|Ten Worst Environmental Disasters: Chernobyl Radioactive Release|
|Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps|
|Wednesday, 22 August 2012 19:00|
Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps
The Chernobyl nuclear plant is located in Pripyat, Ukraine, close to the Belarus boarder. Prior to April 26th 1986, Pripyat was a promising Ukrainian city, attracting a lot of people for the quality of services and work opportunities.
On April 26th 1986, tests at low power were being made on Reactor 4 to verify if the cooling down of the core could be maintained. During the test, safety measures were not effective enough in the reactor. Around midnight, a mistake was made; the power output dropped considerably, preventing the core from cooling down. The increase of steam caused a first explosion, fracturing the reactor, releasing steam and radiation. The interaction of certain chemical elements freed by the first explosion caused the second explosion, setting fire to the reactor. About 40 firefighters and plant workers died from the radiations while trying to stop the fires. About 190 tonnes of radioactive material were released in the atmosphere.
Winds carried toxins over the European continent. Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation were the most affected. Millions of people were exposed to radioactive toxins. During the first weeks after the accident, 116 000 people living inside a 30 kilometers radius of the reactor were evacuated. Another 220 000 people were moved in the years following the accident.
Psychological effects such as anxiety and tendency to alcohol and drug abuses were related to the uncertainty about of the incident, the fear of radiation and the stress of being relocated. In the 15 years after the accident, 4000 children were diagnosed with Thyroid cancer, which is related to the ingestion of contaminated milk. Contrarily to the common belief, there was no dramatic increase in the number of birth defects on the exposed population.
The agricultural domain was affected by the radioactive release. Milk was contaminated in Poland, Austria, Hungary and Sweden. Many agricultural products were banned in Soviet Union cities during 1986 and 1987 to prevent contamination by alimentation. Even with this precaution, many people ingested contaminated food and experienced health problems.
The radioactive radiations contaminated surrounding forests. The pine forest next to the plant is now called the “Red Forest”, as 400 hectares of trees are now a red-brown color caused by the radiations. It is today one of the most contaminated areas in the world. Despite all, biodiversity is recovering; the red forest is becoming green again. The lack of human intervention in the region after the disaster favored a re-growth of flora and fauna. Experts are however concerned about plants and bird species presenting some genetic mutations. They fear that the mutation will be passed on to the global species population.
In 1990, around 600 000 people had participated in the cleanup of the site. Most of Pripyat’s infrastructures have been abandoned. A few people still live in the contaminated area. A cement container now covers Reactor 4. The cement is starting to crack, so it will have to be replaced.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons.
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