Greenpeace activists in Brazil today chained themselves to the gates of the National Commission of Nuclear Energy (CNEN), placing a memorial plaque in tribute to the victims of the Goiânia Cesium-137 tragedy, the worst radiation accident in an urban area, in history.
Twenty years ago workers at the Goiânia scrapyard took apart a metal machine, found abandoned in an old radiotherapy institute. The scrapyard owner, fascinated by the glowing blue powder stone inside, took it home to give as presents to his family and friends. His daughter ate some, sprinkled on bread.
The stone was Cesium-137, a highly radioactive element. 60 people died, 628 were contaminated, and over 6,000 exposed to radiation, which spread so far it was found in areas 100 miles away.
A week later the junk dealer’s wife, suspicious of the sudden illnesses afflicting her friends and neighbours, went to the doctor. The diagnosis was acute radiation poisoning, for her and hundreds of others. The homes of the Cesium-137 victims had to be demolished, and their pets exterminated, 4 people died in the early days. Altogether 60 people died, among them the police and firemen left to clean up with no protection or training. Hundreds of others still live with the contamination.
See Greenpeace Brazil’s slideshow about the accident here http://www.greenpeace.org/brasil/nuclear/cesio137
20 years later the Brazilian government still refuse to recognise the victims of Goiania. CNEN the agency in charge of the Goiânia investigation, controls the Nuclear Industries of Brazil, an entirely immoral position that exposes how dangerous the situation remains.
This is why the activists took their message to CNEN today, and despite some police brutality, where some were sprayed with tear gas, they have maintained their vigil.
Cesium-137 is a devastating legacy, and yet Brazil still has no structural ability to deal with existing nuclear installations, and no way of storing radioactive waste. Unbelievably, the Brazilian government is committed to a nuclear expansion programme, pouring public funds into building a new nuclear plant the Angra 3, and into uranium enrichment.
What more will it take for the world to wake up to the dangers of nuclear power? This madness has to end, and the people of Goiânia must get justice, however belated it now is.