Saturday, June 21, 2014

Graphic novel on Chernobil tragedy: Chernóbil - La Zona

On April 26th 1986 the 4th reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded. I was at university at the time and still recall the TV images, the lack of clear information and the discussions about the effects on the explosion. We soon learned  that it was the worst nuclear catastrophe in history and the amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere was equivalent of hundreds of Hiroshima bombs. 

The effects of this massive radioactive release reached locations over 2000 km away but the worst part was for the citizens of Pripyat, the city where most of the workers in the power station lived. They were exposed to extreme radiation for days until the Soviet authorities finally decided to intervene. Originally these were precautionary measures which involved removing the residents for a few days; however, they will later be told they can never return again. As a result of the radiation exposure, many workers involved in the cleaning of the area died. The cancer rate increased exponentially - thousands of children were born with malformations and a huge piece of territory in Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia is still unable to grow vegetables for human consumption.

The consequences of the radiation will be present in this area for hundreds if not thousands of years. However, the local authorities have opened the doors to controlled tourist visits in the hope that this will bring money and opportunities for the now almost empty area.

Francisco Sánchez and Natacha Bustos published a graphic novel in 2011 that tells us the story of what happened back in 1986 from the point of view of the people directly affected by the tragedy, the people working in the nuclear power station and their families in Pripyat. 

Francisco Sánchez visited an exhibition about the catastrophe in 2006 in Barcelona and he was impressed by the experience. The topic almost became an obsession for him and he spent years researching about the causes and effects of the event. He wanted to see and portray how the catastrophe has broken the lives and dreams of many people and their children. In 2009 he visited the area to gather graphic material and learn about the actual situation after almost 25 years. The graphic material would be used by the drawer to show the atmosphere of a soviet city very accurately in the novel.

Most of the previous information was taken from the following website.

The publication of the graphic novel in 2011, 25 years after the catastrophe, coincided  in time with the accident in Fukushima, something both authors commented in the presentation of their novel. And again, not all the information about what happened in Japan has been released to the public.

The graphic novel can definitely be used in a bilingual or IB program. It is linguistically attractive and deals with many topics that are relevant to the program of studies and our students' lives. Students will definitely enjoy researching and commenting about most of the topics in the novel:
  • What are the roles of governments in a crisis?
  • Can international help be a solution in a crisis?
  • To what extent should individuals be able to exercise their freedom of speech to access information during a crisis? 
  • How can we harness energy while minimalizing negatives effects on nature?
  • Which people are most vulnerable during a crisis?
  • How can we apply what we've learned to deal with future problems?
  • How the catastrophe has affected nuclear programs in Canada and all over the world? 

We can get more information about Chernobyl and its terrible effects on the website of Greenpeace Mexico.

"La noche temática" is a program on the Spanish TV which usually analyses controversial issues from several points of view. A documentary or film that deals with the chosen topic is also shown in the program. Over 25 years after the catastrophe in Chernobyl the topic was 'Alarma nuclear' in which the French documentary "Déchets, le cauchemar du nucléaire", was shown. Unfortunately, many years after Chernobyl things are far from being solved. You can watch the documentary in Spanish in this link. I could not find an English version but there is a German version with English subtitles available.

I highly recommend this graphic novel to work with our students in Spanish. It depicts the tragedy in Chernobyl from the point of view of the people who suffered the most. It can be a great starting point to start a research project with our students.