The
Nuclear-Free Future
Award

in the Category


SPECIAL RECOGNITION

is presented to

SUSAN BOOS

SWITZERLAND

Heiden
29 September 2012

Susan Boos

As so often happens in the world of word journalism, in the beginning was the coincidence. Susan Boos – at the time already the chief editor of the Zurich Wochenzeitung (WOZ) – traveled to the Ukraine at the beginning of the nineties to visit friends. Circumstances brought Boos together with Ljuba Kowalwska, a woman from Prypiat – the ghost town that butts the ruins of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Susan was Ljuba’s guest for a number of days at her tiny apartment in Kiev. There she learned the details of Ljuba’s priviliged existence in Prypiat prior to that fateful morning of 26 April 1986 – the Saturday that startled the world. Ljuba told of the reactor catastrophe, of the anxious tumult that led up to the evacuation some thirty-six hours afterwards (“only for a few days!”), and of her journey into a new life – a life no longer her own.

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Such a moving personal account! Boos later returned in Kiev to learn more, travelling with Ljuba to Prypiat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The city, former home to 50,000, its unused Ferris Wheel an anti-nuclear icon, is now part of a plutonium-laced region that must remain uninhabited for thousands of years. The two women stepped out onto the roof of the tall apartment building where Ljuba had lived. The view of the deserted buildings and city streets, haggard with vegetation, was as chilling as it was spectacular. Boos tells us, “Those who have witnessed such a sight can never again believe in the the safety of nuclear power. The city appeared quiet and peaceful. Everything in order. Yet the disquieting horror resided exactly within that eerie stillness and calm.”

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Her curiosity as a journalist piqued, Susan decided to invesitigate what the consequences of a level seven nuclear catastrophe could mean for a society. She returned to Kiev in 1995 and together with a photographer friend documented many individual stories, interviewing public authorities, scientists, doctors, clean-up workers, and those hospitalized or shut up in homes as victims of radiation.

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“The awful truth is that in Russia there was actually a bit more concern for the protection of people in comparison to how things are proceeding today in Japan.”

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Boos published the accounts in her book, Beherrschtes Entsetzen – das Leben in der Urkaine zehn Jahre nach Tschernobyl (“Guarded Horror – Life in the Ukraine Ten Years After Chernobyl”). She tells us that from that point onwards her career has continued in an anti-nuclear direction, one logical step after the other. At WOZ she wrote a series of articles pointedly examining Swiss nuclear politics. She also wrote Strahlende Schweiz (“Radiant Switzerland”), a handbook documenting her homeland’s nuclear economy. The book begins with the statement: “As concerns nuclear power, there are only two types of people: those opposed, and those who haven’t given the issue enough thought.”

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Empowered by nuclear power as subject, Boos has journeyed as a reporter around the world. She has written about the radioactive waste and scrap in Tajikistan, about the proposed final nuclear waste deposity at Yucca Mountain in the United States, and about the nuclear waste deep geological burial experiments taking place at Äspö in Sweden. She has travelled to Olikiluoto in Finland to audit the exploding construction costs of Europe’s first heavy water reactor. And she has visited Asse in Germany, where seepage from thousands of rusting nuclear waste containers threatens the region’s groundwater supply.

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Fukushima. When the news arrived of potential concurrent meltdowns at three Japanese reactors, even Boos was caught off-guard. She wrote in WOZ: “To be perfectly honest: I personally never believed such would ever happen – it was simple abstract logic that told one such could be possible.” Twice she traveled to Fukushima in the fall of 2011 to interview scientists, victims, anti-nuclear activists, authorities, clean-up workers, and representatives from TEPCO.

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Earlier this year Boos came out with a new book: Fukushima lässt grüssen – Die Folgen eines Super- GAU (“Greetings from Fukushima – the Aftermath of a Level Seven Catastrophe”). She tells us, “No one learned anything from Chernobyl. The awful truth is that in Russia there was actually a bit more concern for the protection of people in comparison to how things are proceeding today in Japan.”