Chernobyl: 25 Years After A Catastrophic Nuclear Meltdown

Source:  Chernobyl: 25 Years After A Catastrophic Nuclear Meltdown    Tag:  pripyat radiation levels
By Theodora Filis

In what is now northern Ukraine, in the small village of Pripyat, in the city of Chernobyl, a catastrophic nuclear meltdown occurred 25 years ago on April 26, 1986. Together with the recent nuclear crisis in Japan, we need to ask ourselves if the world has progressed toward safer nuclear energy.

It was a massive explosion- ten times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. It flung into the air 120 Tons of red hot nuclear fuel and more than 100 Tons of reactor graphite. The 500-Ton "biological shield" built over the reactor was hurled into air, crashing back down at an angle, leaving the reactor core exposed- spewing massive amounts of radiation. Flames shot 600 feet into the air. Fires started. Pieces of radioactive material were mashed into the structural debris. Almost 50 Tons of nuclear fuel were evaporated into dust, blown by the wind northwest across the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the Baltic States.” The Truth About Chernobyl, by Grigori Medvedev

Thirty-one people died in the first three months after the explosion. Thousands more deaths have been associated with the disaster. About 200,000 people were evacuated because of the explosion. The disaster was first reported by officials in Sweden when abnormal radiation levels were detected at one of its nuclear facilities.

Before the nuclear disaster, the city of Pripyat had a population of about 50,000. Pripyat is not inhabitable. 500 people, primarily scientists, live in Chernobyl today. 
During the meltdown, flames shot radiated material kilometers into the sky through breaches in the reactor facility, creating a radioactive cloud that spread over Western Europe.

Signed on May 28, 1959 at the 12th World Health Assembly, The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signed an agreement that, some say, covers each others back, at the expense of public health. The WHO mandate is to look after the health on our planet, while the IAEA is to promote nuclear energy. Many prominent scientists and public health officials have criticized WHO’s non-competing relationship with IEAE saying it prevents efforts to address, and share, information about the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

On the 20th Anniversary of Chernobyl WHO and the IAEA published the Chernobyl Forum Report, mentioning only 350 sources, mainly from the English literature while in reality there are more than 30,000 publications and up to 170,000 sources that address the consequences of Chernobyl.

The greatest amount of radioactivity fell outside of Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia, extending across the northern hemisphere as far away as Asia, North Africa, and North America, while the greatest concentrations continue to affect the 13 million living in Belarus, Ukraine, and European Russia.

Immediately after the catastrophe, release of information was limited, and there was a delay in collecting data. WHO, supported by governments worldwide could have been pro-active and led the way to provide readily accessible information, but did not. These omissions resulted in several effects: limited monitoring of fallout levels, delays in getting stable potassium iodide to people, lack of care for many, and delay in prevention of contamination of the food supply.

To date, not every living system has been studied, but of those that have – animals, birds, fish, amphibians, invertebrates, insects, trees, plants, bacteria, viruses and humans – many with genetic instability across generations, all sustained changes, some permanent, and some fatal. Wild and domestic animals and birds developed abnormalities and diseases similar to those found in humans.

It takes ten decades for an isotope to completely decay, thus the approximately 30 year half-lives for Sr-90 and Cs-137 will take nearly three centuries before they have decayed.

In 25 years since Chernobyl, the economic damage to Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia has exceeded $500 billion. Belarus spends about 20% of its national annual budget, Ukraine up to 6%, and Russia up to 1% to partially mitigate some of the consequences.

When a radiation release occurs we do not know in advance the part of the biosphere it will contaminate, the animals, plants, and people that will be affected, nor the amount or duration of harm. In many cases, damage is random, depending upon the health, age, and status of development and the amount, kind, and variety of radioactive contamination that reaches humans, animals and plants. For this reason, international support of research on the consequences of Chernobyl must continue in order to mitigate the ongoing and increasing damage.