Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster when a nuclear reactor exploded and spread radioactivity over 40% of Europe and parts of the world. The numbers of people affected by exposure to the radiation are staggering:
- 200,000 people who took part in the cleanup
- Between 30,000 and 250,000 people have died so far as a result of the disaster (according to independent scientific studies and the Russian academy of sciences)
- The WHO estimates 50 people died and that it expects perhaps 9,000 to die eventually from the accident (?!)
- Several hundred people have either refused to go or are now moving in to the abandoned houses in the “dead zone” surrounding the reactor
- Hospitals are still overwhelmed with people who have thyroid cancers, children with genetic mutations and adolescents with radiation-linked illnesses
Despite these observations, there’s still no consensus over how Chernobyl’s radioactive explosion might have affected the genes of those exposed. According to chernobyl.info, some studies concluded that the doses of ionizing radiation were too low to cause any problems with fertility, stillbirths, adverse pregnancy outcomes, delivery complications, or the overall health of children. Other studies show an increase in genetic mutations and hereditary defects as related to the level of radioactive contamination.
While the specific health effects are still undetermined, Aaron at Technosailor pointed out that the concrete and steel enclosure around the Chernobyl reactor is deteriorating. If something isn’t done to stop this, the area around Chernobyl may never be safe for habitation.
Guardian Unlimited, April 26, 2006