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International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day

26 April, 2021

The 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine (then part of the former Soviet Union) was attributed to severe design flaws in the Soviet-era reactor and human error. 31 people died within a few weeks from the steam explosion, exposure to radiation and thermal burns, and one due to cardiac arrest and there remain long-term and ongoing ill-health effects. In 2018, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reported that the accident was also responsible for nearly 20,000 documented cases of thyroid cancer among individuals who were under 18 years of age at the time of the accident in the three affected countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Russian Federation) due to the high levels of radioactive iodine released from the Chernobyl reactor in the early days after the accident. Radioactive iodine was deposited in pastures eaten by cows who then concentrated it in their milk which was subsequently ingested by children. There was also “some evidence of a detectable increase” in leukemia and cataract risk among workers who received higher radiation doses when engaged in recovery at the site. Long-term health monitoring of these workers is ongoing. International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day is thus to recognise that three decades after the disaster there remains persistent serious long-term consequences and that the affected communities and territories are experiencing continuing related needs.


Image: Memorial to the firefighters of Chernobyl

Photograph by Dana Sacchetti IAEA https://www.un.org/en/observances/chernobyl-remembrance-day