Geopolitics

The Heroes Of Chernobyl Would Do It Again

The Heroes Of Chernobyl Would Do It Again

Much like Japanese workers brought in to fight the Fukushima nuclear emergency, the so-called liquidators were called on to put out the fires after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Despite subsequent health consequences, many say they'd do it again.

Chernobyl monument to firefighters (Andrzej Karon)

Like thousands of other Soviet citizens, Lew Falkowsky risked his life to work in Chernobyl. It was June of 1986, six weeks after the number four reactor had exploded, with a radioactive cloud moving towards Europe, and Falkowsky was one of the so-called "liquidators' sent to the contaminated area at the Soviet nuclear power plant.

Since the crisis, Falkowsky, now 73, has fought serious health problems. But, like many other liquidators who survived Chernobyl, he says that he would expose himself to the danger again.

"I do not regret that I went there," he says. "I regret that I sacrificed my health, but it was my job, and I don't regret doing it." Falkowsky has had heart problems ever since his time as a liquidator.

His doctors believe that many of his health problems resulted from the strong medications he was given to protect him from high radiation exposure. "At Chernobyl, the liquidators were exposed to a radiation dose that was far above the normal value," says Falkowsky.

Following the most serious nuclear disaster in history, Falkowsky and the other workers were faced with an impossible task: they were to "liquidate" the radioactive material released through the explosion. To do this, they were asked to build a protective shell around the radiating block of the plant and decontaminate the surrounding region of Ukraine, much of which is still cordoned off today.

For their selfless efforts, the Likwidatori (as they are called in Russian) are celebrated as heroes. But they have also had to fight for the financial aid needed to pay for their medical costs. On Wednesday, March 16, dozens of people demonstrated in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev against the government's plans to cut benefits for liquidators. Though precise numbers are not available, experts estimate that tens of thousands of relief workers have already died as a direct result of their work at the plant.

In Japan, the hope of an entire nation rests on the more than 50 technicians currently struggling against the power plant disaster at the Fukushima plant. It is noteworthy that this new nuclear accident comes just weeks before the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Unlike the Soviet liquidators, the Japanese workers at least have a chance to save their own lives. But of course, wherever a technical device fails because of high radiation exposure, the health risks to the technicians will become greater. What harm the radiation will cause to the workers can only be guessed.

But there are still more Japanese citizens that are willing to put themselves in danger. The Japanese operating company of the plant is desperately seeking 20 volunteers to help manage the crisis. And some applications have already been received, according to the news agency Jiji..

Among them is a 59-year-old who is about to retire. His daughter wrote on Twitter: "I fought back tears when I heard that my father, who is to retire in six months, declared himself ready to assist."

Igor Ostrezow understands very well this desire to help. "Of course I would return," says the 72-year-old, who, like Falkowsky, was a liquidator at Chernobyl. He says that he was well aware of the high radiation exposure that he was exposing himself at the time.

"Before I went there, I read everything I could about the subject and tried to take all possible precautions," he says. He still retains the small laminated card that granted him entry to the restricted zone. He also was diagnosed with cancer. "I regret nothing," he declares. "I'm proud of everything. "

One thing did change with the disaster, however, was his view of nuclear energy. "Nuclear energy should not exist in the modern world," says Ostrezow. "I hope that the events in Japan will shake people awake and make them realize the true dangers of this technology."

Read the original article in German

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Future

How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.


Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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