The Chernobyl meltdown was the biggest nuclear catastrophe in world history, and its effects will be felt for centuries. Radioactive wastes with half-lives lasting tens of thousands of years continue to poison the environment and affect the very genetic material of the people who must live within it.
It’s hard for the rest of the world to imagine the devastation this disaster has visited on the people, the children and the land.
Because of the unprecedented scale of the accident, even scientists and subject experts can’t predict what the future holds for those who live in the shadow of Chernobyl.
The facts and figures listed below can’t capture the misery and anguish that the people of Belarus, Western Russia and Ukraine experience in the aftermath of the explosion, but they offer a sense of the incredible magnitude of the challenges these communities face.
· Today in Ukraine, 6,000 children are born every year with genetic heart defects. More than 3,000 will die for lack of medical attention.
· Children born since 1986 are affected by a 200 percent increase in birth defects and a 250 percent increase in congenital birth deformities.
· 85 percent of Belarusian children are deemed to be Chernobyl victims: they carry “genetic markers” that could affect their health at any time and can be passed on to the next generation.
· UNICEF found increases in children’s disease rates, including 38 percent increase in malignant tumours, 43 percent in blood circulatory illnesses and 63 percent in disorders of the bone, muscle and connective tissue system.
· Each child living in an institution, such as an orphanage or mental asylum, is allocated just €1 per day to live.
· In 2004 nearly 26 percent of children under 17 lived below the poverty line.
· More than one million children continue to live in contaminated zones.
· Seven million people living in the affected areas received the highest known exposure to radiation in the history of the atomic age.
· Belarusian doctors have identified increases in a number of cancers, including: a 200 percent increase in breast cancer, a 100 percent increase in the incidence of cancer and leukemia, and a 2,400 percent increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer.
· The mortality rates among the population already outstrip their birth rates.
· 99 percent of the land of Belarus has been contaminated to varying degrees above internationally accepted levels.
· 2,000 towns and villages were evacuated, and more than 400,000 people have been relocated from their homes since 1986. Decades later, another 70,000 are still waiting to evacuate.
· The exclusion zone, known as “Death Valley,” has been increased from 30 to 70 square kilometres. No humans will ever be able to live in it again.
· Some of the contaminants infecting the soil and air, such as plutonium, have a half-life of 24,400 years.
· The cost of the Chernobyl blast and its consequences is being carried by the survivors and will be handed down to their children for generations.
· The Chernobyl disaster costs Belarus 20 percent of its annual national budget.
· It is estimated that the fallout from the disaster will cost Belarus $235 billion.
· Five percent of Belarusian adults live on less than €2.50 a day.
· 1.7 million live in poverty, and 178,000 of these live in 'extreme poverty' (less than half of the minimum subsistence levels)
· Children are the poorest sector of the population, facing 1.5 times greater risk of poverty than the average level across the country.
· The accident released radiation 200 times greater than that released by both atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
· 100 million curies of radiation were originally believed to have been released, although many scientists now believe it was closer to 250 million curies.
· 70 percent of the radiation fell onto the population of Belarus, affecting seven million people.
· Scientists feared that a further explosion could occur, producing a force of three to five megatons, and exposing the whole of Europe to enormous radioactive contamination.
· 800,000 men risked their lives and exposed themselves to dangerous levels of radiation to contain the situation.
· At least 25,000 of these men have died and a further 70,000 are disabled. Twenty percent of these deaths were suicides.