Paul McCartney had a fair facility with songwriting in his day, as demonstrated when he led off a certain well-known rock record with this rhythmic, memorable couplet:
It was 20 years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
Twenty years. There’s something about that 20. Could McCartney have chosen a different anniversary and served his purposes just as well? Maybe, maybe not. What’s certain is that he did not kick off rock’s most lavishly praised album like this:
It was 31 years ago today
Well, it was 31 years ago today that an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power facility in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, scattered radiation over a vast area and caused a number of deaths that is still hotly debated.
No one, it appears, is composing songs to mark the anniversary. Nor, for that matter, are many editors commissioning articles. The only piece of Chernobyl news or remembrance that seems to be getting wide play today is a package of AP photos depicting the abandoned town of Pripyat (which has now become a minor tourist destination).
A stopped clock. An unplayed piano. A window forever ajar. Images such as these are often called “ghostly”—meaning, I suppose, that it’s uncomfortable to contemplate how the world will look when we’re no longer in it.
For now, please contemplate the Bulletin’s past coverage of solar power in the Chernobyl exclusion zone; preparedness for the next Chernobyl or Fukushima; Ukraine’s continuing use of nuclear energy; and the sarcophagus designed to contain Chernobyl radiation.
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