Audiences have been captivated by HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries featuring Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, and Emily Watson. The Chernobyl miniseries is a gritty dramatization of the worst nuclear disaster in world history. This catastrophic event occurred on April 26, 1986, when a power surge during a safety systems test led to the destruction of Reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl’s Vladimir Ilych Lenin Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. The fiery melt down of the core shocked the world and devastated the region. The entire town of Pripyat was permanently evacuated and its residents were forever impacted from both a physical and mental health perspective. While the citizens of Pripyat received the brunt of the radiation exposure, the fall out of this tragedy was felt worldwide.
The show has brought a renewed interest in Chernobyl which remains severely contaminated with high level radioactive wastes and debris. The radioactive constituents released from the Reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl more than 30 years ago remain a significant public health which will persist for centuries unless removed. Due to this fact, remediation of the soil and groundwater in the exclusion zone is ongoing and will continue for decades as Chernobyl is decommissioned.
The writers and directors of the Chernobyl miniseries were able to frighten viewers not with cheap jump scares, nor gratuitous gore, but rather they were able to induce a sense of panic through the horrifying reality that is the impact of radioactive contamination on people and the environment. The harrowing tale of the Chernobyl plant workers and emergency response personnel giving their lives (many unknowingly) in an attempt to limit the devastation from becoming a global catastrophe makes for captivating television. The show depicts the extreme tension caused by the refusal of those in charge to initially acknowledge the failure and deal with the reality of the threat.
HBO’s Chernobyl does an excellent job of shining a spotlight on the dangers of radioactive wastes and the consequences of downplaying the threat such wastes pose to people and the environment. The show exposes how the operators at Chernobyl disregarded design flaws and risk analyses. Since the disaster at Chernobyl, the world has witnessed additional partial nuclear meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Fukushima. Both of these incidents were also caused by design defects and exacerbated by the operators’ inability to recognize and accept the disaster at hand.
While the drama and hysteria of an acute nuclear meltdown makes for enthralling television, the threat that should be of greater concern to the viewers of HBO’s Chernobyl is the chronic historical dumping of radioactive wastes by energy companies in the United States. Michael Stag, founding partner of Stag Liuzza, LLC, has been litigating against radioactive polluters for decades. Mr. Stag has obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for clients hurt by radioactive wastes. We fight the industries that recklessly expose people and property to unnecessary radiation.
For example, in 1978 a company dumped 8,700 tons of radioactive uranium mill tailings wastes generated as part of the Manhattan Project into the West Lake Landfill located in Bridgeton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Residents living near the landfill have been exposed to radioactive constituents for more than 30 years. Though at lower levels than Pripyat near Chernobyl, the structures, soil, and groundwater around the Westlake Landfill have been impacted and will continue to be impacted by radioactive wastes (uranium, thorium, radium, lead, polonium) for as long as they remain in the environment. Stag Liuzza is part of a legal team that filed a class action lawsuit against the companies responsible for the contaminated landfill seeking damages to compensate and protect homeowners impacted by these radioactive wastes.
In a similar vein, in the 1980’s it was made known to the public that significant quantities of oilfield wastes contained radioactive material (primarily radium). Oil companies historically stored these wastes in unlined earthen pits on leased lands. Evidence shows that oil companies knew as far back as the 1940’s of a considerable risk of these radioactive oilfield wastes seeping into the soils and groundwater underlying and surrounding the unlined earthen pits. Apparently based primarily on the costs of remediation, the oil and gas industry systematically downplayed and disregarded the risks of residual radioactive contamination on lands they leased.
Prior to the early 1990’s when state regulators finally began to crack down on the oil and gas industry with respect to their radioactive oilfield wastes, companies would typically close their production pits by simply covering them with soil. This method of closure was the cheapest solution, but would leave behind buried radioactive materials including radium-226. Radium-226 has a half-life of 1600 years meaning that half of the radium bearing oilfield wastes left on landowners’ properties will be emitting radiation 1600 years after its dumping.
While not as compelling a story for the big screen as a nuclear meltdown, contamination of people’s property with radioactive oilfield wastes is just as significant of a problem and considerably more widespread. Stag Liuzza specializes in investigating and litigating radioactive land contamination cases resulting from historic oil and gas operations. If a company leased your land and produced oil and/or gas from your property prior to the 1990’s, please contact us for a free evaluation to determine whether you may have a claim for damages.