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The Health Effects of the Chernobyl Disaster and the Response of International Community - Research Paper Example

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The Health Effects of the Chernobyl Disaster and the Response of International Community

In light of the recent nuclear incident in Japan, many are asking if we have learned anything. Yet the pursuit of nuclear energy continues. Chernobyl was the biggest nuclear accident in history. In fact, some refer to Chernobyl as “the calamity against which all nuclear mishaps are measured” (Stone, 2011, p. 1507). Prior to Chernobyl, there had been no real mass-scale nuclear incidents. Of the 284 reported major radiation accidents occurring between 1944 and 1986, only 1,358 people were impacted with only 620 people ‘significantly exposed’; Although the Soviets reported only 31 deaths officially linked to Chernobyl, 600,000 people were ‘significantly exposed’ (Medvedev, 2009). Although the number of deaths is much less than one might expect, there have been significant health consequences from this disaster. Cancer has been the most obvious outcome. “By far, the most prominent health consequence of the accident is the increase in thyroid cancer among those exposed as children” (Baverstock & Williams, 2006, p. 1313). But additionally, there are people suffering from radiation sickness as well as psychological and genetic consequences. Those citizens exposed as unborn children have also been the source of many studies to watch and document any health issues as a result of their untimely gestation. Psychologically, this accident has taken a massive toll on the people impacted. Some of the effects seem obvious, such as the mistrust of the government, but others are more pervasive and insidious. The prolonged and acute stress has manifested itself in widespread increased consumption of alcohol and cigarette use. Thus, the death toll from “suicide, cirrhosis, or lung cancer could be regarded as indirect consequences of the accident and the subsequent measures taken” (Baverstock & Williams, 2006, p.1313). Genetic defects have also manifested themselves in an increase in congenital abnormalities. While the actual death toll seems relatively small, we have to look beyond the numbers of fatalities. “Radiation is not a specific carcinogen. It causes a multiple form of biological damage” (Medvedev, 2009, p. 130). Rather than looking simply at deaths caused by exposure, we must examine the broader impact of the radiation exposure in the path of Chernobyl. “Scientists in Southern Finland, Sweden, and the northeastern corner of Poland registered the arrival of the radioactive cloud” on the day after the accident (Medvedev, 2009, p.193). The sheer scope of the people impacted by radiation exposure—directly and indirectly—is enormous. “Radiation sickness is the acute or delayed consequences of exposure of the whole body or a large part to high doses of ionising radiation capable of causing a set of non-specific clinical symptoms and haematological changes” (Turai, Veress, Gunalp, & Souchkevitch, 2004, p. 568). The problem with exposure to radiation is that as scary as the acute sickness many experience immediately, “many effects of whole-body radiation exposure may not be apparent for decades” (Baverstock & Williams, 2007, p. 1315). Thus, many are only now beginning to see the impact of their exposure to harmful levels of radiation. The initial global and local response to Chernobyl left much to be desired. The evacuation efforts were grossly shy of what they should have been. This was tied to the efforts by the Soviet government to project a far different picture of the incident than the grim reality. “ ...Show more
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Summary

Twenty-five years ago, the Chernobyl disaster made global headlines, but it is the people who were in its path who suffered and continue to suffer the effects. There are a host of chronic illnesses as a result of both direct radiation exposure as well as the radiation still present in the ground…
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