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The Chernobyl Privileges: Lecturer’s debut novel wins praise

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Published on 27 March 2019

Dr Alex Lockwood's debut book
Dr Alex Lockwood's debut book

A University of Sunderland lecturer is launching his debut novel this week based in the aftermath of the world’s biggest nuclear disaster.

Almost 33 years ago – On April 25-26 1986 – the No4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the now-abandoned town of Pripyat, exploded.

The event occurred during a late-night safety test and resulted in an international disaster unlike anything seen before.

For his debut novel, the Chernobyl Privileges, Dr Alex Lockwood, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sunderland, evokes the spectre of the tragedy, combined with the continuing controversy of Britain’s nuclear deterrent programme.

The Chernobyl Privileges is a psychological drama that depicts the traumatic experience of surviving disaster, exploring the consequences of decisions people are forced to make, and how those decisions shape their lives.

Dr Lockwood said: “In 2016 it was coming up to the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl and I wanted to find out a bit more about it all.

“My protagonist is a Chernobyl survivor who works at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, where Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons are kept.

“I think the book has turned out to have quite a strong anti-nuclear stance, which I suppose is very much my view. In fact the last page of the book is a House of Commons Early Day Motion, written by Jeremy Corbyn, in regards to Trident.”

Already struggling to keep his marriage together, the book’s main character, Anthony Fahey, finds himself at the centre of an emergency when an accident on a Trident submarine throws the base into crisis.

But as the situation worsens, Anthony’s history threatens this opportunity to finally prove himself in the world of nuclear power. Old memories and buried secrets from his childhood reach into the present, as Anthony begins to understand that it isn’t only radiation that has a half-life.

Dr Lockwood added: “As well as the bigger picture, this is very much a book about family relationships and surviving trauma.”

The book has already received critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Writing, 2016; as well as chosen in the Valley Press First Chapter Competition, 2016.

Alex will be at WHSmith’s in Edinburgh on April 6, New Art Social in Newcastle on April 8, Waterstones in Sunderland on April 13, and WHSmith’s in Newcastle on April 16.

The Chernobyl Privileges is published by Roundfire Books.


Chernobyl effects:

Health: Twenty-eight of the workers at Chernobyl died in the four months following the accident, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), including some workers who knew they were exposing themselves to deadly levels of radiation in order to secure the facility from further radiation leaks.

The prevailing winds at the time of the accident were from the south and east, so much of the radiation plume travelled northwest toward Belarus.

Within three months of the Chernobyl accident, a total of 31 people died from radiation exposure or other direct effects of the disaster, according to the NRC, UNSCEAR and other sources. More than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer may eventually be linked to radiation exposure in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, though the precise number of cases that are directly caused by the Chernobyl accident is difficult (if not impossible) to ascertain.

Environmental impacts: Shortly after the radiation leaks from Chernobyl occurred, the trees in the woodlands surrounding the plant were killed by high levels of radiation. This region came to be known as the "Red Forest" because the dead trees turned a bright ginger color. The trees were eventually bulldozed and buried in trenches.

The damaged reactor was hastily sealed in a concrete sarcophagus intended to contain the remaining radiation: How effective this sarcophagus has been — and will continue to be into the future — is a subject of intense scientific debate. Plans to construct a safer and more permanent containment structure around the reactor have yet to be implemented.

Chernobyl today: The region today is widely known as one of the world's most unique wildlife sanctuaries. Thriving populations of wolves, deer, lynx, beaver, eagles, boar, elk, bears and other animals have been documented in the dense woodlands that now surround the silent plant.

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