Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician's Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands

Chernobyl: The Worse Nuclear Accident in Modern History

Source: Los Angeles Times April 15, 1991

It's been called the most frightening catastrophe of modern industrial history. A series of errors in connection with a planned shutdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's Reactor No. 4 caused a thermal explosion and fire at 1:23 AM on April 26, 1986.

Chernobyl. Nuclear power is unforgiving of failure. The town of Pripyat, Ukraine was abandoned after the Chernobyl incident.

Nuclear power is unforgiving of failure. The town of Pripyat, Ukraine was abandoned after the Chernobyl incident.

The accident released a radioactive cloud, and abnormal radioactive levels were soon detected. For month-even years-it was said that the main impact was within 30 kilometers of Chernobyl, which was evacuated. In a 10-kilometer zone, no resettlement was anticipated for a century.

"The young have all gone--they understood that all this radiation would be a living death. We should leave, too. There is still lots of radiation here, and it churns up your stomach and makes your bones ache and just eats away at you." Anatoly E. Popukow, (Bartalomeyevka, 100 miles north of Chernobyl).

Source: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May/June 1996

Chernobyl—Ten Years Later

One of the most controversial arguments about the accident concerns the number of direct casualties. The official Soviet toll rose from two to 31 during the summer of 1986, where it remained thereafter. By 1990, at least 5,000 decontamination workers had died, although not all their deaths can be attributed to Chernobyl.

Any estimate of direct casualties involves supposition and guesswork. I have encountered totally undocumented estimates as high as 125,000.


The accident contaminated an area of more than 100,000 square kilometers (about the size of the state of Kentucky), and lower levels of contamination affected many parts of Europe, particularly eastern Poland, southern Germany, and Scandinavia. The worst hit regions were in the then-Soviet republics of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.

Of the radio nuclides released, the most harmful were iodine 131, cesium 137, and strontium 90. The iodine, however, appears to have traveled the farthest and to have had the most severe repercussions in terms of health.

Scientists disagree about the effects of low-level radiation on humans....A similar debate arose over the amount of radiation the human body could tolerate.