Chernobyl, Iodine and the DarkNet

I was six years old when the Chernobyl disaster happened. I was too young to understand the news and there was nothing on the news to begin with. I lived behind the “Iron Curtain” and all information was strictly controlled by the government.

This was before the internet, but people had their means of getting underground information — my grandfather for example was an avid HAM radio fan and would listen to Radio Free Europe and others. Our government continuously tried to jam the frequencies, and my grandfather would come up with ever more creative ways around that.

It is from one of these underground radios that the news of Chernobyl finally reached my family. It spread like wildfire through word of mouth, and very soon the government reacted — they made an official statement there there is “No radioactive cloud” coming our way. But by then their credibility had already been undermined. My country was in the final stages of communism with Perestroika being all the rage. But despite that, trust in the official sources of information had eroded greatly.

Once again from the underground radios, advice came to supplement one’s diet with Iodine in order to decrease the risk of thyroid cancer. My mother listened to this advice and forced me to take sugar cubes with drops of iodine. I didn’t mind the taste, but I still remember how worried she was and how reluctant she was to explain why I had to take this weird medicine. But I’m grateful she insisted because this may have saved my life.

I sometimes think of what the reaction would be if Chernobyl happened today. Thanks to the above incident I don’t trust any government to be an arbiter of information. And I’m terrified by the ability of some governments to shut down the internet. When they do so, they only reinforce the common belief that retaining their grip on power is more important for them than the well being of their citizens.

That is why I work on a DarkNet called I2P. I believe the Tor and I2P networks are the modern day equivalents of the HAM radios my grandfather used, and I believe they can really save lives.