NEW YORK - Nearly one million
people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the
1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor, finds a new book from
the New York Academy of Sciences published today on the 24th
anniversary of the meltdown at the Soviet facility.
The book, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for
People and the Environment," was compiled by authors Alexey Yablokov of
the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow, and Vassily
Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko of the Institute of Radiation Safety,
in Minsk, Belarus.
The authors examined more than 5,000 published articles and
studies, most written in Slavic languages and never before available in
The authors said, "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
"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," they said. "Chernobyl fallout covers the
entire Northern Hemisphere."
Their findings are in contrast to estimates by the World Health
Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency that initially
said only 31 people had died among the "liquidators," those
approximately 830,000 people who were in charge of extinguishing the
fire at the Chernobyl reactor and deactivation and cleanup of the site.
The book finds that by 2005, between 112,000 and 125,000 liquidators had died.
"On this 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, we now
realize that the consequences were far worse than many researchers had
believed," says Janette Sherman, MD, the physician and toxicologist who edited the book.
Drawing upon extensive data, the authors estimate the number of deaths
worldwide due to Chernobyl fallout from 1986 through 2004 was 985,000,
a number that has since increased.
By contrast, WHO and the IAEA estimated 9,000 deaths and some 200,000 people sickened in 2005.
On April 26, 1986, two explosions occured at reactor number four at the
Chernobyl plant which tore the top from the reactor and its building
and exposed the reactor core. The resulting fire sent a plume of
radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over large parts of the
western Soviet Union, Europe and across the Northern Hemisphere. Large
areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia had to be evacuated.
Yablokov and his co-authors find that radioactive emissions
from the stricken reactor, once believed to be 50 million curies, may
have been as great as 10 billion curies, or 200 times greater than the
initial estimate, and hundreds of times larger than the fallout from
the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Nations outside the former Soviet Union received high doses of
radioactive fallout, most notably Norway, Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia,
Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Greece, and parts of the United Kingdom and
About 550 million Europeans, and 150 to 230 million others in the
Northern Hemisphere received notable contamination. Fallout reached the
United States and Canada nine days after the disaster.
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The proportion of children considered healthy born to
irradiated parents in Belarus, the Ukraine, and European Russia
considered healthy fell from about 80 percent to less than 20 percent
Numerous reports reviewed for this book document elevated disease rates
in the Chernobyl area. These include increased fetal and infant deaths,
birth defects, and diseases of the respiratory, digestive,
musculoskeletal, nervous, endocrine, reproductive, hematological,
urological, cardiovascular, genetic, immune, and other systems, as well
as cancers and non-cancerous tumors.
In addition to adverse effects in humans, numerous other
species have been contaminated, based upon studies of livestock, voles,
birds, fish, plants, trees, bacteria, viruses, and other species.
Foods produced in highly contaminated areas in the former
Soviet Union were shipped, and consumed worldwide, affecting persons in
many other nations. Some, but not all, contamination was detected and
contaminated foods not shipped.
The authors warn that the soil, foliage, and water in highly
contaminated areas still contain substantial levels of radioactive
chemicals, and will continue to harm humans for decades to come.
The book explores effects of Chernobyl fallout that arrived
above the United States nine days after the disaster. Fallout entered
the U.S. environment and food chain through rainfall. Levels of
iodine-131 in milk, for example, were seven to 28 times above normal in
May and June 1986. The authors found that the highest U.S. radiation
levels were recorded in the Pacific Northwest.
Americans also consumed contaminated food imported from nations
affected by the disaster. Four years later, 25 percent of imported food
was found to be still contaminated.
Little research on Chernobyl health effects in the United
States has been conducted, the authors found, but one study by the
Radiation and Public Health Project found that in the early 1990s, a
few years after the meltdown, thyroid cancer in Connecticut children
had nearly doubled.
This occurred at the same time that childhood thyroid cancer rates in
the former Soviet Union were surging, as the thyroid gland is highly
sensitive to radioactive iodine exposures.
The world now has 435 nuclear reactors and of these, 104 are in the United States.
The New York Academy of Sciences says not enough attention has been
paid to Eastern European research studies on the effects of Chernobyl
at a time when corporations in several nations, including the United
States, are attempting to build more nuclear reactors and to extend the
years of operation of aging reactors.
The academy said in a statement, "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
To obtain the book from the New York Academy of Sciences, click here.