Answer to Question #4068 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
Category: Nuclear Accidents — Chernobyl
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
Just wondering whether any ongoing radiation monitoring is going on in Kiev after the Chernobyl cleanup. I visited recently and was impressed by a very intelligent and energetic citizenry and a fabulously beautiful and ancient historical city on the Dniper River, but was concerned that they do not have all the necessary resources to assure that the Chernobyl sarcophagus constructed over the melt-down site is intact and that in fact there is no danger to inhabitants of Kiev and surroundings. My questions are:
(1) What low level of radiation exposure in the air is the population beyond the excluded zone likely to experience and what health effects will that have?
(2) How safe do you think animal and plant products are outside of the "exclusion zone"—an area that begins some 30-40 km to the north of Kiev? I have additional questions concerning the role of international agencies in assisting developing nations to clean up hazardous spills that they otherwise, either from a scientific or economic perspective, can not fully accomplish on their own.
(3) Please advise as to other agencies that I could approach with these questions.
At the time of the Chernobyl accident, the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) was equipped as well as any country to respond, because this was not its first radiation accident. All in all, the response was good (after the initial attempt to cover up) and much has been written about it. The 1988, 1993, and 2000 reports from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) are good general references.
After the accident, several new institutes were established in Ukraine and Belarus to monitor the situation and to provide medical care for the exposed workers and members of the population. There is still a major effort to provide continued monitoring and evaluation. In answer to your first question, there is now very little "radiation in the air" beyond or even within the exclusion zone, except within the industrial zone around the reactors. Health effects from current exposures are not likely to be detectable.
For your second question, I think the animal and plant products from outside the exclusion zone that are allowed on the market are as safe as anywhere else in the world. A few species of mushrooms still contain high levels of radioactive cesium, but frankly I would worry more about the usual risk of getting poison mushrooms. Several hundred persons in Ukraine die every year from this "sport" of picking and eating mushrooms from the forests.
Also, after the accident every agency that you can imagine responded with help of some kind. Among the more prominent were the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Private donors, such as the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation and the International Science Foundation, also provided major support for scientists and to purchase equipment. Several countries, such as the United States and many members of the European Union, have continued to support radiation monitoring and the study of health effects in those exposed. The most prominent effect of the past radiation exposure has been an increase in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer among persons who were young children at the time of the accident. Exposure resulted from the uptake of radioactive iodines into the children’s small thyroids. These radioactive iodines disappeared within a few weeks after the accident through the process of radioactive decay.
You mentioned some concern about the sarcophagus. It appears that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is going to fund a massive new containment structure at a cost of $1 billion.
Lynn R. Anspaugh
Answer posted on 23 November 2004. The information and material posted on this website is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may alter the concepts and applications of materials and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice specific to whatever facts and circumstances are presented in any given situation. Answers are correct at the time they are posted on the website. Be advised that over time, some requirements could change, new data could be made available, or Internet links could change. For answers that have been posted for several months or longer, please check the current status of the posted information prior to using the responses for specific applications.
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