villages and fields they had abandoned despite them being dangerous places to live.
Greenpeace took samples in the village of Bober, outside the exclusion zone in 2006. The analysis revealed levels of radioactive contamination 20 times higher than the threshold used in the European Union to define dangerous radioactive waste. Unfortunately, the Chernobyl accident is no longer an issue in the public eye. The victims – especially in the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Russia – receive little or no attention or assistance in tackling their health and social problems.
Annya Pesenko, from Belarus, is one of hundreds of thousands of Chernobyl victims. Bedridden and pain-racked with a brain tumour, she suffers because of a nuclear accident that happened in 1986, before she was even born.
Serious nuclear accidents took place before Chernobyl and continue to happen right up to the present day. The new generation of nuclear reactors now promoted as being safer than their predecessors have their own serious design flaws and safety concerns.
It’s way past time we admitted nuclear power was and is a terrible mistake. There are alternatives.