Chernobyl fallout covered the entire Northern Hemisphere
The explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power plant 26 years ago has so far claimed at least a million lives, and counting. The core meltdown, which occurred on Saturday, April 26, 1986 at reactor No. 4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station, as it was then called, left entire regions in three countries—Ukraine, Russia and Belarus—unlivable.
The long-term consequences of the Chernobyl disaster are still disputed.
Birth defects and cancer were the norm for many years following the Chernobyl disaster. By the time residents of Pripyat, a town located near the plant, were ordered to evacuate, about two days after the Chernobyl core meltdown had occurred, many had already been exposed to varying doses of radiation poisoning.
Consequences of the Catastrophe. Authors Alexey Yablokov (Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow), Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko ( Institute of Radiation Safety, Minsk, Belarus) studied about 5,000 reports and scientific papers mostly published in Slavic languages and compiled their finding in the book “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” which was published last year on the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl reactor core meltdown.
“For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” They wrote.
“No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe,” the authors said. “Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere.”
According to the book, a total of about 830,000 people, referred to as the “liquidators,” were responsible for various emergency works at the Chernobyl site including fire extinguishing, decontamination and cleanup.
The authors say between 112,000 and 125,000 of the liquidators had died by 2005. The authors also estimate that between 1986 and 2004 some 985,000 people died as a result of Chernobyl fallout [2011 estimates are well over a million deaths.]
“Official discussions from the International Atomic Energy Agency and associated United Nations’ agencies (e.g. the Chernobyl Forum reports) have largely downplayed or ignored many of the findings reported in the Eastern European scientific literature and consequently have erred by not including these assessments.” The authors said.
Chernobyl and Other Nuclear Stats
- More than 95% of the radioactive material (180 metric tons with a radioactivity of about 18 million curies) still remains inside the Chernobyl reactor.
- The core meltdown at Chernobyl was said to have released radiation estimated at 50 million curies. Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations said in 1995 that the meltdown had released about 140 million curies. [Researchers Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko say the radiation released from Chernobyl may have been up to 10 billion curies. In comparison, the Hiroshima bomb released about 3 million curies.]
- Immediately after the accident, 237 people suffered from acute radiation sickness, and 31 died within the first 90 days of the disaster.
- About 135,000 people were evacuated from the area surrounding the plant, including 50,000 from the town of Pripyat.
- The Academy’s estimate for the number of casualties are more than 90,000 deaths and more than a quarter of a million cancer cases.
- The Ukrainian National Commission for Radiation Protection calculates the number of radiation casualties at half a million deaths so far.
- In their book, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, published by the New York Academy of Sciences on the 24th anniversary of the reactor core meltdown, researchers Yablokov, Nesterenko and Nesterenko maintain that about one million people have died from exposure to radiation released by the Chernobyl reactor [as of 2010 .]
- “In the former Soviet Union at least 9 million people have been effected by the accident; 2.5 million in Belarus; 3.5 million in Ukraine; and 3 million in Russia. In total over 160 000 Km2 are contaminated in the three republics.” source
- As of April 1, 2011, some 437 nuclear reactors were operating in 31 countries ( total capacity of 376 gigawatts) each of which is potentially as lethal as Chernobyl, if not worse. [The above figure may have changed due to the nuclear reactor shutdowns in Japan.]
- An estimated 56 countries operate more than 250 research reactors.
- At least 220 nuclear reactors power military ships and submarines.
Fukushima NPP is said to contain about 4,277 tons of nuclear fuel, about 24 times as much as Chernobyl (~ 180 tons).
“The Fukushima Dai-ichi site has a considerable number of fuel rods on hand, according to information provided Thursday by Toyko Electric Power Co., which owns the atomic complex: There are 3,400 tons of fuel in seven spent fuel pools within the six-reactor plant, including one joint pool storing very old fuel from units 3 and 4. There are 877 tons in five of the reactor cores. Officials have said that the fuel in Unit 4′s reactor vessel was transferred to its spent fuel pool when the unit was temporarily shut in November.” AP reported.
The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES)
The INES, a logarithmic scale, which was introduced in 1990 by the IAEA to enable prompt communication, classifies the intensity of nuclear incidents as follows:
7 – Major Accident [Chernobyl disaster, criticality accident, April 1986]
6 – Serious Accident [e.g., Kyshtym incident, Mayak, former Soviet Union, steam explosion released up to 80 tons of highly radioactive material into the atmosphere, September 1957. ]
5 – Accident With Wider Consequences [e.g., Three Mile Island accident Pen State, U.S., partial meltdown release radioactive gases into the environment, March 1979.]
4 – Accident With Local Consequences [e.g., Sellafield, UK, at least 5 incidents reported between 1955 to 1979]
3 – Serious Incident [e.g., Vandellos NPP, Spain, fire destroyed control systems; the reactor was shut down, July1989]
2 – Incident [e.g., Forsmark NPP, Sweden, a backup generator failed, July 2006]
1 – Anomaly [e.g., TNPC, France, 1,600 gallons of water containing 75 kilograms (170 lb) of uranium leaked into the environment, July 2008]
0 – Deviation (No Safety Significance) — [e.g., Atucha, Argentina – Reactor shutdown caused by tritium increase in reactor encasement, December 2006.]
What is a lethal dose of radiation from a single Exposure?
Studies of the 1945 atomic bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki show that 100 percent of victims whose bodies were exposed to 600,000 millirems (6,000 mSv) died from radiation. About 50 percent of victims who received 450,000 millirems (4,500 mSv) of radiation also died.
(Note: Rem is a unit of ionizing radiation equal to the amount that produces the same damage to humans as one roentgen of high-voltage x-rays. Source: MIT)
1 rem = 10 mSv (1 Sv = 100 rem)
Background Radiation in millirems per year (mrem/yr)
- Average background radiation (US): 300
- Higher altitudes (e.g, Denver): 400
“Safe Levels” of Radiation (U.S.)
Limits above natural background radiation levels (average 300 millirems per year) and medical radiation:
- Occupation Limit: Maximum of 5,000 (the limit for a worker using radiation)
- Average Natural Background: 300
[Note: Lifetime cumulative exposure should be limited to a person’s age multiplied by 1,000 millirems, e.g., a 70-year-old person, 70,000 millirems.]
- Max single dose for an adult: 3,000
- Annual total dose: 5,000
- Max single dose for a person aged under 18 years: 300 millirems (whole body equivalent)
- Annual total exposure: 500
- Maximum limit for fetal exposure during gestation period: 50 millirems per month above background levels
- Single Chest X-ray (the whole body equivalent): 2 millirem
- Coast-to-coast US round trip flight: 12 millirems
*Note: Radiation dose of about 2,000 millisieverts (200,000 millirems) cause serious illness.
Half-life of some radioactive elements
[NOTE: Half-life is the time taken for a radioactive substance to decay by half.]
- Cesium-134 ~ 2 years
- Cesium-137 ~ 30 years
- Iodine-131 ~ 8 days
- Plutonium-239 ~ 24,200 years
- Ruthenium-103 ~ 39 days [Ruthenium is a fission product of uranium-235.]
- Ruthenium-106 ~ 374 days
- Strontium-90 ~ 28.85 years [Strontium-90 is a product of nuclear fission and is found in large amounts in spent nuclear fuel and in radioactive waste from nuclear reactors.]
- Uranium-234 ~ 246,000 years
- Uranium-235 ~ 703.8 million years
- Uranium-238 ~ 4.468 billion years
- Probability of a Nuclear Disaster – by Country
- Chernobyl: A Night to Remember!
- All is NOT Well at Chernobyl
- World’s Worst Polluted Places
- Chernobyl: The Day After