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Chernobyl radiation: how to understand the concept

The first approximate map of radioactive contamination density of the territory (of cesium 137Cs, 90Sr strontium and plutonium 238-, 240Pu) appeared in July 1986. Atlas of radioactive contamination of Europe was released by the Luxembourg Office for Official Publications of the European Communities in 1998.

There we can see the statistics: how the Chernobyl radiation poisoned the other world countries. From the table about the countries of Europe: country / proportion in percent of the Chernobyl contamination in Cs:

  • Austria 2.4
  • Belarus 23
  • Belgium 0.02
  • Czech Republic 0.54
  • Denmark 0.02
  • Estonia 0.08
  • Finland 4.8
  • Germany 1.8
  • Greece 1.1chernobyl_radiation
  • Hungary 0.24
  • Ireland 0.33
  • Italy (excluding Sicily) 0.90
  • Latvia 0.09
  • Lithuania 0.38
  • Luxembourg <0.01
  • Moldova 0.53
  • Netherlands 0.02
  • Norway 3.1
  • Poland 0.63
  • Romania 2.4
  • Russia (European part) 30
  • Slovakia 0.28
  • Slovenia 0.52
  • Spain 0.05
  • Sweden 4.6
  • Switzerland 0.43
  • Turkey (European part) 0.16
  • Ukraine 18
  • United Kingdom 0.83

chernobyl_radiation2If you look at these data, there is a question. How could radiation from Chernobyl spread so far? Chernobyl radiation cloud was moving in the atmosphere of the entire northern hemisphere and reached the borders of the equator. Due to the developed system of monitoring. And despite the relatively small size of this cloud. It was easily detected for thousands of kilometers.

After the accident, radioactive substances were distributed in the form of aerosols, which are gradually settled on the surface of the earth. Contamination was very uneven. Because it depended on the direction of the wind in the first days after the explosion. The hardest affected areas were places in which was raining at that time.

As a result of these natural processes, radiation has covered half of Europe. Chernobyl radiation has covered many countries at a distance of hundreds of kilometers from the damaged Chernobyl’s reactor. Among European countries, the most contaminated by radionuclides were Finland, Sweden, Norway and Austria.

chernobyl_radiation3Three most affected countries from the Chernobyl disaster are Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. In these countries, there are approximately 300 settlements in which the average annual radiation dose exceeds the norm. Total, in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia has fallen 70% of the ejected radioactive substances. Scientists have named the highest radiation stain like a butterfly because of its form.

Is Chernobyl still radioactive?

After the accident on April 26, in 1986, a fire raged for 10 days the station. It infects environment by a huge number of radioactive particles. That’s why radiation poisoning Chernobyl became exclusion zone. According to the International Nuclear Event Scale, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station received the maximal 7 points as a record amount of radioactive substances released into the environment.chernobyl_radiation4

After 30 years after the accident, there still is a 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Officially, at the nuclear station, there is no permanently present person. Workers are allowed to stay in the town of Chernobyl. It is located about 15 kilometers from the station. But even there, employees can stay only a few weeks in a row.

Let’s discuss the Chernobyl map of radiation. In general, modern Chernobyl is clean city by the standards of the exclusion zone. Chernobyl radiation radius was outlined in the 30 km. Because it was assumed that if there was a nuclear explosion, the so-called second zone would have been just 30 km (the first zone – the continuous destruction – is a 10 km). In fact, there was a thermal explosion. This zone can be a separate beam about 70 or 50 kilometers, and in some places – 10 km.

chernobyl_radiation5Today, the exclusion zone is not exactly the 30-kilometer. Partly it may be larger or smaller. This area is divided into several parts. In the 30-km zone is allowed conducting research work and accommodation of employees on a rotational basis. There live about 300 self-settlers. In some places, even carried out the agricultural work. But the 10-km zone, it is the area of mandatory unconditional resettlement, only Chernobyl employees are in it.

Is there still radiation in Chernobyl? Chernobyl exclusion zone is heterogeneous. There are clean places where all can live. And there are places enough dirty. But no one knows how will pass the migration of radionuclides. Chernobyl is almost clean. There are a few sufficiently “powerful black stains” near it.

So, is Chernobyl still radioactive? The environmentalists have concluded that the Chernobyl exclusion zone are beginning to recover. But radiation in Chernobyl is still dangerous for all living creatures!chernobyl_radiation7

How long will Chernobyl be radioactive?

Can scientists say when will Chernobyl be radiation free? Every year the radiation indicators are falling down. Reduction of the contaminated area will decrease approximately in 7 times by 2050. During the same period, the average annual doses of external and internal exposure of the population will be reduced by hundreds of times.

That is why specialists advocate for the restriction of the Chernobyl zone and the revision of the status of the contaminated territories. Despite the relatively optimistic forecasts, the period of decay of the radioactive metal is hundreds of years.

It should be noted that exist not so optimistic points of view: changes on the Chernobyl radiation map will be almost invisible and radiation standards will decrease very slowly. Only if the protective measures will be carried out, the number of localities with an annual dose higher than the norm will be reduced. Let’s look at the examples of impact and duration of the disintegration of Chernobyl radioactive elements.chernobyl_radiation8

In the process of pollution radioactive iodine has played a significant role. It has a short half-life. Quite soon after the accident, iodine was considered as a safe substance. Today, radioactive contamination constitute substances such as cesium and strontium. Their decay period is 30 years.

Thus, they are damaging the surrounding area for several decades. It is not excluded that their negative effect is still ongoing. Plutonium isotopes and americium will be present in the affected areas, probably within a few thousand years. They cause slight radiation effects on the human body.

Surprisingly, the large area of the Chernobyl zone has become a refuge for various animals. In fact, Chernobyl has become a “reserve”, where you can meet the wolves, eagles, wild boar, elk, deer and many other animals. Though the life in the zone is restored.chernobyl_radiation10

But the scientists still doubt that presence of people is safe there. They claim that the area will not be habitable for the next 20 000 years. If you want to know more details about the duration of Chernobyl radiation effects type in a search engine “Chernobyl how long will radiation last”.

Chernobyl radiation levels

Radiation emission occurs not only because of any problems in nuclear stations or explosion of an atomic bomb. All life on Earth is under the influence the radiation background. It consists of two components: the natural background and the so-called man-made (technogenic).

What is the natural background radiation? It is formed by radiation from space and by radioactive elements of the earth’s crust: uranium, radium, thorium. These elements are present even in the granite, which is often used as a building material. The reinforced concrete panels have a radiation activity, too. Also, radioactive elements, such as potassium, radon and carbon fall into the human body through the air and consumed food.

As for the role of man-made sources, they will increase in 2 – 3 times the background radiation in comparison with the natural. This is due to the widespread using of medical X-ray, staying in modern buildings, flying on airplanes, television viewing, pollution products formed by burning coal, and other factors.

We live in a radioactive world where everything is radioactive, even ourselves. But the radiation that surrounds us does not correspond to the global Chernobyl poisoning radiation. What are the radiation levels in Chernobyl? What determines these levels?

Visitors of the exclusion zone can measure changes of the radiation levels in Chernobyl by the dosimeter. The average values in the area vary from 0.9 microsieverts per hour (at a distance from the station) to 2.5 microsieverts close to it.chernobyl_radiation11

How much radiation is in Chernobyl? In an area where is fixed high rate (for example 214.2 microsieverts) it is dangerous to stay even for a few minutes. In some parts of the exclusion zone, the radiation level reaches 20 sieverts despite the fact that lethal dose has a total of 6.

So, there is strong “dirty” place in the Chernobyl zone, of course. Basically, this polluted places are different cemeteries. A cemetery is a place where were exported the cut of a top layer of soil and other radioactive waste. They are scattered throughout all exclusion area.

Radioactive “North” and “West” tracks, cemeteries liquidator equipment and, of course, the accommodation of Sarcophagus are very radioactive. Inside the Sarcophagus is still kept the background in several roentgen.

But don’t worry! If you visit the explosion zone on our excursion you won’t definitely present in this high Chernobyl radiation levels places.chernobyl_radiation12

Chernobyl radiation effects

Among the causes of the disaster, the experts called the flaws in reactor design and human error. A powerful release of radiation:

  1. killed thousands of people;
  2. was the cause of many diseases;
  3. entailed Chernobyl radiation mutations;
  4. caused enormous damage to the environment.

We can enumerate the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster during a long time in such or another way. But, eventually, this disaster influenced the course of world history.chernobyl_radiation14

In nowadays, any person and any country can not be sure that we are protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can dangerous pollute half of the Globe.

The indicators of external radiation intensity vary from year to year. But the biggest threat is food that grown in the dirty areas. We need to take some measures to protect ourselves from the Chernobyl radiation. Countermeasures include special fertilizer for soil and sorbents for animals.

Chernobyl radiation had a detrimental effect on the countless creatures. This fact illustrates research of livestock, field mice, fish, birds, plants, trees, bacteria, viruses from Chernobyl radiation zone. At the same time, anthropogenic transformation of the region is unique. Under the influence of wind and rain and the human activities, radiation levels at Chernobyl have considerably decreased.chernobyl_radiation15

If to talk about Chernobyl radiation effects on humans there is perturbing fact. The multitude of people who sought medical help didn’t have the possibility to know the cause of their disease. The doctors couldn’t find a connection between being in the zone of radioactive contamination and a sharp deterioration in health. Such statistics remained secretive for many decades after the disaster.

Chernobyl radiation effects on nature: soil and water, animals and plants

Scientists warn that the soil, plants and water in the most contaminated areas still contain significant quantities of radioactive substances. They are dangerous to humans for several decades. The groundwater in the region is close to the surface. Therefore Chernobyl radionuclides were in the groundwater of other European countries in the coming years after the accident.chernobyl_radiation16

In the first months after the accident, radioactive substances were deposited on the leaves and grass. Therefore, grazing animals succumbed to contamination. Then radionuclides with rain and fallen leaves have appeared in the ground. Even now, they get into the plant from the soil. Thus, the largest concentration of cesium detected in the surface layer of soil. And from the ground, it gets into plants, berries and mushrooms.

The Chernobyl forests damaged seriously because of the accident. The most severely affected territory situated near the station. They formed the so-called “Red Forest”. This name it received because of the radiation exposure. Under the effects of radiation the trees died, though left standing, and acquired red color. After the accident, workers purified this territory: the trees cut down and buried.

Thus, in the first years after the accident, a lot of areas around the station has been cleared. There were planting pine forest. The young forest has grown a bit and procedure was repeated. The trees were taken off and buried. In such way clear the soil. This is one-way anti-radiation land remediation.chernobyl_radiation17

Despite the scale of the Chernobyl disaster, the potential of renewable forest ecosystems proved to be extremely powerful. After the disappearance of people from the Chernobyl radiation zone, the surrounding forest began to return to the city and fill the space between the houses. By the way, scientists have noted that many of the trees have abnormal forms of growth, indicating it as the Chernobyl radioactive mutations.

The scientists and ecologist study Chernobyl radiation effects on animals. Because the contaminated area was isolated and almost there was no man influence, the number of animals and plants has been increasing, formed the new communication ecosystem. Now, the exclusion zone is permanently inhabited only by wild animals, whose numbers strong increased.

According to experts, they observe rare species of animals that were previously considered disappeared in these parts. Understanding this, the researchers introduced into the exclusion zone extinct species in nature to this area.chernobyl_radiation18

Chernobyl radiation victims

Experts still can not tell the exact number of victims because of the explosion at the Chernobyl reactor. The consequences of the Chernobyl disaster affected millions of people in Ukraine, Belarus and other European countries.

Dozens of people died in a few weeks, hundreds and perhaps thousands of humans in the subsequent years. However, accurate data on the number of victims is still not determined. We can not even tell approximate records because the calculations of various agencies and statistical offices sometimes considerably vary. There are main categories of victims of radiation in Chernobyl:

  • liquidators;
  • children;
  • prenatally irradiated children (born between 26 April 1986 and 26 February 1987);
  • evacuated citizens;
  • affected population.

The first glaring discrepancies related with the accident are in data on the number of Chernobyl radiation victims. For example, the data contradict the estimates of the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Initially told that from the 830 000 “liquidators” who extinguished the fire at the Chernobyl reactor, engaged in decontamination and clean up the areas, only 31 people died.

This is attributed to the fact that many of the participants in the decontamination of contaminated areas died later and because of natural causes, not directly related to the Chernobyl catastrophe. Herein lies the danger; experts say that identify the impact of radiation exposure on the human body with the passing of time is very difficult. This is a feature of the effects of radiation.chernobyl_radiation19

Soviet researchers found that at the time of the explosion and some time after there were 237 people on Chernobyl nuclear power plant (technical personnel nuclear power plants, unite of fire protection). All of them have received substantial doses of radiation exposure. The acute radiation sickness was recorded in 134 of them. 28 employees of the station died in the first three months after the incident, 14 people dead over the next ten years. Also, need to add three people which died in the moment of explosion on the fourth power unit (one of them died of heart failure). Thus, 45 people who died directly as a result of the disaster.

Chernobyl radiation effects on humans

Chernobyl is an invisible danger. A study conducted by experts gave a large-scale assessment of the impact of the Chernobyl disaster on the health of the people.  The debates on the number of accident victims are still open.chernobyl_radiation21

We can never set with accuracy the number of victims of the most monstrous nuclear disaster since the development of the “peaceful atom”. And we can not accurately trace and establish a direct connection of some disease and radiation poisoning.

For example, studies have shown that from 10 to 20% of the adult population of both contaminated and uncontaminated areas needed of medical care due to health problems not related to radiation exposure.

As a result, more than half of the population suffers from stress, which led to an increase in the number of mental disorders, sleep disorders, diseases of the endocrine system, and many other diseases unrelated to radiation.

Nuclear power plant employees suffered the most. Especially those who took part in the elimination of the consequences immediately after the accident. Moreover, usually the cause of death were diseases that were not directly associated with the received radiation dose.

This is the so-called probabilistic (stochastic) effects of radiation exposure. They appear a few years later in the form of an accelerated flow of a variety of serious diseases. One of the most frequent effects is cancers.

The most common of stochastic effects of the Chernobyl disaster has been the rapid increase in the number of thyroid cancers. First and foremost among those who at the time of the accident was a child. Experts explain: “the thyroid gland is like a sponge absorbs radioactive isotopes of iodine.”

If radionuclides get into the human body, experts say that it is internal irradiation. This kind of exposure took place after the Chernobyl accident. Internal exposure has its own peculiarities. Each radionuclide behaves differently.

The most vulnerable organs, tissues and systems of the body are called “critical organs”. For example, when you receive radioactive iodine in the body, about 30% of accumulates in the thyroid gland, which is considered as the critical organ for iodine. A whole group of radionuclides is concentrated in the bones, where they are delayed. Cesium is evenly distributed in the muscle tissue.


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