Health consequences of the Chernobyl disaster

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25 years after Chernobyl, experts are still arguing about health effects

In view of the nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan, public interest in the possible health consequences of radioactive radiation has increased massively. The Chernobyl reactor catastrophe is repeatedly cited as an indication of the health consequences. But even 25 years after Chernobyl, the experts are still arguing about the actual number of those affected.

The effects of the current nuclear disaster in Japan are dramatically more far-reaching than the government and the operators of the population initially announced, that much is already certain. However, the consequences of the radiation released in the coming years can only be guessed at. So the public suddenly looks back at the Chernobyl catastrophe and wonders what the consequences are to this day. Not least because of political motives, the experts are still arguing about the actual figures on the health effects of Chernobyl.

Radiation sickness as a direct consequence of the disaster Learn better late from the Chernobyl disaster than never. However, the newly sparked public interest in the aftermath of the nuclear reactor accident 25 years ago also brings a multitude of controversies to the surface, about which nuclear-critical experts, state health authorities and atomic advocates still do not agree. The dispute is essentially about the limit values ​​above which radioactive radiation can cause illness and the number of people affected. The number of deaths directly related to radiation sickness is undisputed. For example, 134 workers were exposed to acute radiation and 28 died from the effects of the radiation sickness after the super-meltdown at the reactor. For all other information on the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, the public figures differ considerably from those of critical institutions such as Greenpeace, the IPPNW (International Doctors for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Doctors in Social Responsibility e.V.) and the Society for Radiation Protection.

Official information on the victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe In particular when it comes to the probability-based information on the health consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the public institutions come to significantly different results than the experts critical of the atom. The opponents of the atom assume that the so-called stochastic radiation damage, which increases the likelihood of certain diseases (primarily cancer), affected a considerably larger number of people than, for example, in the current report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the study of Effects of atomic radiation (UNSCEAR) specified. In its analysis of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the UNSCEAR comes to the conclusion that the greatest stochastic effect of the resulting radiation exposure was a dramatic increase in thyroid cancer in the wider area of ​​the destroyed reactor. Especially people under the age of eighteen when the accident happened in 1986 suffered particularly often from thyroid cancer later in life.

Between 1991 and 2005, the UNSCEAR recorded 6,848 cases of thyroid cancer among the corresponding group of people. The UNSCEAR report also found an increased incidence of blood cancer and cataracts among the approximately 530,000 liquidators (cleaners) who were used in the disaster. In addition, there is no convincing evidence of further radiation-related effects in the general population, according to the conclusion in the UNSCEAR report. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection sees this similarly and announced: "So far there is no evidence that negative health effects from the Chernobyl accident were caused in Germany or other countries in Central or Northern Europe".

Nuclear-critical organizations speak of hundreds of thousands of people affected. However, the nuclear-critical institutions such as Greenpeace or the IPPNW come to a significantly different conclusion. In the run-up to this year's 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe on April 25, the IPPNW presented a study on the health effects of the reactor accident, which comes to frightening results. The IPPNW assumes that around 20,000 additional cancer cases will occur in Europe by 2056. In addition, over 112,000 of the liquidators have already died, with around 90 percent suffering from the effects of radioactive radiation. In a further investigation, Greenpeace concluded that there were 200,000 additional deaths in the Chernobyl region between 1990 and 2004. The Society for Radiation Protection announced that around 800,000 children were not born in Europe as a result of the radiation exposure. (fp)

Also read:
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Iodine tablets inappropriate in Germany
Health: late effects from radioactive radiation
What do meltdown or super meltdown mean?
Radioactive radiation: consequences for health

Image: Andreas Kinski /

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Video: Understanding the accident of Fukushima Daiichi


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