Article: 35th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

By April 30, 2021News

April 26th marked 35 years since the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster of 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded and released the largest quantity of unbridled radioactivity in history. In hindsight, the accident is attributed to a combination of a defectively designed Soviet reactor compounded by the isolationist ideology of the former USSR. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), at least 5 percent of the reactor core was unleashed into the plant’s periphery, resulting in dispersion of radioactive substances to various parts of Europe – most severely, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and parts of Scandinavia (World Nuclear Association 2020). 

Subsequently, 28 people died in the few weeks succeeding the incident from acute radiation poisoning, approximately 350,000 residents were internally displaced, and the United Nations found that at least 5,000 cases of thyroid cancer after the fact can be attributed to radiation exposure. The WNA confirms that, “Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was originally diagnosed in 237 people onsite and involved with the clean-up and it was later confirmed in 134 cases. Of these, 28 people died as a result of ARS within a few weeks of the accident.” The most immediate physical threat was posed to communities situated in the plant’s fringes, but other developmental reverberations should not be underestimated. Exact numbers are highly debated and perhaps impossible to pin down. Nonetheless, many researchers have estimated that some 4,000 people brought into contact with high levels of radiation could develop terminal cancer as a result. Lower levels of radiation exposure – which may foretell a similar fate – are predictably more pervasive, having affected an approximate 5,000 people (Blakemore 2019). 

In the wake of the incident, four square miles of forest faded into a reddish-brown hue and perished from radiation exposure. The widespread contamination justified the campaign to scorch, disinfect, and bury all defiled territories, livestock, and plant life. Further, the disaster cratered the USSR’s economy and propelled its inevitable collapse, both with its economic and political fallout. Notwithstanding the estimated 235 billion USD in clean-up, reparations, and mitigation of the residual radioactive material, the target region also lost a great deal of viable land. Approximately 23 percent of Belarus, for example, was debased by nuclear fallout, deeming a fifth of its agricultural territory contaminated and unusable (Blakemore 2019). The Belorussian government allocated 22 percent of their national budget in 1991 towards reparation efforts.

Additionally, international authorities would be remiss not to consider the psychological and social strata of life that were promptly upended for thousands at the onset of the explosion (WHO 2016). The WHO (2016) asserts that a growing number of internationally financed studies indicate that Chernobyl-affected communities reported anxiety levels that were twice the average, in addition to being more likely to experience unexplained physical ailments and symptoms. Not only this, but as for the 350,000 internally displaced citizens, the government lacked a concise relocation and reconstruction plan to mitigate the consequences of disassembled communities. Meybatyan (2014) contends that, “The disintegration of the USSR and the difficult transition process intensified the consequences of the Chernobyl accident and the complexities around responsibilities for those affected.” 

Though the USSR has since collapsed and the immediate threat of the nuclear waste has been mitigated, the issue remains extant and current. Even 35 years onward, there is an ongoing demand for adequate education in the public sphere, continuing documentation and surveillance of the issue, and available psychological support programs. The WHO adds, “Several international projects aimed at developing such infrastructure, providing training materials and facilitating training programs for the various target groups in the affected regions of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia” (WHO 2016). Organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have contributed to environmental remediation efforts, research of radiation levels in the affected areas, and the disposal of radioactive waste. As part of the 2003-2005 Chernobyl Forum – a United Nations initiative to address the consequences of the incident – have worked to provide specialized healthcare relief and economic stimulus to aid the relevant populations. Additionally, the International Chernobyl Radiation Information Network, among many other forums, continually aims to educate the public and democratize unbiased information surrounding the incident and the issue of radioactivity in general (Dixit 2016).

According to RFE/RL (2020), as of 2019, a lump sum of approximately 1.7 billion USD was garnered as part of the effort to erect a fortifying confinement husk around the reactor, which still contains the hardened remains of radioactive lava. The project, formally referred to as the New Safe Confinement, is the world’s largest movable structure. It was funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was collaboratively sponsored by 45 different countries ( 2019). For scale, (2019) claims the 108-metre dome could seal Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, and is slated to cordon Reactor Four’s radiation for 100 years, after which it will become prudent to either dismantle the remains or pool more resources to manufacture an even bigger dome. Most authorities agree that the exclusion zone’s radiation levels will dwindle down to liveable degrees in 24,000 years time ( 2019). One way or another, permanent alleviation of the consequences of Chernobyl will require ongoing diplomatic efforts. The post-Soviet bloc by itself does not have adequate resources to cope with the costs internally, nor does it have the reach to facilitate ongoing research and public relations that could work to prevent future nuclear disasters of a similar magnitude. Despite having aged 35 years, the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster’s legacy thrives and demands further progress in matters of both public health and human rights.


Blakemore, Erin. 2019. “The Chernobyl Disaster: What Happened, And The Long-Term Impacts.”

Dixit, Aabha. 2016. “30 Years After Chernobyl: IAEA Continues To Support Global Efforts To Help Affected Regions.”

Meybatyan, Silva. 2014. “Nuclear Disasters And Displacement.” 2019. “Ukraine Inaugurated Giant Dome Over Destroyed Chernobyl Reaction.” 2019. “Ukraine Inaugurated Giant Dome Over Destroyed Chernobyl Reaction.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 2020. “UN: Consequences Remain More Than Three Decades After Chernobyl Disaster.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 26, 2020.

United Nations. 2019. “Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster – Affected Areas Spring To Life, 33 Years On.”

World Health Organization. 2016. “1986-2016: Chernobyl At 30.”

World Nuclear Association. 2020. “Chernobyl Accident 1986.”