Does dry-cleaning get rid of radio-activity?
I am posting this between putting the turkey in the oven and getting the pudding on the boil. The husband and daughter meanwhile are just back from (?recovering from) a visit to the Ukraine – part sourcing objects for an exhibition at the Royal Academy and part (this was the daughter’s idea, needless to say) making a trip to Chernobyl.
Poor naïve creature that I am, I hadn’t realised that it was possible actually to visit Chernobyl. But you can now get an easy-to-arrange, custom-made, rather pricey trip from Kiev, with organisations that will get you a visa to visit the “exclusion zone” (a visa’s still necessary), drive you out from Kiev and show you round. Right up to the “sarcophagus” itself, as you can see in the picture.
Of course this is a moving experience. Heaven knows what is actually happening to the local people now. But I was particularly struck by the tales the family brought back of the (then) Soviet workers who leapt in to the reactor to block off the radio-active surge – knowing that it would kill them within days (which it did). And despite all that follows, I’d recommend taking the trip – even if that is a second-hand judgement. Inter alia the site has become an amazing animal refuge/rare breeds centre…and the animals happily seem normal enough.
But Mum’s question was, predictably: is it dangerous? Or dangerous for humans?
Well, to start from the guide-book – you can be pretty laid back about Chernobyl itself, but it’s definitely not a good idea to eat the mushrooms in Kiev or eat the river fish. Fair enough. But the second night they were there, husband and daughter were taken out to glitzy dinner by local hosts. What do you think was on the menu? Mushrooms to start with, followed by sturgeon. What do you think they did?
Eat it, of course.
After that, Chernobyl itself was a bit of a walk over, and full of all the disconcerting pleasures you find in an abandoned town (that's the abandoned ferris wheel on the left) . Lunch was provided and guaranteed (not quite sure how) to be sourced from outside the area, and the party of husband, daughter and the information officer had a dosimeter in the car, which bleeped ominously (but not too ominously they were told) at various points. But despite the claim on the website that a change of clothes would be offered, this particular bit of “health and safety” had been given up years ago. It really wasn’t necessary. In fact the local lore is that you pick up less radiation after a day at Chernobyl than on a trans-Atlantic flight.
There was much cavalier talk on the family’s return. But I did notice that the daughter put her clothes in the washing machine uncharacteristically promptly after she got back, confident – I guess – that whatever particles of radio-activity were left (does radio-activity have “particles”?) would thus be removed.
Husband was soon to follow. Except that his coat and trousers were “dry-clean only”. OK, so it had to be. But, we wondered, does dry cleaning get rid of radio-activity? Or does it just spread it to every one else’s clothes at the cleaners?
And was all this anxiety necessary anyway? I mean, would I have worried about this if I’d just been to the USA on an airplane? And would we have known better if we’d done that Physics GCSE?
Who knows, but the clothes are currently being dry-cleaned (and no one had actually asked if they were contaminated…)
Oh well…now, for me, it's a quick trip to the library where (I hope) I left my key last night, and then it’s back to the Home Economics of the pudding (you need to steam it for longer than you can imagine, I seem to remember), and the sprouts. Then the rest of the troops do the clearing up and I sleep it off.