Nearly 30 years ago, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant saw one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in history. Now, according to a new report by GreenPeace, Ukrainians are still dealing with fallout from the incident—in some cases, radiation from the meltdown may have increased.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster in Chernobyl and the five-year anniversary of the Fukushima one, GreenPeace asked experts to review the studies that have been done about the implications of each meltdown, and did some research of their own. Their findings were troubling:
More than 10,000 km2 of land is still unusable for economic activity, and about 5 million people live in zones officially considered to be radioactively contaminated… More worryingly for the safety of the population are the areas with high levels of radioactive contamination, the so called ‘hot spots’, which have been discovered outside of the evacuated zones. There are no restrictions on people entering these areas.
Not only are residents at risk by entering these radiation hot spots, but they are also exposed to radiation through the food they eat. According to GreenPeace, radiation levels in some grains have gone up over the past 15 years:
Contamination of milk in many villages is higher than Ukrainian permissible limits, and this situation is not expected to improve in the near future because the use of counter measures has been exhausted. Strontium-90 levels in grain have also increased significantly over the past 15 years due to this radionuclide being released from the fuel particles and its subsequent increased bioavailability.
GreenPeace also found dangerous levels of radiation in wild mushrooms, berries and fish, the hay eaten by cows, and forests used by locals for wood.
In the years since the disaster, affected areas have also seen a spike in certain cancers. Those who were involved in the cleanup have gotten cataracts. Their cognitive functions have gone down. They've suffered from deadly cardiovascular diseases. And those affected have faced a slew of negative mental health effects, as well, like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
GreenPeace hopes that their report will convince governments to ditch nuclear power plants altogether. "An obvious and reasonable response," they write, "is to phase out nuclear power entirely in favor of clean energy solutions." They note that some countries (like Germany) have already reacted to Chernobyl and Fukushima by shutting down their governments.
But wars in Ukraine make it unlikely that change will happen anytime soon. As Reuters points out, "Ukraine is suffering economic hardship, worsened by a pro-Russian insurgency in its eastern territories, while Russia and Belarus are also experiencing financial pressures." Not a promising diagnosis for those suffering from nuclear fallout.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.