It has been 30 years since the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
But for those living in the region near the borders of Ukraine and Belarus, the devastating effects of the catastrophe continue to haunt them every day.
The disaster, in April 1986, was the world’s worst ever nuclear power plant accident and, three decades later, the power plant itself sits decommissioned and a massive exclusion zone remains in place.
The accident itself was the product of a flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with serious mistakes made by the plant operators - a direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any real safety culture.
One person died immediately when the Chernobyl 4 reactor was destroyed, a second died in hospital soon afterwards and a further 28 died within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning.
The day after the disaster, on April 27 1986, the nearest town of Pripyat’s 50,000 residents were evacuated in just three hours in a major government operation.
A major clean-up operation involving more than 500,000 people and spanning seven months followed in an attempt to decontaminate affected areas but the devastated reactor building had continued to leak radiation for more than two weeks.
Nobody off-site suffered from acute radiation effects although a large proportion of childhood thyroid cancers diagnosed since the accident is considered to be due to intake of radioactive iodine fallout. It is difficult to truly measure the actual human cost of that fateful day but doctors have revealed that, even today, children from the area are still being born with higher rates of immune system deficiencies and heart rhythm disorders as a result.
A 1991 report by the State Committee on the Supervision of Safety in Industry and Nuclear Power on the root cause of the accident absolved the operators working at the site from blame saying that, while it was in fact true their actions had placed the reactor in a dangerously unstable condition, they had not violated operating policies and principles as none were in place.
The disaster did, however, lead to major changes in safety culture and in industry cooperation, particularly between East and West before the end of the Soviet Union.
We are living in a time where health & safety in workplaces is constantly being pushed to the forefront of the agenda, particularly in the UK, and so it may seem unfeasible that an incident like the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster could be repeated again.
But, 30 years on, the harrowing tales of the people still living with the very real effects of that day are continuing to serve as a constant reminder of the decades of misery one incident can cause. Taking steps to ensure safety in every working environment is vital.
Article Code: LABL201605