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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(January 27, 2006) Fact sheet by Alex Kuzma, Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund , December 2005

On April 26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m., reactor number 4 at the Chornobyl Atomic Energy Station exploded. Subsequent investigations revealed that tests that were being conducted on the operating and backup systems were mismanaged. The plant was immediately shut down. Nonetheless, a large amount of radioactive steam was released into the atmosphere during the explosion. The highest amount of radioactive fallout was registered in the vicinity immediately surrounding Chornobyl.

The atomic energy station and the nearby town of Prypiat are located in northern Ukraine, 90 kilometres north of Kyiv (Kiev), the capital of Ukraine, a city with a population of 2.8 million. At the time, the prevailing winds were directed north to northwest, so that Belarus received the most widespread deposit of radioactive fallout. With subsequent shifts in the direction of the wind, as well as rainfall, northern regions of Ukraine, as well as the southern border of European Russia received radioactive fallout. Soviet authorities neither officially acknowledged the explosion, nor warned their citizens until May 2, 1986.


  • Excessive levels of radiation recorded in northern Scandinavia, Wales, Ireland, Northern Italy, Greece, coastal Alaska in the first weeks after the explosion
  • As a result of prevailing winds and rains, heaviest radioactive fallout on southern and central Belarus, northern Ukraine
  • In Ukraine, over 4.6 million hectares contaminated, some of the most productive agricultural land in the world
  • Total amount of radiation released as a result of the explosion at Chornobyl was originally reported as 50 million curies by Soviet authorities. During the past decade, subsequent research in Europe and North America and new calculations have resulted in revised estimated of up to 260 million curies. (Source: MIT research study completed by Dr. Alexander Sich, released January 1994; research supervised by former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner, Dr. Norman Rasmussen)
  • To date, approximately, residents have been permanently evacuated from contaminated regions immediately surrounding the power station; 116,000 of these were evacuated shortly after the explosion
  • 600,000 soldiers, firemen, and clean-up workers (men and women) were sent to the disaster site during the radiation emergency in the months after the explosion
  • Liquidators (cleanup workers) live in Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, and more than 350,000 liquidators live in Ukraine (Source: International Union "Chornobyl")
  • During the past decade, approximately 40,000 clean up workers have died, mostly men in their '30s and '40s; US death toll in Vietnam after 12 years of involvement was approximately 50,000 (Source: International Union "Chornobyl")
  • A permanent 30 kilometer "dead-zone" was established around the power station where human habitation is forbidden
  • 1.2 million people continue to live on lands contaminated by "low-level" radiation, outside the 30 kilometer zone; approximately 1,800 villages affected
  • Gradual seepage of radiation into water table, especially the Dnipro River and its tributaries, threatens water supply for millions of people in coming decades
  • Total number of evacuees and cleanup workers (those exposed to the most intense levels of radiation) was close to three-quarters of a million people
  • Shortly after the explosion, thousands of children and adults in Ukraine and Belarus were stricken with acute radiation sickness; symptoms included vomiting, hair loss, severe rashes; contradicts original official public estimates of 100 people (Source: declassified Soviet Politburo Protocols published in Izvestiya, May 1992)
  • The World Health Organization reported that thyroid cancer among children living near Chornobyl rose to levels 80 times higher than normal; (Source: Wall Street Journal, September 3, 1992, and Nature, September, 1992)
  • Experts from the University of Hiroshima analysed data on newborns and 30,000 stillborn foetuses in Belarus; researchers concluded that birth defects have nearly doubled since 1986 (UPI wire report July 14, 1994)
  • More than 10,000 Ukrainian children have been to Cuba for treatment of leukaemia and other illnesses (New York Times, October 6, 1995)
  • Overall, oncological illnesses among children in Ukraine have tripled since 1986 (Ministry of Health of Ukraine report, Winter 1994)
  • A joint Israeli-Ukrainian study published in the Royal Society of Medicine in London in 2001 found that the children of Chornobyl liquidators born after the 1986 disaster have a rate of chromosome damage seven times higher than their siblings born prior to the nuclear accident.
  • The UN Office on Population reported that in 1994, the only two nations in Europe with negative population growth: Ukraine and Belarus. The report attributed this decline in part to increased infant mortality and adverse health conditions stemming from the Chornobyl disaster. Infant mortality in Ukraine stands at twice the European average (14 per 1,000 live births)
  • Among males in Russia, life expectancy has dropped precipitously since 1986; Chornobyl suspected as a factor (Source: New York Times, September 1, 1995)
  • "Chornobyl has fuelled a massive infertility crisis in Ukraine" according to the Boston Globe of January 26, 1996. Fifty percent of all men between the ages of 13 and 29 have fertility problems - the highest rate of infertility ion the world
  • According to radiation health experts working for the National Academy of Sciences most cancers that result from radiation exposure do not develop until 10-20 years after exposure. The highest incidence of cancer is expected to occur over the next 5-10 years and therefore no accurate assessment of Chornobyl's overall impact can be made until this period has expired. (United States National Academy of Sciences, BEIR-5 Report)


NOTE: For the above information, if a source is not provided, then the information can be confirmed with the Ministries of Health of Chornobyl or of Environment Protection and Nuclear Safety of Ukraine.

*Chornobyl is the Ukrainian spelling

Contact: Alex Kuzma, Office Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund USA, 272 Old Short Hills Road, Short Hills, NJ 07078, USA
Tel: +1 973 376-5140
Fax: +1 973 376-4988