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Chernobyl after the accident Chernobyl after the accident
Sarcophagus over the reactorMany children with disabilities stemming from radiation are abandoned

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9. Chernobyl, Ukraine

Country: Ukraine
Location: Chernobyl, Ukraine

Pollutants

Radioactive dust litters the area, including uranium, plutonium, cesium-137, strontium, and other metals.

Area Affected

There is still an area that's 19 miles in radius around Chernobyl that no person can live in. The radioactive dust spread much farther than that though. Initially about 5.5 million people were affected, though the exact numbers of people affected now is disputed.

About

Largest nuclear disaster in history

The Chernobyl incident was one of the biggest nuclear disasters in human history, releasing more than one humdred times more radiation than the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On April 26, 1986, at 1:23 in the morning, Soviet scientists began to test a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl station. Less than a minute into the experiment all hell broke loose, and several mishaps built up to an enormous steam explosion which ripped off the top of the reactor and spewed deadly radioactivity into the air. In addition, many fires were created at the station, helping to create radioactive ash that floated away on the air. This only helped contribute to the levels of radioactivity in the area as well as the spread of the toxin.

At first the Soviet government tried to cover up the whole incident. It was only when scientists from the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden, thousands of miles away, discovered radioactive dust on their clothing, that the government acknowledged an accident had happened. The radioactive dust spread as far as England and the Isle of Man, though it is thought that due to weather patterns about 60% of the toxic dust landed in what is now Belarus. The damage from the Chernobyl incident was by no means contained within a small area, it affected a large part of the world.

The next day (April 27, 1986) a committee was sent to the site to discuss what must be done. By this  time two people were dead and 52 were hospitalized from radiation poisoning. The officials realized that the nearby town of Pripyat would have to be evacuated, but they did not want to alarm people. The government issued an evacuation warning, but downplayed the severity of the situation. As a result people thought they would only be away temporarily, and packed lightly. To this day the abandoned town of Pripyat still has many personal belongings sitting in the empty, quiet houses.

People, Animals, Plants and Waterways Effected

The Chernobyl incident had, and still has, a profound effect on the people of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. In the initial blast 237 people suffered from acute radiation poisoning, 31 of whom died within the first three months. Most of these were fire workers who were trying to put out the flames caused by the reactor's explosion. The firemen were unaware of how toxic the smoke was, and were exposed to large amounts of radiation through it.

Almost immediately after the disaster an area of forest measuring four square miles turned brown and died. Livestock that was left in the area died when their thyroid glands malfunctioned from lethal doses of radiation. In recent years however it has been found that animals have flourished in the area, free from human influence.

Today the impact of radiation from Chernobyl is hotly disputed. It is a a fact however that between 1992 and 2002 over 4,000 children suffered from thyroid cancer, with children under 14 being most impacted. It was found that the most likely cause was elevated levels of radioiodine found in the children's milk. The future is uncertain, but in the past skin lesions, infertility, birth defects, and respiratory ailments have been the norm. Whether this will continue or not, no one knows with certainty.

Clean up Activities

Soon after the Chernobyl incident the damaged reactor was covered with a concrete sarcophagus, that was intended to be a temporary measure to contain the contamination. At most the cover was supposed to last 20 to 30 years. We have passed the twenty year mark, but there have been no additional saftey measures taken. Currently plans are underway to devise a new method to contain the radioactivity in the area.

The government also wishes to reclaim the area for restricted industrial use. However, this cleanup will most likely take billions of dollars, and the area will be tainted for many years to come. The financial impacts on Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine will be staggering.

How You Can Help

Visit http://www.blacksmithinstitute.org/ for more information on how you can help.

References

  • Blacksmith Institute's Most Polluted: http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/44
  • Wikipedia "Chernobyl Incident": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster
Submitted by cennywenny on Sep 2, 2008