21st Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster

On April 26th 1986 the biggest man-made catastrophe of this century occurred in a small town in the North East of Ukraine. Man in his quest for electric power built nuclear power stations across the globe.

During the Second World War the Germans killed one in four of its population when they invaded the country en route to Russia and Hitler’s target – Moscow. There is a very moving memorial to the dead at Khatym outside Minsk where every gravestone represents a village of town wiped out by the Germans during the terrible war. The history of Belarus is a story of countless invasions over the last one thousand years. The people are proud of their history and have contributed much to culture in Europe through their writers, musicians and artists.

Chernobyl was the last invasion; its effects will remain for scores of years and in some places up to the year 3000 AD. 23% of the territory where 2 million people lived was contaminated with long-life isotopes such as caesium, strontium and plutonium. Over 6000 square kilometres were laid waste. Over 130 thousand people had to be resettled to clean areas and 415 settlements had to be buried and removed from the map. The area most effected is the Southeast of the country – see maps later in this article. No nuclear accident in history has caused so much tragedy to so many people and effected so much territory.

The accident was so serious that parts of Russia and the Ukraine were also badly contaminated. The effects of Chernobyl were measured in Sweden, Wales and the Lake District – although the long-term effects were small compared to the effect on Belarus. Radioactivity was recorded 10 thousand kilometres away from Chernobyl. In 1988 the United Nations Organisation recognised Chernobyl as a ‘global and ecological disaster’.

In the initial period after the accident there was a substantial increase in (-radiation exposure detected over most of Belarus. In many regions in the republic, levels of short-lived iodine isotopes were very high. The iodine-131 contamination led to high thyroid exposure that resulted in a considerable increase in thyroid pathologies. Over 3,600 settlements including 27 towns, where 1/5 of the population lived (2.2 million people), were contaminated with caesium-137 with over 37kBq/m2 in the soil. This is a very high dose. See the figure below.

Chernobyl is different to all the other nuclear power stations in the world; it exploded and contaminated a very large region where 2 million people lived. At that time few people had heard of Belarus, nestled between Poland and Russia. In 1986 Belarus was part of the former Soviet Union. It has a population of about 11 million people and was a leading producer of chemicals, engineering products and electric goods for the Soviet Union.

The No. 3 hospital in the city of Gomel is still full of children and adults who have bone disorders almost certainly as a result of the explosion. These bone disorders were rare before the accident and common nowadays. The cancer hospital outside Minsk, built by the Austrians, is full to overflowing with new cases of advanced cancers and leukaemia’s, conditions that were rare before the explosion.

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The social consequences of the Chernobyl disaster are almost unmeasurable. Almost 2 million people either live or lived in the contaminated regions, over 250,000 people had been resettled, mostly in cities where they were strangers to that way of life. Nearly 100,000 people were directly involved in the liquidation of the Chernobyl disaster results. I have been told on good authority that of the 750,000 soldiers, firemen and civilians who were involved in the cleanup of Chernobyl over 50% are now dead. Only 15% have showed no signs of cancers which leaves a staggering 300,000 people who are dying as a result of the explosion. In Belarus alone 100,00 people were involved in the cleanup, the social consequences are horrific.

To understand the scale of the disaster area I have produced a map of the UK with a map of roughly the same scale of the contaminated areas of Belarus.

Helping the children of Belarus what we hope to do is to help the children to fight the effects of Chernobyl.

There are dozens of good charities bringing children to the UK and to Germany, Italy, the USA, Holland and other countries throughout the world.

We agree that this is worthwhile but we are concerned about the conditions the children face when they return to contaminated regions for the rest of their lives. The national government has started doing much for the children within their own country – we need to support these measures.  They have established camps within Belarus that only cost about £30 per child for a month’s holiday and rest.

To read the latest report from the Belarus government see an extract from Ivan Keniks’ booklet, Belarus and Chernobyl – the Second Decade.

Ivan Kenik was the Minister of Emergencies in Belarus until very recently.

Chernobyl is different to all the other nuclear power stations in the world; it exploded and contaminated a very large region where 2 million people lived. At that time few people had heard of Belarus, nestled between Poland and Russia. In 1986 Belarus was part of the former Soviet Union. It has a population of about 11 million people and was a leading producer of chemicals, engineering products and electric goods for the Soviet Union.

Caesium levels (above) and Strontium levels (right) – the darker the colour the higher the levels

Strontium-90 contamination covered 21,100 km2 of Belarus, about 10% of the landmass (see map below). The maximum levels of Strontium-90 were found within a 30-km zone around Chernobyl in the Khoyniki district of the Gomel region, this measured as high as 1,800 kBq/m2.

These fall-outs covered an area as far away as the city of Mogilev, a distance of 250 kilometres north of Chernobyl. The government of the Soviet Union realising the seriousness of the situation zoned the contaminated areas and carried out the procedures in the left-hand column of the table below.

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To see the likely  effects of this catastrophe if this had happened in the UK

When visiting Belarus one can, with permission, visit these evacuated areas where the readings are still dangerous and high. The picture of the pig farm was taken at Khoyniki about 30 km from Chernobyl.

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General Astopov with British Consul

The General is in charge of the Firemen of Belarus who still have to monitor the contaminated regions

 To make it simpler to understand the problem (the whole matter is complex) look at the maps above and the high levels in dark blue and orange on the right-hand map, above 555 relate closely to above 40 Curies in the table above. This is the area for immediate resettlement and immediate evacuation.

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Some of the effects of the disaster

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To read more I recommend a report by a leading Belarusian scientist – the Kenik Report  – click here for Kenik Report

This was a very large pig farm to supply pig food and animals for the former Soviet Union. The utter desolation of these areas stands today as a memorial to many thousands who died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. The land that is so highly contaminated has been rendered useless for farming and will in some cases take hundreds of years to recover. The effects of the nuclear explosion are strange, some areas are still highly contaminated, 14 years later, and only 5 km. away people live in less contaminated areas and carry on their lives with the shadow of Chernobyl resting over them. These highly contaminated areas can be very small, these ‘hot-spots’ are quite common all over Gomel and Mogilev regions.

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