Health Consequences of Chernobyl

Michael Ramadan
February 26, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016

Overview of Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster

Fig. 1: Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On April 26, 1986 reactor number four of the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded causing the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history. Over the next ten days, radionuclides were discharged into the atmosphere, contaminating regions throughout the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. This radiation exposure led to serious physical and mental health complications to the residents living in the contaminated areas. [1] Many contaminated areas were closed off due to this increase in radiation. If you look to Fig. 1, you can see a contaminated space fenced off from the public.

Physical Health Consequences

Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was the first health consequence associated with the Chernobyl disaster. Of the 104 individuals diagnosed with ARS (overexposure to radiation), twenty-eight died within the first four months. The remaining survivors suffered later health effects such as skin injuries, bone marrow failure, and more.

The Chernobyl meltdown led to a large increase in thyroid cancer in contaminated areas among children and adolescents. It is now undisputed that the huge increase in thyroid cancer diagnoses in the years between 1991-1995 were a direct effect of the radiation emitted from the Chernobyl nuclear plant (2). Some studies have also attributed an increase in leukemia in the contaminated areas with the Chernobyl disaster; however there are many critics of this viewpoint. There is not widespread agreement among scientists that leukemia was an effect of the aftermath but many are hopeful future studies will find the answer. [2]

Mental Health Consequences

The relocation of thousands of people, shock of the accident, and the increased risk of health effects to current and future generations, caused detrimental mental health and psychological effects for the people involved in the Chernobyl disaster. Surveys administered to people living in the contaminated areas surrounding Chernobyl revealed that approximately half of the respondents reported unsatisfactory health or psychologic well-being. The personal distress was so prevalent because of fear of physical health effects to themselves or their families. [1]

© Michael Ramadan. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Bard, P. Verger, and P. Hubert, "Chernobyl, 10 Years After: Health Consequences," Epidemiol. Rev. 19, 187 (1997).

[2] "Annex D: Health Effects due to Radiation From the Chernobyl Accident, in Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, UNSCEAR 2008, Vol II, United Nations, 2011.