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The Chernobyl Accident

The Chernobyl Accident negatively affected not only the people of the Ukraine and surrounding countries; it also affected the economy, health and the environment.

The Disaster Occurs

On April 26th, 1986, something horribly went wrong with reactor four at the power plant in Chernobyl. This accident has so far been the worst one in the world s history of power plants. This accident was caused partly by the operator and partly by faults in the reactor construction. There was an experiment that was being done in order to investigate the possibility of making electricity from the residual energy in the turbo-generators, after the supply of steam was shut off. The experiment was poorly planned, and was led by an electrical engineer who wasn t familiar with the reactor facility. The operators broke six very important safety rules, and all shutdown systems were off-line. The emergency core cooling systems for the reactor had also been off-line. The experiment could only be completed while the reactor was low in power, something that led the operators to believe mistakenly that they were carrying out a safe operation. Just after 1:00am on April 26th, the reactor was operating at a low power level and all control rods

were withdrawn from the reactor core. The power output had been so low, the


operators thought that they could control it manually. They overrode the

automatic control system so that the reactor wouldn t come to a halt. The power increase was slow at first, quickly increasing to a power doubling itself in less than one second. The water in the core exploded into steam. The fuel elements were destroyed by the blast, which also caused the roof of the reactor to blow away. That gave fresh air access to the reactor which fed the explosion. The fire lasted for several days releasing dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere. (Nils Bohmer)

Immediate Effects

The disaster killed 31 people immediately and caused about 500 other people to go to the hospital. Within a few days, people who lived 18.5 miles or closer were evacuated. The power of the explosion and fire carried most of the radioactivity away from the site, where it then spread across the Northern Hemisphere. The heaviest fallout descended on the western Soviet Union and parts of Europe.

Belarus was affected the most by the Chernobyl Accident. About 70 percent of all released substances from Chernobyl landed on its ground. More then 1.8 million people are sill living in heavy polluted areas. Less areas in Ukraine and Russia were heavily contaminated than in Belarus. However, agriculture still goes on in heavily polluted regions.


Government Concealment

Shortly after this horrible accident, it became apparent that the USSR had intentionally concealed vital information for several reasons. They did so in order to prevent panic and opposition by downplaying the consequences to their own

population, to protect those in charge by hiding the truth, and to protect the nuclear industry. Some of the information concealed by the government is as follows. Six pages concerning radioactivity released in Belarus were removed from the official report. Physicians in Ukraine and Belarus were forbidden to mention radiation in their diagnoses. All health records of the liquidators of the consequences of the accident were missing. Also, appeals by private individuals in Belarus to children not to drink milk in the first week of May 1986 were stopped for fear they might cause panic. (Wisek)

Present Problems

Presently, many of the expected potential health effects of exposure to radiation have not yet become apparent because of the long latencies for some radiation-induced cancers. Only after several decades will the full effects of the accident come to an end. The heath problems that are being faced now are acute radiation sickness and burns to the skin from radioactivity to about 200 people, causing 28 deaths from acute radiation sickness, childhood thyroid cancer in children living in Belarus, the northern districts of the Ukraine and parts of the eastern border of the Russian Federation with Belarus and the Ukraine. So far


nearly 500 cases of childhood thyroid cancer have been detected in a population of about 3 million at risk. Also, psychosocial effects from stress related conditions, through lifestyle changes, to near complete social disintegration of communities. It is estimated that 10 million people still live in the most affected regions. (Baverstock)

Between the years of 1981-1985, the average thyroid cancer rate was 4-6 incidents per million Ukrainian young children (birth to 15 years). After the accident, this number rose to 45 incidents per million. Researchers also found that 64 percent of all Ukrainian thyroid cancer patients age 15 or younger lived in the most contaminated regions (The provinces of Kiev, Chernigov, Zhitomir, Cherkassy, Rovno and the city of Kiev).

There have been significant increases in psychological health disorders and incidence such as, anxiety, depression, helplessness and despair leading to, social withdrawal and loss of hope for the future. Other disorders are attributable to mental stress. These psychological consequences were the result of the lack of public information available after the accident, the stress and trauma of evacuation and concerns of the people affected and about their children s health. Furthermore there is much understandable skepticism over official statements, as people were not told the truth until several years after the accident.


The Economy

The economy is taking a hit because the birth rate has decreased and the work force has migrated from contaminated areas to uncontaminated areas, resulting in a shortage of labor and professional staff. Control measures imposed by authorities to limit radiation exposure have limited industrial and agricultural activities. In addition the general attitude of the population as a whole makes it hard to sell produce, or to export it, resulting in the decrease of local incomes.

Future Problems

The people living in the contaminated areas are still eating radioactive food, drinking radioactive liquids and breath radioactive air. These consequences will be felt for centuries to come. Cesium, which had a half-life of 30 years will stay in the food chain and will not completely disappear for 300 years.

Radiation not only triggers cancers such as thyroid, lung, skin, breast and stomach, it also increases the chances of having strokes, heart-attacks, liver disease, the weakening of the immune system, as well as damaging the brains of babies in the womb.

Radiation doses in food are higher then calculated because the contamination level is higher than officially assumed. Privately owned food companies are almost uncontrolled. That means that highly contaminated food isn t being destroyed; it s being consumed by the innocent people.


The Ukraine Now

The nuclear power industries in Russia and Ukraine have experienced difficult times since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Ukraine depends on energy imported from Russia. In 1995, Ukraine committed itself to a five-year timetable to close down Chernobyl for good. The west, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development would finance the completion of two new reactors at the Rovno and Khmelnitsky stations in northwest Ukraine, also it would arrange financing for the construction of the new roof over Chernobyl s reactor 4. On February 20, the EBRD decided not to fund eight of the 13 projects put forward by the Ukraine for its future nuclear growth. Russia quickly offered

to help Ukraine complete these projects with a 200 million-dollar loan, an act that illustrated Ukraine s unusual situation between east and west. Ukraine also found itself in the middle of an international dispute over the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. (Marples)

Almost half of the Ukraine s energy is from nuclear power so The Ukraine will continue to find itself in a tight situation unless it receives help closing Chernobyl and can begin producing electricity from the two new reactors.

The long-term effects are being felt in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. The 90 million people living in these areas are receiving the worst. In 1995, the British Medical Journal reported that the rate of thyroid cancer in Ukraine and Belarus in 200 times higher than normal. The British Imperial Cancer Research Fund found

a 500 percent increase in thyroid cancer among the Ukrainian children. Fear is growing among physicians treating the young radiation victims, as the cancers appear sooner than expected and grow quicker than usual. Dr. Andrei Butenko, at Keiv Hospital No. 1 in Ukraine, says of his patients, Routine chemotherapy seems to have lost its effectiveness; something has changed in the immune system.

In 1994, Michael Spector reported in the International Herald Tribune: The fire which burned out of control for five days spewed more than 50 tons of radioactive fallout across Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia. The fact that the

fire burned uncontrolled for two weeks, after a series of three explosions; that perhaps 190 tons of reactor fuel was catapulted into the atmosphere; or that the radioactive fallout spread worldwide reaching Minnesota s milk.

The New York Times also understated the scale of the disaster in April 1996 by reporting that Chernobyl spewed radiation across much of Europe. Only in October 1995 did the Times make any indication the fallout reached the rest of the world, reporting that the radiation spread across western Russia and beyond. (LaForge)

The Chernobyl Accident negatively affected not only the people of the Ukraine and surrounding countries; it also affected the economy, health and the environment. The people of the Ukraine and the surrounding countries are getting hit the hardest without even realizing so. Simply breathing is causing them great


harm. The government knows this and neglected to do something about it from the beginning. Unfortunately, the people living in the area will continue to feel the effects of this horrible tragedy for many years to come.


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