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The Chernobyl Accident

On the 26th April 1986 the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded due to overheated steam. The explosion exposed the reactor core and radioactive material was released into the air. Quantifying the effects of this event has proven to be difficult due to both the widespread geographical influence of the radiation and long time-scales involved in observing the consequences of radiation poisoning. The most authoritative scientific information regarding the Chernobyl accident originates from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Some other websites of interest are provided by http://www.chernobyl.co.uk/ and the French Nuclear Energy Agency.

Significant consequences of the accident:

  • 31 deaths within a few days or weeks of power plant employees and firemen.
  • 10 deaths much later on from thyroid cancer.
  • 1800 survivors with thyroid cancer due to exposure at the time of the accident.
  • 116,000 people evacuated in 1986.
  • 220,000 people relocated after 1986.

Some notes:

  • The reactor was of an unsafe design.
  • The accident occurred during an experiment where all safety systems were shut off.
  • The reactor did not suffer a nuclear meltdown. Radioactive material was released into the atmosphere after two explosions destroyed the core. In addition a fire in grapite moderator of the reactor continued to after the top was blown off. This drove more radioactive material into the atmosphere.
  • The reactor was not situated within a containment structure, allowing material to escape into the atmosphere.
  • The exposure to radiation that lead to the thyriod cancer was from food contaminated with iodine.
  • No scientific evidence of increase in overall cancer.
  • No signs of elevated leukaemia, not even among the recovery workers.

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