The Chernobyl Disaster

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant lies 65 miles to the North of the city of Kiev in the Ukraine, and close to the border with Belarus.

On Saturday the 26th April 1986 at 1.23 am, while safety tests were being conducted on Reactor No. 4, a couple of huge shudders were felt in the control room just before the alarm systems went haywire. The reactor had over-heated and set off two explosions. The first destroyed the reactors cooling systems. The second blew the 1,000-tonne cover off the reactor and exposed the nuclear core to the outside world. The fire, caused by the second explosion, raged for over 3 days and sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout, estimated at almost 50 tonnes of vaporised nuclear fuel, into the atmosphere. With it the future health, prosperity and dreams  of hundreds of thousands of people were irrevocably changed as their world fell into the shadow of Chernobyl’s nuclear poison. 
 
The Soviet government initially attempted to cover up and downplay the incident, however, following a great deal of international pressure the full horror of the incident was realised. 

A huge area around the plant was devastated by the explosion and the ensuing radioactive contamination spread over neighbouring countries and throughout Europe (including the UK). Four hundred times more radiation was released than by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. 
 
It is now known that 60-70% of this fallout, largely washed out of the skies by rainfall, settled onto the agricultural lands of Belarus to the North of Chernobyl. Once known as the bread basket of Europe, these contaminated lands are no longer commercially viable, and what little agriculture remains is used to feed the local population. In places, cattle still graze the land providing milk and meat and poverty ensures that people continue to be exposed to the radiation through the local food chain. 
 
Innocent Lives
The innocent children of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia are the victims of this nuclear catastrophe. It's estimated that 700,000 children currently live on this contaminated land. These children, Chernobyl's Children, will  continue to suffer for 25,000 years.
 
Although now covered by a crumbling concrete sarcophagus, the reactor continues to leak low levels of radiation into the
atmosphere.
 
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, over 336,000 people were moved from their homes - often with only a couple of hours warning - to areas outside the contaminated zones. 434 towns and villages in Belarus alone were affected in this way. Many believed that they would one day return to their homes, but very few have been able to do so.

Over 600,000 "Liquidators" were drafted in to help with securing the power plant, moving people away from contaminated areas, cleaning up the radiation and encasing the reactor in its concrete sarcophagus.

The Liquidators Emblem (left) shows the alpha, beta and gamma radiation symbols over a drop of blood. Some spent as little as 6 months working in the area, others over 4 years. Many of the Liquidators, mostly young men in their 20s & 30s at the time, have gone on to have health problems associated with exposure to high levels of radiation, and it is common to find that only a handful of them survive today in their 50s & 60s from their original large work parties. There is a memorial at the Chernobyl plant to the Liquidators which reads "To those who saved the world".

Whole villages were levelled and buried under 3 feet of earth, wiped off the face of the earth forever. The overall total number of deaths caused by the disaster is impossible to calculate. We know that 31 people died as a direct result of the explosions and the immediate support from the fire, medical and military services. 28 of them having been so contaminated that they had to be buried in lead lined coffins with lids soldered on to seal them up. Estimates on the death toll to date vary from 62 (International Atomic Energy Authority) through to 998,000 (Greenpeace). The true number will lie between these estimates and must be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. 
 
The impact on general health in the affected areas has undoubtedly been significant. There has been a well documented increase in problems across the region including increases in: 

-Heart & Blood Illnesses including Chernobyl Heart - a weakening or hole in the heart between the ventricles requiring an operation to ensure survival to adulthood.
-Cancers - increases in many types of cancers including Leukaemia and Thyroid Cancer – the operation for which leaves a scar at the front of the neck often "affectionately" know as a Belarusian Necklace, clearly marking the child forever as one of Chernobyl's Children.
-Birth defects
-Respiratory diseases
-Mental disabilities
-Stomach and Intestinal problems - largely caused by the consumption of contaminated fluids and food
-Widespread immunity issues. 
 
Due to the lack of proper equipment and medicines in Belarus, the effective treatment and care of many of these illnesses is  impossible. Even simple medicines like aspirin, paracetamol and antibiotics are expensive and difficult to obtain.
Recent studies tell us that over 90% of children in Belarus who live in the contaminated zones suffer from vitamin deficiency.  There are no signs that the health of the population is improving with time, indeed for the first time in Belarusian history, the death rate now stands higher than the birth rate.

Across Europe restrictions exist to this day on land contaminated by the fallout from Chernobyl. In the UK, parts of England and Wales have recently decided to maintain their restrictions, with the last of the Scottish restrictions having been lifted in 2010.

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2013-2016 Friends of Chernobyl's Children Woking. Registered Charity Number: 1128063