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The Wikipedia articles on the Chernobyl disaster and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant give good accounts of the plant itself and the 1986 accident at Reactor No. 4.

World Nuclear News' article on RBMK Reactors discusses the problems with the design of reactor at Chernobyl.

64 people, 31 of them reactor staff and emergency workers, are confirmed to have died from radiation. Total deaths from the accident are predicted to be between 4,000 according to The Chernobyl Forum and 25,000 according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, with a report commissioned by the European Greens putting the number at up to 60,000 and a widely-discredited report by the founder of Greenpeace's Russian chapter claiming a million worldwide.

The Chernobyl Gallery

This video by architect Mike Bell shows 3-D animations and explanations of the inner workings of the Chernobyl nuclear power station, illustrating its vulnerability to the accident that blew it up, and how it was different from reactors outside the USSR. Note that the commentary is incorrect about the RBMK being the only reactor design which can be refuelled online: CANDU, Magnox, and AGR reactors also have this capability.

What Happened


Chernobyl Nuclear Accident IAEA

Chernobyl 1986 Ed Leaver; Pandora's Back Pages

Firstly, Chernobyl was most emphatically NOT a light-water reactor. Not in any conventional sense of the word. The RBMK-1000 was a water-cooled graphite-moderated boiling water design originally intended to simultaneously produce both electric power and weapons grade plutonium. This design would never have been implemented in the west. Nonetheless, it was implemented, and with catastrophic results. From Chernobyl Accident 1986 (Updated June 2013):
“The April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine was the product of a flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with serious mistakes made by the plant operators. It was a direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture.”31

Chernobyl Accident and Its Consequences Nuclear Energy Institute; May 2019

fact sheet

Will The Truth About Chernobyl Ever Come Out? James Conca; Forbes; 26 Apr 2016

Yes, it already has, but the truth is so much more boring than the assertions of megadeath, that it generally gets ignored. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident (today April 26th) and the 5th anniversary of the Fukushima accident (March 11th). These two events constitute the only serious accidents in the nuclear power industry in history. People died as a result of Chernobyl, but no one has yet died from Fukushima. There were some less severe accidents, mostly at weapons sites, but the nuclear power industry is still the safest industry in the world by any measure.

The Famous Photo of Chernobyl's Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie David Goldenberg; Atlas Obscura; 24 Jan 2016

Corium has been created outside of the lab at least five times, according to Mitchell Farmer, a senior nuclear engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, another Department of Energy center outside of Chicago. Corium formed once at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania in 1979, once in Chernobyl, and three separate times during the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in Japan in 2011. Farmer creates modified versions of corium in the lab in order to better understand how to mitigate accidents in the future. Research on the substance has found, for example, that dumping water on it after it forms actually does stop some fission products from decaying and producing more dangerous isotopes.
Of the five corium creations, only Cherobyl’s has escaped its containment. With no water to cool the mass, the radioactive sludge moved through the unit over the course a week following the meltdown, taking on molten concrete and sand to go along with the uranium (fuel) and zirconium (cladding) molecules. This poisonous lava flowed downhill, eventually burning through the floor of the building. When nuclear inspectors finally accessed the area several months after the initial explosion, they found that 11 tons of it had settled into a three meter wide grey mass at the corner of a steam distribution corridor below. This, they dubbed the Elephant’s Foot. Over the years, the Elephant’s Foot cooled and cracked. Even today, though, it’s still estimated to be slightly above the ambient temperature as the radioactive material decomposes.

A Chernobyl 'suicide squad' of volunteers helped save Europe — here's their amazing true story Sarak Kramer; Business Insider; 26 Apr 2018

Discusses - with some ambiguity - the story of 3 workers who opened valves in the basement underneath the reactor to release water, to avoid a steam explosion if the still-melting core reached the water.

Chernobyl: The end of a three-decade experiment Victoria Gill; BBC; 14 Feb 2019

Since the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, an area of more than 4,000 square kilometres has been abandoned. That could be about to change, as Victoria Gill discovered during a week-long trip to the exclusion zone.

Why Chernobyl Exploded - The Real Physics Behind The Reactor Scott Manley; YouTube; 8 Jun 2019

With the TV show doing a great job at delivering its explanation in a manner that most people can easily understand, I felt I wanted to do a more detailed description. So I cover basic reactor physics, explain how the RBMK reactor works, how Xenon 135 works, Why the control rods included graphite tips, and why the reactor became unstable and ran away.
Many of the diagrams here are from and they have Lots more information on Nuclear Physics

post discussing video Eustratius Graham; Facebook; 8 Jun 2019

Joseph Rey Tweets *

The Arch

Engineers Race to Entomb the Decaying Chernobyl Reactor [Video] John Wendle; Scientific American; 21 Apr 2016

A giant arch will enclose the crumbling sarcophagus before radiation leaks get worse, even as plans advance to turn the area into a nature preserve

They’ve Got It Covered: Enormous Arch Moved Into Place Over Damaged Chornobyl Reactor Bechtel / The Art Of The Build; 29 Nov 2016

Thirty years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the gargantuan structure built to confine radiation at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant is now in place after inching – literally – into position. The massive arch was slid into place on Teflon-coated steel rails. The arch, known as the “New Safe Confinement,” was built 180 meters (about 200 yards) west of the damaged power plant, the only way for the construction site to be safe enough from radiation to allow workers to build it. The 36,000- metric ton (40,000 short ton) structure began sliding to the east on Nov. 14, moving 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) at a time to come to rest atop the disaster site two weeks later.

Unique engineering feat concluded as Chernobyl arch reaches resting place European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; YouTube; 29 Nov 2016

Thirty years after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the radioactive remains of the power plant’s destroyed reactor 4 have been safely enclosed following one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects.

Chernobyl’s giant New Safe Confinement (NSC) was moved over a distance of 327 metres from its assembly point to its final resting place, completely enclosing a previous makeshift shelter that was hastily assembled immediately after the 1986 accident.

The equipment in the New Safe Confinement will now be connected to the new technological building which will serve as a control room for future operations inside the arch. The New Safe Confinement will be sealed off from the environment hermetically. Finally, after intensive testing of all equipment and commissioning, handover of the New Safe Confinement to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant administration is expected in November 2017.

Casualties and Health Effects

What was the death toll from Chernobyl and Fukushima? Hannah Ritchie; Our World In Data; 24 Jul 2017

When it comes to the safety of nuclear energy, discussion often quickly turns towards the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl in Ukraine (1986) and Fukushima in Japan (2011). These two events were by far the largest nuclear incidents in history; the only disasters to receive a level 7 (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

How many deaths did each of these events cause?

When it comes to nuclear accidents there are really two fatal impacts to consider: the first being the number of direct deaths which occurred either at the time of incident, or in the days which followed (i.e. the acute impacts); the second being the long-term (chronic) impacts of radiation exposure, which has known links to the incidence of several forms of cancer.

In the case of Chernobyl, 31 people died as a direct result of the accident; two died from blast effects and a further 29 firemen died as a result of acute radiation exposure (where acute refers to infrequent exposure over a short period of time) in the days which followed.1

The number of people who were impacted over long-term radiation exposure is more difficult to discern and remains highly contested.

The Chernobyl accident - UNSCEAR's assessments of the radiation effects

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor that occurred on 26 April 1986 was the most serious accident ever to occur in the nuclear power industry. The reactor was destroyed in the accident and considerable amounts of radioactive material were released to the environment. The accident caused the deaths, within a few weeks, of 30 workers and radiation injuries to over a hundred others. In response, the authorities evacuated, in 1986, about 115,000 people from areas surrounding the reactor and subsequently relocated, after 1986, about 220,000 people from Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The accident caused serious social and psychological disruption in the lives of those affected and vast economic losses over the entire region. Large areas of the three countries were contaminated with radioactive materials, and radionuclides from the Chernobyl release were measurable in all countries of the northern hemisphere.

Among the residents of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, there had been up to the year 2005 more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident, and more cases can be expected during the next decades. Notwithstanding the influence of enhanced screening regimes, many of those cancers were most likely caused by radiation exposures shortly after the accident. Apart from this increase, there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident. There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure. The incidence of leukaemia in the general population, one of the main concerns owing to the shorter time expected between exposure and its occurrence compared with solid cancers, does not appear to be elevated. Although those most highly exposed individuals are at an increased risk of radiation-associated effects, the great majority of the population is not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. Many other health problems have been noted in the populations that are not related to radiation exposure.


Backgrounder on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident U.S. NRC

Experts conclude some cancer deaths may eventually be attributed to Chernobyl over the lifetime of the emergency workers, evacuees and residents living in the most contaminated areas. These health effects are far lower than initial speculations of tens of thousands of radiation-related deaths.

Health effects of the Chernobyl accident: an overview World Health Organisation: Ionizing Radiation; Apr 2006

According to UNSCEAR (2000), 134 liquidators received radiation doses high enough to be diagnosed with acute radiation sickness (ARS). Among them, 28 persons died in 1986 due to ARS. Other liquidators have since died but their deaths could not necessarily be attributed to radiation exposure.

The Expert Group concluded that there may be up to 4 000 additional cancer deaths among the three highest exposed groups over their lifetime (240 000 liquidators; 116 000 evacuees and the 270 000 residents of the SCZs). Since more than 120 000 people in these three groups may eventually die of cancer, the additional cancer deaths from radiation exposure correspond to 3-4% above the normal incidence of cancers from all causes.

Projections concerning cancer deaths among the five million residents of areas with radioactive caesium deposition of 37 kBq/m2 in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are much less certain because they are exposed to doses slightly above natural background radiation levels. Predictions, generally based on the LNT model, suggest that up to 5 000 additional cancer deaths may occur in this population from radiation exposure, or about 0.6% of the cancer deaths expected in this population due to other causes. Again, these numbers only provide an indication of the likely impact of the accident because of the important uncertainties listed above.

Radiation's Complications: Pinning Health Problems on a Nuclear Disaster Isn't So Easy Charles Q. Choi; Scientific American; 18 Mar 2011

Radioactive fallout seems like the obvious culprit behind the negative medical consequences that arose after the explosion at Chernobyl, but it's hard to measure even the dosage those contaminated received, let alone link it to medical problems

Let's separate the urban myths from Chernobyl's scientific facts Gerry Thomas; The Age; 10 July 2019

As someone who has conducted research into the health effects of the Chernobyl accident for 27 years, and written reviews of the impact of radiation exposure following nuclear accidents, I find it alarming that scaremongering about “the true story of Chernobyl” continues unabated.

In turn, this feeds "radiophobia", a fear of exposure to radiation. Indeed, mental health issues associated with this fear are one of the most significant health consequences of the Chernobyl accident identified by evidence-based studies.

When fear stops a balanced discussion of energy policy to reduce the potentially more serious health consequences of climate change it becomes a major issue for society as a whole.

I was born in the 1960s and grew up believing that the word "radiation" had an infinitely dangerous meaning. So I was sceptical about nuclear power. It wasn’t until 1992, when I started to study the health effects of the Chernobyl accident, that I began to question that view.

Starting my journey from science fiction to scientific fact, I established the Chernobyl Tissue Bank in 1998 with one of the world’s pre-eminent thyroid pathologists to give scientists access to properly curated and documented human samples. This would enable better understanding of the effects of a nuclear accident, with the aim of creating scientific evidence to guide our opinions of the risks and benefits of nuclear power.

Yet more than 30 years after the accident, some misguided individuals and organisations are still peddling conspiracy theories. Let’s start with some facts.

Human beings inhabit a naturally radioactive world. If we had not evolved protective mechanisms to deal with the effects of natural radiation, we wouldn’t be here.

We will all be exposed to between 2 and 3 milliSievert (mSv) of radiation every year from our natural environment. We all ingest about 2 micrograms of uranium every day, and uranium is present in shampoos and sea water.

While we accept the individual risk associated with the use of radiation for medical diagnosis and treatment, there seems to be less general acceptance of exposure to much lower levels of radiation when it is associated with nuclear power plant accidents.

While some of those who were children at the time of the Chernobyl accident did receive large doses of radiation to the thyroid gland, the average dose to residents in Belarus and Ukraine who lived in the areas closest to the reactor between 1986 and 1995 was 10mSv, or the equivalent of one whole body CT scan, over nine years.

In terms of health consequences directly caused by radiation exposure, 146 early responders received doses high enough to result in acute radiation syndrome, and 28 of these died as a result of their exposure.

A further 19 have died since, but many of these deaths were associated with lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drinking and driving cars.

It is estimated that some 16,000 cases of thyroid cancer in those who were exposed as children may eventually result. But thyroid cancer is curable, ironically using high doses of the same radioactive isotope that caused the cancer in the first place. We can predict about 160 deaths from these 16,000 cases.

The World Health Organisation estimated that there may be 4000 further cases of cancer in the workers involved in the clean-up of the Chernobyl reactor site. These workers received larger doses than the population living near the reactor.

However, 33 years after the accident, there has been no observed increase in solid cancers in these workers. There is a report of a slight increase in one form of leukaemia in one group of workers, but the numbers are small, and the increase is not significant and restricted to one of the four groups under study only. There is considerable discussion whether these cases are attributable to radiation exposure or some other cause.

Current radiological situation in areas of Ukraine contaminated by the Chernobyl accident: Part 1. Human dietary exposure to Caesium-137 and possible mitigation measures I.Labunska, V.Kashparov, S.Levchuk, D.Santillo, P.Johnston, S.Polishchuk, N.Lazarev, Y.Khomutinin; Environment International; Aug 2018


  • First report on dynamics of 137Cs content in cow's milk from Chernobyl affected areas in Ukraine.
  • Key factors responsible for milk contamination by 137Cs have been identified.
  • Average 137Cs activity concentrations in milk still exceed Ukrainian PL in several settlements.
  • Exceedance of PL for 137Cs in cow's milk may persist until 2040 without remedial actions.
  • Mitigation measures can decrease an effective dose to below the limit of 1 mSv/year.

Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Jones & Co, Sky News; Youtube; 19 Jun 2019

Andrew Bolt interviews veteran Chernobyl US Medical Specialist Dr. Robert Peter Gale who was invited by President Gorbachev to treat Russians who were affected by the Chernobyl nuclear power station explosion. According to anti-nuclear activists the deaths associated with this disaster was in excess of a million people, but Dr. Gale has the real number of casualties.


Radiophobia: Long-Term Psychological Consequences of Chernobyl Ross H. Pastel; Military Medicine; 2002

The primary health effect of Chemobyl has been widespread psychological distress in liquidators (workers brought In for cleanup), evacuees, residents of contaminated areas, and residents of adjacent noncontaminated areas. Several psychoneurological syndromes characterized by multiple unexplained physical symptoms including fatigue, sleep and mood disturbances, impaired memory and concentration, and muscle and/or joint pain have been reported in the Russian literature.

These syndromes, which resemble chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, are probably not due to direct effects of radiation because they do not appear to be dose related to radiation exposure and because they occur in areas of both high and low contamination.

Birth defects

The victims of Chernobyl in Greece: induced abortions after the accident D Trichopoulos et al; British Medical Journal; 31 Oct 1987

The Chernobyl nuclear accident took place early in the morning of 26 April 1986, but the extent of the catastrophe became apparent in Greece a few days later. During most of May there was panic because of conflicting data and false rumours. By June more reliable information became available and it was realised that the average effective radiation dose to the population of Greece would not exceed 1 mSv (100 mrem). This dose is much lower than that which could induce embryonic abnormalities or other non-stochastic effects. In Greece, as in other parts of Europe, many obstetricians initially thought it prudent to interrupt otherwise wanted pregnancies or were unable to resist requests from worried pregnant women and their husbands. Within a few weeks misconceptions in the medical profession were largely cleared, although worries persisted to a variable extent in the general public. We tried to estimate the number of abortions performed because of the Chernobyl accident by recording the actual numbers of liveborn infants in Greece, by month, until the end of March 1987 and comparing these numbers with those expected on the basis of recent birth rate trends.

We estimated that in Greece during the period of concern after the Chernobyl accident-that is, during most of May 1986-23% of early pregnancies at perceived risk were artifically terminated (((9103-7032)/ 9103)x 100) and that during the whole of 1986 about 2500 otherwise wanted pregnancies (2-5% of the total) were interrupted because of perceived radiation risk (since there was only a small deficit oflive births during March 1987 it is unlikely that there will be an important Chernobyl related deficit of live births in the subsequent months). This empirical estimate is not incompatible with the speculative figure of the International Atomic Energy Agency of 100 000 to 200 000 Chernobyl related induced abortions in the whole of Western Europe.

Chornobyl 30 years later: Radiation, pregnancies, and developmental anomalies in Rivne, Ukraine Wladimir Wertelecki et al; European Journal of Medical Genetics; 30 Sep 2016

In the 30 years since the Chornobyl nuclear power plant disaster, there is evidence of persistent levels of incorporated ionizing radiation in adults, children and pregnant women in the surrounding area. Measured levels of Cesium-137 vary by region, and may be influenced by dietary and water sources as well as proximity to nuclear power plants. Since 2000, comprehensive, population-based birth defects monitoring has been performed in selected regions of Ukraine to evaluate trends and to generate hypotheses regarding potential causes of unexplained variations in defect rates. Significantly higher rates of microcephaly, neural tube defects, and microphthalmia have been identified in selected regions of Ukraine collectively known as Polissia compared to adjacent regions collectively termed non-Polissia, and these significantly higher rates were evident particularly in the years 2000-2009. The Polissia regions have also demonstrated higher mean whole body counts of Cesium-137 compared to values in individuals residing in other non-Polissia regions. The potential causal relationship between persistent ionizing radiation pollution and selected congenital anomaly rates supports the need for a more thorough, targeted investigation of the sources of persistent ionizing radiation and the biological plausibility of a potential teratogenic effect.

criticisim of Wertelecki et al Jaro Franta; Facebook; 28 Apr 2018

A 2016 report out of Ukraine (with participation of one American, pediatrician Christina D. Chambers, from La Jolla, CA) tries to draw a correlation between incidence of birth defects and radiation. It compares several regions of northern Ukraine, which received different amounts of Cs137 fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Besides the different amounts of fallout and population body burdens (as measured using whole body counters, WBC), the regions have very different surface geology, and consequently different agricultural and dietary habits.

While providing good data on Cs137 body burdens, the authors never bother to do any dose calculations. In fact, the only time the word “dose” is mentioned, is in this quote: “ The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) implicitly endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that “Because of the relatively low dose levels to which the populations of the Chernobyl affected regions were exposed, there is no evidence or any likelihood of observing decreased fertility among males or females in the general population as a direct result of radiation exposure. These doses are also unlikely to have any major effect on the number of stillbirths, adverse pregnancy outcomes or delivery complications or the overall health of children.” (IAEA, 2006).”

But it is simple enough to compare the dose due to Cs137 body burden to the dose from natural potassium-40 (K40). The reported WBC of about 4,000Bq of Cs137 is nearly identical to the typical K40 activity in the human body. The dose from 4kBq of natural K40 is 0.20 mSv/y. But the dose from 4kBq of Cs137 is just 3/4 of that, 0.15 mSv/y, due mainly to different mean beta decay energy (188keV for Cs137 versus 585keV for K40).

Despite the minuscule dose, the authors insist that, “Concerning the high sensitivity of rapidly developing embryonic tissues to IR damage, even the 3700 Bq limit is likely to be too high to prevent IR teratogenic impacts.” “ These observations along with previous findings (Wertelecki et al., 2016), fully justify the imperative that prospective investigations of 137-Cs WBC temporal trends are needed.”

Nevertheless, the significant differences in birth defects incidence is interesting – the authors’ bogus insinuations about radiation exposure notwithstanding. In particular, the low rate of folic acid dietary supplement use by pregnant women in all the regions of the study, suggest that differences in diet of the populations in the regions play an important role (again, due to very different surface geology, and consequently different agricultural and dietary habits).

This sort of effect has been observed in other countries, including several areas of the US, where dietary deficiency of folic acid (and formerly inadequate supplement distribution or inclusion in consumer food products) have been observed to result in relatively high rates of birth defects. In fact, one such epidemiological case was found in a population in the western US – and was blamed by activists on the nearby Hanford nuclear reservation. Of course the correct preventive measure was widespread folic acid supplementation, not anything to do with radiation. Similarly, if the authors of the Ukrainian report convince authorities that it’s the Cs137 that’s to blame, then we can look forward to more birth defects due to dietary folic acid deficiency.

A paper De novo congenital malformation frequencies in children from the Bryansk region following the Chernobyl disaster (2000–2017) by Anton V. Korsakov, Emilia V. Geger, Dmitry G. Lagerev, Leonid I. Pugach, and Timothy A. Mousseau (Heliyon; 6 Aug 2020)



Ionizing radiation and chemical pollution can disrupt normal embryonic development and lead to congenital malformations and fetal death. We used official government statistical data for 2000–2017 to test the hypothesis that radioactive and chemical pollutants influenced the frequency of de novo congenital malformations in newborns of the Bryansk region of southwest Russia.


A variety of statistical approaches were used to assess congenital malformation frequencies including the Shapiro-Wilk test, White's homoscedasticity test, Wilcoxon T-test, Spearman's rank correlation test, and the inversely proportional regression.


We found that the frequency of polydactyly, multiple congenital malformations, and the frequency of de novo congenital malformations in newborns were significantly higher (p = 0.001–0.054) in regions with elevated radioactive, chemical and combined contamination. Polydactyly, multiple congenital malformations, and the sum of all congenital malformations were 4.7–7.4 times, 2.5–6.8 times, and 3.5–4.6 times higher in contaminated regions in comparison with the control group. The combination of both radioactive and chemical pollutants led to significantly higher frequencies of multiple congenital malformations when compared to regions with only one pollutant (radiation alone: 2.2 times, p = 0.034; chemical pollutants alone: 1.9 times, p = 0.008) implying that the effects of these stressors were at minimum additive. Although there was a trend for decreasing frequencies of multiple congenital malformations during the 2000–2017 period in areas of combined pollution, the opposite was true for regions with radioactive or chemical pollutants alone. However, overall, our models suggest that the frequency of multiple congenital malformations in areas of combined pollution will significantly (p = 0.027) exceed the frequencies observed for regions containing radioactive or chemical pollutants alone by 39.6% and 45.7% respectively, by 2018–2023.


These findings suggest additive and potentially synergistic effects of radioactive and chemical pollutants on the frequencies of multiple congenital malformations in the Bryansk region of southwestern Russia.

In a Letter to the editor of Heliyon re: De novo congenital malformation frequencies in children from the Bryansk region following the Chernobyl disaster (2000–2017). Heliyon. 2020; 6(8): e04616 in October 2020, Alfred Körblein examines the statistical methods in the paper and concludes:

... the present analysis exhibits an increased prevalence of congenital malformations, albeit not statistically significant, in the highly contaminated south-west territory of Oblast Bryansk. The statistical power of the study could be substantially increased if all birth defects were included. Furthermore, a pooled analysis with data from Oblast Gomel in Belarus is recommended.

Environmental effects


Report of the Chernobyl Forum Expert Group ‘Environment’


“What About Radioactive Wastelands?” A Look at Chernobyl’s Effects on Nature Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 14 Apr 2019

Chernobyl’s effects on plants and animals

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is arguably a Nature Reserve Colin Barras; BBC; 22 April 2016 (via Wayback Machine)

In Dead Zone of Chernobyl, Animal Kingdom Thrives MIKE HALE; New York Times; 18 Oct 2011 (paywalled)

Cameras reveal the secret lives of Chernobyl's wildlife Mark Kinver, Environment reporter; BBC; 26 Apr 2015

Automatic cameras in the Ukrainian side of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have provided an insight into the previously unseen secret lives of wildlife that have made the contaminated landscape their home.

Wildlife in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: Bears, Wolves and Rare Horses Roam the Forests David Sim; International Business Times; 28 Nov 2014

Camera traps set up in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have photographed many species of wildlife roaming the forests.

Radioactive Wolves PBS; 19 Oct 2011

In 1986 a nuclear meltdown at the infamous Chernobyl power plant in present-day Ukraine left miles of land in radioactive ruins. Residents living in areas most contaminated by the disaster were evacuated and relocated by government order, and a no-man’s land of our own making was left to its own devices. In the ensuing 25 years, forests, marshes, fields and rivers reclaimed the land, reversing the effects of hundreds of years of human development. And surprisingly, this exclusion zone, or “dead zone,” has become a kind of post-nuclear Eden, populated by beaver and bison, horses and birds, fish and falcons – and ruled by wolves.

Access to the zone is now permitted, at least on a limited basis, and scientists are monitoring the surviving wildlife in the area, trying to learn how the various species are coping with the invisible blight of radiation. As the top predators in this new wilderness, wolves best reflect the condition of the entire ecosystem because if the wolves are doing well, the populations of their prey must also be doing well. Accordingly, a key long-term study of the wolves has been initiated to determine their health, their range, and their numbers.

Do Animals in Chernobyl’s Fallout Zone Glow? Mary Mycio; Slate; ; Jan 2013? (from URL)

The scientific debate about Europe’s unlikeliest wildlife sanctuary. With discussion of Moller and Mousseau's claims

Chernobyl is now a hugely important wildlife refuge Germán Orizaola; Cosmos Magazine; 11 May 2019

In March 2019, most of the main research groups working with Chernobyl wildlife met in Portsmouth, England. About 30 researchers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, Norway, Spain and Ukraine presented the latest results of our work. These studies included work on big mammals, nesting birds, amphibians, fish, bumblebees, earthworms, bacteria and leaf litter decomposition.

These studies showed that at present the area hosts great biodiversity. In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone.

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl – the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community Julie McDowall; The Guardian; 5 Feb 2018

Hundreds of stray dogs have learned to survive in the woods around the exclusion zone – mainly descendants of those left behind after the nuclear disaster, when residents were banned from taking their beloved pets to safety

Moller & Mousseau

Birds prefer to breed in sites with low radioactivity in Chernobyl A.P Møller, T.A Mousseau; Proceedings of the Royal Society / Biological Sciences; 7 Jun 2007

Low-level radioactive contamination may affect choice of breeding site and life-history decisions if (i) radioactivity directly affects body condition or (ii) it affects resource abundance that then secondarily influences reproductive decisions. We tested the effects of radioactive contamination on nest-site choice and reproduction in a community of hole nesting birds by putting up nest boxes in areas differing in levels of background radiation. Great tit Parus major and pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca significantly avoided nest boxes in heavily contaminated areas, with a stronger effect in flycatchers than in tits. These preferences could not be attributed to variation in habitat quality or resource abundance, as determined by analyses of habitat use and the relationship between radiation and life-history characters. Likewise, none of these effects could be attributed to individuals of a specific age breeding in the most contaminated areas. Laying date and clutch size were not significantly related to dose rate in either species. Hatching success was depressed by elevated radioactive contamination, interacting with habitat in the great tit and with laying date in the pied flycatcher. Interspecific differences in effects of radiation on nest-site choice suggest that species respond in a species-specific manner to radiation, perhaps related to differences in migratory habits. We suggest that individual body condition rather than secondary effects of radiation on resource abundance account for the effects on nest box use and hatching success.

Chernobyl-based birds avoid radioactive nests Catherine Brahic; New Scientist; 28 Mar 2007

Chernobyl 'not a wildlife haven' Mark Kinver, Science and nature reporter; BBC; 14 Aug 2007

The idea that the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has created a wildlife haven is not scientifically justified, a study says.

Condition, reproduction and survival of barn swallows from Chernobyl A. P. MØLLER, T. A. MOUSSEAU, G. MILINEVSKY, A. PEKLO, E. PYSANETS, T. SZÉP; Journal of Animal Ecology; 17 Oct 2005

Despite Mutations, Chernobyl Wildlife Is Thriving Kate Ravilious; National Geographic; 26 Apr 2006

But while wildlife seems to be proliferating in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, not everyone is convinced that these plants and animals are healthy.

Moller and Mousseau have shown that certain species in the area have a higher rate of genetic abnormalities than normal.

"We find an elevated frequency of partial albinism in barn swallows, meaning they have tufts of white feathers," Mousseau said.

Late last year Moller and Mousseau published a paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology showing that reproductive rates and annual survival rates are much lower in the Chernobyl birds than in control populations.

"In Italy around 40 percent of the barn swallows return each year, whereas the annual survival rate is 15 percent or less for Chernobyl," Mousseau said.

Chernobyl 'shows insect decline' Victoria Gill, Science reporter; BBC News; 18 Mar 2009

According to researchers working in the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl, there is a "strong signal of decline associated with the contamination". The team found that bumblebees, butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies and spiders were affected. They report their findings in the journal Biology Letters. Professor Timothy Mousseau from the University of South Carolina, US, and Dr Anders Moller from the University of Paris-Sud worked together on the project. The two researchers previously published findings that low-level radiation in the area has a negative impact on bird populations.

At Chernobyl and Fukushima, radioactivity has seriously harmed wildlife Timothy A. Mousseau; The Conversation; 25 Apr 2016

in the past decade population biologists have made considerable progress in documenting how radioactivity affects plants, animals and microbes. My colleagues and I have analyzed these impacts at Chernobyl, Fukushima and naturally radioactive regions of the planet. Our studies provide new fundamental insights about consequences of chronic, multigenerational exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation. Most importantly, we have found that individual organisms are injured by radiation in a variety of ways. The cumulative effects of these injuries result in lower population sizes and reduced biodiversity in high-radiation areas.

Scientific meltdown at Chernobyl? Brendan Borrell, Scientific American blog; 24 Mar 2009

Twenty years after the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine, radiation is still hammering the region's insect, spider, and bird populations. At least that's what Reuters and the BBC reported last week based on a paper published in the journal Biology Letters by ecologists Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina and Anders Møller of the University of Paris-Sud. For the past 10 years, the duo has been running transects through the region counting wildlife and measuring radiation levels with dosimeters. "We wanted to ask the question: Are there more or fewer animals in the contaminated areas," Moller told Reuters. "Clearly there were fewer." But at least one scientist formerly associated with the team is questioning the new research. Sergey Gaschak, a researcher at the Chernobyl Center in Ukraine, told the BBC that he drew "opposite conclusions" from the same data the group collected on birds. This might seem like little more than blunt criticism, but I knew that Møller's research ethics had previously been called into question.

Not thriving, but failing Linda Pentz Gunter; Beyond Nuclear International; 11 Mar 2018

It started with wolves. The packs around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which exploded on April 26, 1986, were thriving, said reports. Benefitting from the absence of human predators, and seemingly unaffected by the high radiation levels that still persist in the area, the wolves, they claimed, were doing better than ever.

Appearances, however, can be deceptive. Abundant does not necessarily mean healthy. And that is exactly what evolutionary biologist, Dr. Timothy Mousseau and his team began to find out as, over the years, they traveled to and researched in and around the Chernobyl disaster site in the Ukraine. Then, when a similar nuclear disaster hit in Japan — with the triple explosions and meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11, 2011 — Mousseau’s team added that region to its research itinerary.

Mousseau has now spent more than 17 years looking at the effects on wildlife and the ecosystem of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He and his colleagues have also spent the last half dozen years studying how non-human biota is faring in the wake of Fukushima. Ninety articles later, they are able to conclude definitively that animals and plants around Chernobyl and Fukushima are very far indeed from flourishing.

Commentary & Criticism

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is arguably a nature reserve Colin Barras; BBC; 22 April 2016

Anders Møller at University of Paris-Sud and Timothy Mousseau at the University of South Carolina in Columbia have spent 15 years exploring the impact of wildlife in the area. They have reached a very different set of conclusions.

"In almost all cases, there is a clear signal of the negative effects of radiation on wild populations," says Mousseau. "Even the cuckoo's call is affected."

For instance, in 2009 Møller and Mousseau performed their own mammal track count in the exclusion zone – albeit on a much smaller scale than the study Smith and his colleagues undertook. The results, published in 2013, suggested that track abundance is low where radiation levels are high.

Another study the pair published in 2009 suggested that insects and spiders are less abundant in areas of the exclusion zone where radiation levels are high.

The study suggested there was an impact on insect abundance even in areas of the exclusion zone where radiation levels are now extremely low.

"Based on Chernobyl studies, not just our own, most of the rigorous scientific reports indicate that there are measurable genetic consequences of exposure to low-dose-rate radiation," says Mousseau. Those consequences come either in the form of damage to chromosomes or elevated mutation rates.

"They're publishing evidence of effects at radiation levels within the range of UK background radiation levels," says Wood.

How is it possible for radiation levels far below those considered harmful to have a significant impact on animal health?

Møller and Mousseau argue that the studies used to establish safe levels of radiation are largely performed under laboratory conditions. Out in the real world, animals face a multitude of ecological pressures that are not replicated in those lab studies. In natural settings, animals might be weaker and consequently more vulnerable to the effects of low-level radiation.

However, Møller and Mousseau are virtually alone in their views. Most of the other researchers who have spent time working at Chernobyl take issue with their findings.

"I very much question some of the dose rates where effects are being claimed on the insects," says Smith. "We did some studies on aquatic invertebrates. We didn't find any of these effects even in the most contaminated lakes."

It is not just Møller and Mousseau's findings that are questioned. Their research methods have also come in for criticism. It does not help that, in 2002, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty ruled that Møller had fabricated the data for an unrelated study, a claim that he has always denied.

One of their latest studies claims that bank voles in the exclusion zone have unusually high numbers of cataracts, and that this is linked to radiation levels. It was published in January 2016.

Smith, Beresford, Wood and several of their colleagues posted a lengthy comment beneath the online version of the paper. They highlight what they claim are a multitude of problems and flaws with the science. In particular, they argue that freezing animals for later study can inadvertently cloud their eyes in a way that could give the false impression that they had cataracts.

However, Møller strongly rejects these criticisms of his research. "There is no effect of freezing, neither has such an effect ever been shown," he says.

It is also fair to say that Møller and Mousseau are not quite alone in reporting damaging effects from very low-level radiation exposure. A study by a Japanese research team published in 2012 looked at the biological impact of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. It concluded there were effects on the pale grass blue butterfly even at low-dose exposures.

In response Beresford, with David Copplestone at the University of Stirling, UK, published an article to highlight what they say are basic errors and misunderstandings about how such studies should be performed.

This ongoing controversy means that, on the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl, there are two views on its legacy, and they are poles apart.

Either the evidence from the exclusion zone shows that ecosystems are far more robust to the fallout from nuclear disasters than we thought, or they are more vulnerable than anyone imagined possible. There does not seem to be a way to explain all the results from both sides of the debate, so one side or the other must simply be wrong.

Thirty years after the Chernobyl accident: What lessons have we learnt? N.A.Beresford, S.Fesenko, A.Konoplev, L.Skuterud, J.T.Smith, G.Voigt; Journal of Environmental Radioactivity; June 2016

A review of 30 years of radioecological studies following the 1986 Chernobyl accident.
Key contributions to radioecology from post-Chernobyl research are discussed.


Rise in wildfires may resurrect Chernobyl’s radiation New Scientist; 9 Feb 2015

Nikolaos Evangeliou at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and colleagues have analysed the impact of forest fires in the region, and calculated their future frequency and intensity. To do so they fed satellite images of real fires in 2002, 2008 and 2010, and measurements of radioactive caesium-137 deposited on the area, to models of air movements and fires. They estimate that of the 85 petabecquerels of radioactive caesium released by the Chernobyl accident, between 2 and 8 PBq still lurk in the upper layer of soil in the exclusion zone. In another ecosystem this might gradually fall with erosion or the removal of vegetation. But in these abandoned forests, says Evangeliou, “trees pick up the radioactive ions, then dead leaves return it to the soil”. The team calculates that the three fires released from 2 to 8 per cent of the caesium, some 0.5 PBq, in smoke. This was distributed over eastern Europe, and detected as far south as Turkey and as far west as Italy and Scandinavia. “The simulation probably underestimates the potential risks,” says Ian Fairlie, former head of the UK government’s radiation risk committee, who has studied the health impacts of Chernobyl. That’s because the estimate depends on the half-life the team assumed for Cs-137, he says, and some investigators believe it is longer. The team’s calculated release would have given people in the nearby Ukrainian capital, Kiev, an average dose of 10 microsieverts of radiation – 1 per cent of the permitted yearly dose. “This is very small,” says Tim Mousseau of the University of South Carolina at Columbia, a co-author of the study. “But these fires serve as a warning of where these contaminants can go. Should there be a larger fire, quite a bit more could end up on populated areas.”

Re-occupation of exclusion zone

“What About Radioactive Wastelands?” A Look at Chernobyl’s Effects on Nature Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 14 Apr 2019

But is the Zone uninhabitable for people?

The women living in Chernobyl's toxic wasteland Holly Morris; Daily Telegraph; 8 Nov 2012

Decades after Chernobyl's nuclear disaster, despite the severely contaminated ground, government objections and the deaths of many fellow 'self-settlers’, a community of determined babushkas remains.

Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Resettlers thegrimfandango; Amateur Photographer; 15 Oct 2013

After the worst nuclear disaster in history at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, over 200,000 people living within a 30km radius were evacuated to other cities, most never to return. Some, desperately unhappy with their new lives began to break back into the exclusion zone to resettle despite the risks. Although the exclusion zone is still in place and will remain so for many years due to elevated levels of radioactivity, the government eventually legalised a handful of resettlers, all over 70 years old. Ivan and his wife live happily with their cats amongst the radioactive hotspots, a few kilometers from the nuclear power plant.

Big Picture: Chernobyl Riviera, by Guillaume Herbaut Hannah Booth; Guardian; 7 Mar 2014

Each week, the Guardian Weekend magazine's editorial team choose a picture, or set of pictures, that particularly tickle their fancy. This week their choice is Guillaume Herbaut's Chernobyl Riviera

'Life is easy': The self settlers of Chernobyl YouTube; 26 Apr 2016

Thirty years after the worst man made catastrophe 'The Chernobyl nuclear disaster' some people to continue to live in the area. They are called the 'Self Settlers' and their life is easier than ever.

Holly Morris: Why stay in Chernobyl? Because it's home. Holly Morris / TED; YouTube; 31 Oct 2013

Chernobyl was the site of the world's worst nuclear accident and, for the past 27 years, the area around the plant has been known as the Exclusion Zone. And yet, a community of about 200 people live there -- almost all of them elderly women. These proud grandmas defied orders to relocate because their connection to their homeland and to their community are "forces that rival even radiation."

Stunning Images Of The Thousands Of People Who Still Live Near Chernobyl And Fukushima Ben Schiller; Fast Company; 31 Oct 2013

“To the world, Chernobyl and Fukushima seem like dangerous places, but for the people who live there, that danger is simply a fact of life,” says photojournalist Michael Forster Rothbart, who spent two years cataloging the lives of people living in the shadow of nuclear accidents. These images are the result.

“Most photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings,” Forster Rothbart says in his new book, Would You Stay? “This sensationalist approach obscures more complex stories about how displaced communities adapt and survive.”

THE SELF SETTLERS OF CHERNOBYL Claire Baker; blog; 21 Jun 2017

What Life Looks Like for People Living in Chernobyl's Nuclear Exclusion Zone Joseph Marczynski; Vice; 16 Feb 2017

Visiting the "Samosely", the 140 settlers surviving on crops cultivated in contaminated soil.

Photos show what daily life is really like inside Chernobyl's exclusion zone, one of the most polluted areas in the world Katie Canales; Business Insider; 26 Apr 2019

Interesting, but quotes Greenpeace, and has statements like
Ingesting large quantities of radiation puts residents at risk of serious health issues, like thyroid cancer.
Victoria Vetrova told the AP in 2016 that her 8-year-old son has an enlarged thyroid, which is a condition that has been linked to radioactive exposure.

The people who moved to Chernobyl Zhanna Bezpiatchuk; BBC;

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 left a ring of ghost villages as residents fled, fearing radiation poisoning.
But now people are choosing to live in the crumbling houses on the edge of the exclusion zone.

Media & Misinformation

No Nukes News 26 Apr 2016

Collection of claims and anecdotes about Chernobyl, and other issues

What’s Really Going on at Fukushima? ROBERT HUNZIKER; Counterpunch; 15 Jun 2015

Also includes Helen Caldicott-derived claims about Chernobyl

See also A manual for survival -- Kate Brown

2009 HBO mini-series

A Viewer's Guide to HBO's Chernobyl Miniseries MATT WALD; Nuclear Energy Institute; 1 May 2019

HBO, known for outstanding drama, will begin a five-part miniseries called Chernobyl on May 6, based on the 1986 nuclear accident in the Soviet Union. Viewers might see the Hollywood treatment and wonder what the relevance is outside the USSR.
The short answer is: not much.
In the spring of 1986, a steam explosion in a Soviet reactor, followed by an intense fire, released a plume of radioactive particles. Moscow denied everything and denounced the reports of high radiation readings as part of “a poisoned cloud of anti-Sovietism.” The explosion and fire, the heroic efforts to limit the damage, the inept government response, and anything with “nuclear” in the title all make for good television.
We can learn something from the event, one of the biggest industrial tragedies of the 1980s. However, much of the underlying circumstances were particular to the Chernobyl reactor and the Soviet government’s response.

Chernobyl Truth Drowns In Dramatized Movie James Conca; Forbes; 25 Apr 2019

April 26, 2019 marks the 33rd anniversary of the worst commercial nuclear accident in the world, and the only one to kill anyone with radioactivity – the Soviet Union’s RBMK reactor meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986.
A few weeks from now, HBO will show a new miniseries, Chernobyl, that will dramatize the event. From the trailer, it might actually describe what happened inside the power plant, and nearby surroundings, pretty well. And it will certainly capture the fear very well.
But it will fail yet again to describe what happened outside and far away, sensationalizing and exaggerating the effects, and reinforcing the myth that many thousands of people died from radiation in Ukraine, Belarus and Europe.
It will not reveal that only the fear of radiation killed anyone outside the immediate area. All health and epidemiological studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) have shown that the long-term mental health effects were the only significant public health consequence of the accident outside of the vicinity of Chernobyl.
But the fear did cause about 50,000 deaths of Chernobyl refugees from alcoholism and depression in the decades following, along with over 100,000 unnecessary abortions in the few years following the accident.
In 2015, the National Institutes of Health declared that, “In spite of the best efforts of statisticians and epidemiologists, the claimed thousands of Chernobyl-induced cancers and mutations have yet to manifest themselves.”
And we have been looking really, really hard for 33 years.
Surprisingly, there were three other nuclear reactors at the same Chernobyl plant that kept running for many years afterwards. 3,000 people went to work at the Chernobyl plant every day and had no problem with health or radiation effects.

The Reason They Fictionalize Nuclear Disasters Like Chernobyl Is Because They Kill So Few People Michael Shellenberger; Forbes; 9 May 2019

In the end, HBO’s “Chernobyl” suggests that whatever the intentions of its producers, it is difficult to make an exciting movie about nuclear disasters without leading viewers to believe that they were much worse than they actually were.
Anti-nuclear ideology aside, the entertainment industry has to fictionalize nuclear disasters for the simple reason that they kill so few people.

What HBO’s “Chernobyl” Got Right, and What It Got Terribly Wrong Masha Gessen; The New Yorker; 4 Jun 2019

Why HBO's "Chernobyl" Gets Nuclear So Wrong Michael Shellenberger; Forbes; 6 Jun 2019

Having now watched all five episodes of “Chernobyl,” and seen the public’s reaction to it, I think it’s obvious that the mini-series terrified millions of people about the technology.

Comrade Batman Victor Martinovich; PrzeKroj; 14 Jun 2019

How HBO’s “Chernobyl” Ignores the Nuances of Soviet Language

Chernobyl | Based on a True Story The Cynical Historian; YouTube; 20 Jun 2019

Chernobyl seemed sooo good. Plus HBO has a stellar record. This was engrossing procedural drama, my kind of faire. This show definitely propounds some harmful myths.