Chernobyl disaster summary

An estimated 350 000 clean-up workers or "liquidators" from the army, power plant staff, local police and fire services were initially involved in containing and cleaning up the radioactive reactor debris, receiving the highest radiation doses.

Evacuation and relocation proved a deeply traumatic experience to many people because of the disruption to social networks and having no possibility to return to their homes. For many there was a social stigma associated with being an "exposed person".

In Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine nearly 5 000 cases of thyroid cancer have now been diagnosed to date among children who were aged up to 18 years at the time of the accident. The proportion of children considered healthy born to irradiated parents in same countries fell from about 80 percent below 20 percent since 1986.

This was due to the high levels of radioactive iodine released from the Chernobyl reactor in the early days after the accident. The lens of the eye is very sensitive to ionizing radiation and cataracts are known to result from effective doses of about 2 Sv. The production of cataracts is directly related to the dose, which can progress in terms of vision loss.

Radiation health effect and Chernobyl death toll
In the last twenty years, it is clear that there is a significant danger concealed within nuclear powerplants. Perhaps even more serious than the threat of nuclear weapons. Emissions from Chernobyl reactor number four exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Protection of radioactive contamination seems irrelevant given the scope of the nuclear disaster.

World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency estimated 9,000 deaths and some 200,000 people sickened worldwide due to Chernobyl fallout from 1986 through 2005. Radiation health effects include increased rates of fetal and infant deaths, birth defects, and diseases of the respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, nervous, endocrine, reproductive, hematological, urological, cardiovascular, genetic, immune, as well as cancers and non-cancerous tumors.

From 1986 to 2000 around 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. According to official post-Soviet data about 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus. Chernobyl reactor four is now enclosed in a large concrete shelter which was erected quickly to allow continuing operation of the other reactors at the plant. The soil and water in highly contaminated area still contain substantial levels of radioactive chemicals. Scientists believe it will be harmful for human life for decades to come.

Next: Chernobyl disaster aftermath