On April 26, 1986, the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Ukrainian SSR exploded, releasing radioactive materials that spread across millions of square miles. According to the World Heath Organization (WHO), 134 cleanup workers were diagnosed with acute radiation sickness as a result of the accident; 28 died from this illness in 1986.
In the months and years following the disaster, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the area surrounding the reactor. The accident led to increased occurrences of cancer and other health problems. A 2005 report from the Chernobyl Forum indicated that while fewer than 50 deaths from radiation officially were attributed to the disaster, the accident’s true impact may claim as many as 4,000 lives.
On April 20, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Director of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano visited the Chernobyl plant and examined a model of the No. 4 reactor.
The April 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant and led to radiation leaks has once again raised concerns about nuclear safety. Even so, IAEA Director Amano stressed that the world would not abandon nuclear power and that “the most important task of the international community is to provide safety of such plants.”
A nuclear expert recently told EHS Today that “there’s definitely been a tremendous focus on improving the safety culture at all nuclear power plants” following the Fukushima crisis. He added that climate change-related issues have had a greater negative impact on human health and the environment in recent years than nuclear power.