What were the effects on the people and the environment of the Chernobyl disaster?

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linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the World Nuclear Organization (linked below), the immediate impact of the Chernobyl disaster was that "all of the xenon gas, about half of the iodine and caesium, and at least  5% of the remaining radioactive material in the Chernobyl-4 reactor core (which had 192 tonnes of fuel) was released" into the atmosphere. In the first four months following the disaster, 28 people (mostly firefighters) died; 19 more people have died since, mostly of thyroid cancer.

Winds carried the hazardous materials "over the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and to some extent over Scandinavia and Europe." The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 4000 cases of thyroid cancer in children in the affected areas. Future cases of leukemia are expected as well. One frightening report came from the 2005 Chernobyl Forum, which states that "some seven million people are now receiving or eligible for benefits as 'Chernobyl victims.'"

As for environmental damage, the International Atomic Energy Agency notes that the effects of radiation were immediate and short-lived. They further state:

There have been some reports of birth defects among farm animals; but other evidence supports general recovery from radiation damage. The possibility of long term genetic effects remains to be studied.

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