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A containment shelter for the damaged fourth reactor (left) and the New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure (right) at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are seen from Ukraine’s abandoned town of Pripyat. Photo: Reuters
A containment shelter for the damaged fourth reactor (left) and the New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure (right) at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are seen from Ukraine’s abandoned town of Pripyat. Photo: Reuters

Ukraine marks 30 years since Chernobyl disaster

Here's a look at scale of the disaster in numbers

New Delhi: Tuesday marks 30 years since the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl—the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster that forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and whose death toll continues to mount till this day.

On 26 April 1986, an explosion and fires at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine led to the release of a large amount of radioactive waste in the environment. Over the next 10 days, large quantities of radioactive iodine and caesium continued to be released into the air. Some of the lighter material was carried by wind currents over Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine and, to some extent, over parts of western Europe.

The main radionuclides or radio isotopes to which individuals were exposed were iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137. Iodine-131 takes eight days to decay, known as its half-life, and can be transferred to humans through the air and by consumption of contaminated milk and leafy vegetables. Caesium isotopes have longer half-lives of up to 30 years and hence can lead to long-term exposure to these radionuclides.

The impact of these radionuclides spanned decades, affecting thousands of people and several countries.

The latest anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident has garnered extra attention due to the imminent completion of a giant €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) steel-clad arch that will enclose the stricken reactor site and prevent further leaks for the next 100 years.

Governments and international organizations continue to assess the scale of impact of the disaster even today.

Here’s a look at scale of the disaster in numbers:

—31 people died immediately, when a routine 20-second shut down of the system was followed by a surge that created a chemical explosion releasing nearly 520 dangerous radionuclides into the atmosphere. The force of the explosion spread contamination over large parts of the former Soviet Union, now spread over the territories of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.

—8,400,000 people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were exposed to the radiation. According to a United Nations report, nearly 404,000 people were resettled but millions continue to live in an environment where of harmful residual exposure.

—155,000 sq. km of territories in these three countries were contaminated and agricultural areas covering nearly 52,000 sq. km were contaminated with cesium-137 and strontium-90, with 30-year and 28-year half-lives respectively.

—600,000 was the number of “liquidators" or civil and military personnel who were involved in fire-fighting and clean-up operations on the site of the disaster. According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation 2008 Report, a fraction of 530,000 registered recovery operation workers who worked between 1986 and 1990 were exposed to high doses of radiation.

—1,000 on-site reactor staff and emergency workers were heavily exposed to high-level radiation on the first day of the accident and among the more than 200,000 emergency and recovery operation workers exposed between 1986-1987, an estimated 2,200 radiation-caused deaths can be expected during their lifetime, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

—6,000: Among the residents of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, there had been up to the year 2005 more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident, and more cases are expected in the next decades.

—1990 was the year when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 45/190, which called for “international cooperation to address and mitigate the consequences at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant".

Reuters contributed to this story.

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