Socialist Worker

Chernobyl: The day we almost lost Europe

Issue No. 2247

The world’s worst nuclear disaster took place 25 years ago when a nuclear reactor exploded at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, on

26 April 1986. The word has become synonymous with nuclear nightmare.

The impact of Chernobyl is something that George Monbiot chose to downplay in his recent Guardian article.

But the devastating effect of the disaster is well documented.

The explosion released 400 times more radioactive material into the atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.

Some five million people across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus were exposed to radiation.

Leading scientists and doctors published reports in 2006, based on 50 published scientific studies, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of people people had died by that point.

“At least 500,000 people—perhaps more—have already died out of the two million people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl in Ukraine,” said Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation Protection in Ukraine.

“[Studies show] that 34,499 people who took part in the clean-up of Chernobyl have died. The deaths of these people from cancers was nearly three times as high as in the rest of the population.

“We have found that infant mortality increased 20 percent to 30 percent because of chronic exposure to radiation after the accident.”

Some 7 percent of Ukraine’s population suffered illnesses that are linked to radiation.


Doctors in the Rivne region of Ukraine report unusual rates of cancers and mutations. Rivne is 310 miles from Chernobyl.

Alexander Vewremchuk, from the Special Hospital for the Radiological Protection of the Population, said, “In the 30 hospitals of our region we find that up to 30 percent of people who were in highly radiated areas have physical disorders, including heart and blood diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases.

“Nearly one in three of all the newborn babies have deformities, mostly internal.”

Monbiot’s answer to doctors like Alexander is to say there is no “proof” that these deformities result from exposure to radiation. But what does he suggest causes such high rates of unusual deformities?

And how does he explain the fact that unusual levels of deformities have been reported in other areas exposed to radiation?

Most of the radiation from Chernobyl hit Belarus. Almost a quarter of its farmland is permanently unusable—and 1,000 children die every year from thyroid cancer.

Figures for the deaths resulting from the Chernobyl explosion are disputed. Some of those disputing them have a clear interest in doing so.

The United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has claimed that only 50 deaths can be directly linked to the disaster.

The IAEA promotes nuclear power. It says the maximum related deaths will be at most 4,000. But report after report contradicts this claim.

Chernobyl showed the disdain that our rulers have for ordinary people. The Russian government suppressed information about the disaster for days.

A report in 2005 said that the French state-run Central Service for Protection against Radioactive Rays (SCPRI) hid the fact that the radiation cloud from Chernobyl was causing high levels of contamination in Corsica and south-eastern France.

The nuclear industry and the governments that back them up regularly try to cover up the dangers of nuclear power because they are committed to continuing and expanding it.

We should never trust them.

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