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The Chernobyl catastrophe has ruined the lives of millions of people and caused huge ecological damages that are difficult to calculate. The scientific community is now forced to admit that the effects of radionuclide damage have turned out to be much more serious for the human body than ever considered by nuclear power research (Frenzel & Llengfelder, 2016). In addition, irreparable damage was caused to the victims of the disaster. This tragedy made thousands of families suffer in silence as their lives are constantly undercut by poor health and personal crises even today, more than thirty years after the catastrophe. However, the worst part is that people who survived Chernobyl fear their own future due to terrible ecological consequences. The Chernobyl disaster is a planetary catastrophe of a century that has no precedents in the world. The aim of this paper is to provide a brief summary of the catastrophe, outline its short-term and long-term impacts, define preventative measures and applicable regulations implemented to handle the catastrophe, and provide a personal evaluation of the problem.
Brief Summary of the Catastrophe
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) is located in Ukraine, 18 kilometers from Pripyat, 16 kilometers from the Belarusian border and 110 kilometers from Kyiv. Prior to the accident, four RBMK-1000 reactors with an electrical capacity of 1,000 MW and a thermal capacity of 3,200 MW were used at the station (Beresford et al., 2016). At about 1:23 am on April 26, 1986, an explosion occurred at the fourth unit of the Chernobyl NPP, which completely destroyed the reactor. The construction of the unit has partially collapsed, with one person being killed. A fire started in different rooms of the plant and on the roof; subsequently, the remnants of the core melted. The mixture of molten metal, sand, concrete, and fuel particles flowed into the sub-reactor rooms.
The accident resulted in the release of radioactive substances, including isotopes of uranium, plutonium, iodine-13, cesium-134, cesium-137, and strontium-90 (Krawczak & Jelewska, 2018). The situation was exacerbated by the fact that uncontrolled nuclear and chemical reactions with heat release continued, with the eruption from the fracture over many days of products of combustion of radioactive elements and contamination of large territories in the destroyed reactor. The active eruption of radioactive substances from the destroyed reactor was stopped only by the end of May 1986 by mobilizing the resources of the entire USSR and the cost of mass irradiation of thousands of liquidators.
The first three years after the catastrophe were full of heroism and consolidation of the entire society around the Chernobyl tragedy. The disaster relief at this stage was similar to overcoming the effects of a nuclear war. Regular troops and reservists were in conditions as close as possible to combat. To prevent the spread of radioactivity beyond the destroyed reactor and the site of the Chernobyl NPP, thousands of soldiers, military builders, dosimeters, and specialists worked in totally unsuitable ecological conditions (Havenaar, Bromet & Gluzman, 2016). Many extremely dangerous radioactive materials that were part of the reactor and were ejected from the reactor shaft at the time of the explosion were near the destroyed power unit. The most dangerous sources of radiation were temporarily localized in hundreds of so-called burial grounds.
As a result of the Chernobyl disaster, a unique ecological situation has developed in the 30-kilometer zone; a wide range of radionuclides has been released into the environment. At the time of the accident, the Ukrainian health care system did not have universal facilities capable of preventing the accumulation and accelerating the removal of radioisotopes of various chemical nature from the environment. As a result of the Chernobyl disaster, during the first years, about 116,000 people were evacuated from Chernobyl, and more than 70 settlements of the thirty-kilometer zone were isolated (Takamura et al., 2016). A team of scientists has investigated and developed new mechanisms of action of efferent methods of treatment of radiation diseases. Nevertheless, the short-term consequences of the catastrophe included death, destruction, cancer, significant economic loss, and other negative outcomes.
The long-term impact on flora and fauna of the highly polluted and restricted areas was ultimately positive. Expeditions to the most active areas of the Chernobyl zone have revealed the richness of animal life. Some sections of the 10 km exclusion zone, located around the fourth power unit, are striking yet misleading, according to the experts (Plokhy, 2018). Only the crackling electronic devices indicated that the environment was contaminated with radionuclides. In fact, the radioactivity of such a level as in Chernobyl has a significant negative impact on plant and animal life. However, the effect of displacement of people from these heavily polluted lands far outweighs the effect of radiation exposure.
This long-term impact shows the paradox of the relationship between environmental perspectives and safety issues for human health. The observations of scientists support the view that the acceptable levels of radiation exposure to plants and animals should be higher than for humans. Such inequality is due to the fact that the resettlement of people most often contributes to the natural restoration of ecosystems, even in the face of adverse radioactive and chemical pollution. The fact that human activities are more damaging to biodiversity than the worst nuclear catastrophe further indicates the negative impact of human population growth on the wild nature in Chernobyl. Overall, the recent data clearly indicates the existence of viable ecosystems even in the most polluted areas of the Chernobyl zone.
The aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster was the first large-scale experiment in overcoming a failed nuclear crisis. In the catastrophe, 31 people were killed, and 130,000 individuals received large doses of radiation (Frenzel & Llengfelder, 2016). The most damaging and long-lasting are the effects associated with radioactive contamination of soil, acreage, and reservoirs. Radioactive substances are contained in food and accumulate in human tissues and bones, thus endangering the life and health of mankind, even though it has been over 30 years since the accident (Frenzel & Llengfelder, 2016). The catastrophe’s ecological consequences have no precedent in the history of mankind since they changed people’s perception of nuclear energy forever.
Preventative Measures and Applicable Regulations
A set of preventative measures was implemented to enhance the safety of the operating nuclear reactors. Ecological expertise of the projects of the NPPs and other facilities with nuclear power plants has been made. The program for the use of non-traditional, environmentally friendly energy sources and the construction of pilot and experimental nuclear power plants with different types and layouts of nuclear reactors was adopted. Following the adoption of the International Convention on Rapid Alert for Nuclear Accidents and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of Nuclear Radiation, an Inter-Organization Committee on Nuclear Accident Response was established in 1986 (Beresford et al., 2016). After its adoption, cleaner products, medical equipment, medicines, and machinery were coming into the contaminated regions.
The consequences of the disaster were global in scale; in 1990, the governments of three republics, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, addressed the United Nations with a proposal to consider the matter by the General Assembly (Beresford et al., 2016). In the same year, a special UN mission, which described the Chernobyl catastrophe as an unprecedented one, visited Chernobyl. The work was carried out in the following priority areas: health, resettlement, economic rehabilitation of the contaminated territories, social and psychological rehabilitation of the affected people, food and agricultural monitoring, economic improvement of the environment. Since 1990, all UN sessions have included the Chernobyl agenda.
In 1990, in Vienna, representatives of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine signed an agreement to conduct international research on Chernobyl at the Pripyat Science Center. In 1993 alone, five million projects were implemented; in addition, UNESCO actively supported the affected regions. In 1991, UNESCO developed the Chernobyl program, which included the construction of schools, research and training programs, analysis of the social, economic consequences of the accident, and the preservation of cultural values (Beresford et al., 2016). In total, the UNESCO-Chernobyl Program included more than seventy projects. On January 9, 1991, an agreement was signed in Paris between UNESCO and the USSR on the implementation of the Chernobyl program. Thus, authorities all over the world understood that only by joining forces would it be possible to overcome the aftermath of the disaster.
I do not think that enough measures have been implemented to prevent another similar incident from occurring. However, some conventions and regulations have been adopted on the international level within the framework of the United Nations, UNESCO, and other international organizations. Still, I believe that United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could focus more on the liquidation of ecological consequences after the Chernobyl catastrophe. EPA should recognize that Chernobyl is not a nuclear desert, but the ecological issues caused by it need to be addressed before authorities understand the overall significance of this disaster for wildlife and humans. Overall, I think that in the following years, the need to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl accident will remain the priority issue in the policy of the Ukrainian government, as required by Article 16 of the Constitution of Ukraine (Plokhy, 2018). Accordingly, the problem of reducing the impact of the Chernobyl catastrophe on the state of health of citizens as well as on the environment remains a crucial problem on a national scale.
Overall, the Chernobyl catastrophe has permeated all spheres of life, from academic science to the state of the environment. However, the Chernobyl accident is not only an environmental tragedy. In addition, this catastrophe has shown the inability of the government to protect its people and take responsibility for everything that happened. And today, more than thirty years after the Chernobyl tragedy, there are conflicting estimates of its striking effect and the ecological damage it has caused. Nevertheless, the problem of reducing the impact of the Chernobyl accident on the state of citizens’ health and environment remains an important problem on a national scale.
Beresford, N. A., Fesenko, S., Konoplev, A., Skuterud, L., Smith, J. T., & Voigt, G. (2016). Thirty years after the Chernobyl accident: What lessons have we learned? Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 157, 77-89.
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Frenzel, C., & Llengfelder, E. (2016). Medical and radioecological consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Western Europe. In Proceedings of the 16 International Scientific Conference (pp. 198-199). Munich, Germany: Greenpeace.
Havenaar, J. M., Bromet, E. J., & Gluzman, S. (2016). The 30‐year mental health legacy of the Chernobyl disaster. World Psychiatry, 15(2), 181-182.
Krawczak, M., & Jelewska, A. (2018). The spectrality of nuclear catastrophe: The case of Chernobyl. In EVA Copenhagen (pp. 1-8). Copenhagen, Denmark: Aalborg University.
Plokhy, S. (2018). Chernobyl: The history of a nuclear catastrophe. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Takamura, N., Orita, M., Saenko, V., Yamashita, S., Nagataki, S., & Demidchik, Y. (2016). Radiation and risk of thyroid cancer: Fukushima and Chernobyl. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 4(8), 647-649.