Thursday, April 20, 2006

Chernobyl 20 years later

In the coming week, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear power accident — the Chernobyl power plant disaster in the former USSR, now known as the Ukraine.
Go to the BBC News Website for the complete story.
In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, a Saturday, employees at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located 80 miles north of Kiev, were running an experiment on reactor number 4 and numerous safety procedures were disregarded.
At 1:23 a.m., local time, the chain reaction in the reactor went out of control creating explosions and a fireball which blew off the reactor’s heavy steel and concrete lid.
The villains were the plant chiefs and senior operators, who were convicted of breaking safety rules, and jailed.
Most of the rules that the plant operators were accused of breaking, we now know, were only written after the accident. The chief problem, it is generally accepted, was the flawed design of the reactor.
Noone was left more in the dark about the incident than the Soviet citizens most closely affected. At first, life continued as normal in Pripyat, the model town built to house power station staff and their families, just two kilometers (roughly one mile) from the Chernobyl plant.
Many of the older students living in the 30-kilometer (18.6 miles) exclusion zone went to school later the same morning. Some 16 weddings took place that day. The town was not evacuated until 36 hours after the accident. Evacuation of nearby villages took several more days.
Evacuated from Pripyat were 49,000 people. The total evacuated in 1986 from the exclusion zone was 116,000. Another 220,000 were moved later. Still living in contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are 5 to 8 million souls.
More than 30 people died immediately, and as a result of the high radiation levels in the surrounding 20-mile radius, 135,00 people had to be evacuated. Some 600,000 are estimated to have been exposed to high radiation levels in the days following the incident as the wind carried radioactive material far and wide.
It is estimated that 6.8 million were exposed to lower levels of radiation, according to a 1996 study.
The radioactive fallout was detected in Sweden the following Monday morning, but all day the Soviet authorities refused to admit anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
It was late in the evening before Moscow issued a five-sentence statement about the accident.
Twenty years later it is too early to determine how many will die as a result of the accident.
Estimates of the number of people who will die as a result have ranged from 9,000 to 93,000 deaths.
In the 20 years since, 62 deaths have so far been attributed directly to Chernobyl.
Predicted extra cancer deaths range from 4,000 by the UN to 93,000 by Greenpeace.
There have been 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adults, resulting in 15 deaths. Thyroid cancer is the only disease that has been directly linked to the disaster although many more are suspected.
The worst-hit areas will be radioactive for centuries; but much of the abandoned area will be habitable within decades.
Still, the exclusion zone around the power station is teeming with life.
As humans were evacuated, animal populations moved in. Without the disturbances man creates, the animal populations have been fruitful.
However, there is ample evidence of DNA mutations, but nothing that affected the animals’ physiology or reproductive ability has been noted.
It has even been jokingly suggested by some that “small volumes of nuclear waste from power production should be stored in tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by greedy developers.”
A large variety of birds nest, with no apparent problems, inside the sarcophagus — the steel and concrete shield erected over the reactor.
Wild boar multiplied eight-fold between 1986 and 1988, along with its predator species, the wolf — and neither shows any sign of slowing.
Przewalski’s horses, which originated in Mongolia, became extinct in the wild in the 1960s, but have been successfully bred on a reserve in southern Ukraine.
The Chernobyl zone provided another area big enough for them to occupy comfortably. As of three years ago, there were 65 of them.
Animals that have reappeared in the area since the accident include the lynx, eagle owl, great white egret, nesting swans, and possibly a bear.
Though the disaster affected so many, and will continue to do so for decades to come, perhaps it has proven that Mother Nature can adapt and survive despite Man’s mistakes.


Blogger Brown Eyed Woman said...

The former priest at my church back in my home town passed away in his early thirties because of a disease called A Plastic Anemia caused from the radiation from the Chernobyl accident. It's such a tragedy.

5:26 PM  

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