The Chernobyl disaster is known all across the world and the events of 26th April 1986 have made a permanent mark on history. The events surrounding the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine are well known, but the official death toll is open to some conjecture and a great deal of controversy.
On the day in question, a routine systems test was carried out on nuclear reactor number 4. After an unexpected power surge, an emergency shutdown was attempted but this only led to an extreme power spike that in turn resulted in a series of explosions. Crucially, this led to the reactor’s graphite moderator being exposed to the air and it ignited, sending clouds of radioactive smoke into the atmosphere.
The initial impact in Chernobyl and the nearby city of Pripyat was devastating and it sent shock waves all around the world.
There were many instant deaths in the wake of the explosion both at the plant itself and in the immediate vicinity.
Several employees of the plant died as a result of their injuries or of radiation sickness and there were several deaths amongst the emergency services who were called to the scene. Firemen and helicopter pilots died either while on duty or as a result of the injuries and sickness they sustained.
Overall, the initial death toll was put at around 30 but from this point, controversy and conjecture take over.
The real human cost of Chernobyl
In 2005, the UN Nuclear Watchdog indicated that the final direct death toll from Chernobyl could be as low as 56 and it dismissed reports that the toll ran into hundreds of thousands. It did however acknowledge that the figure related to those deaths that were 100% attributable to the accident and it estimated that the final figure including those that had contracted cancer following the explosion to be around 4,000.
This is where the numbers become subject to conflicting reports and the difficulty seems to centre on how the deaths can be calculated and which of those can be directly linked to Chernobyl.
In 2006 however, Greenpeace reacted angrily to the UN claims and it produced its own set of statistics based on the Belarus official cancer figures.
In the Greenpeace article it claimed that over 270,000 cancer cases could be traced to Chernobyl and that included around 93,000 fatalities. The report goes on to suggest that the final death toll could exceed well over 200,000.
A sad legacy
There are many lasting legacies of Chernobyl that have had repercussions around the world but this part of the Ukraine has had to live with them for the past twenty five years.
The death toll is argued over constantly and it is sad that this figure alone should be debated in such a way. The only thing that is certain is that there has been great human suffering as a direct result of Chernobyl and it is a lesson that the world will never forget.