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Balonov, Mikhail*

doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000282109.20364.37

The accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 was the most severe in the history of the nuclear industry, causing a huge release of radionuclides over large areas of Europe. The recently completed Chernobyl Forum concluded that after a number of years, along with reduction of radiation levels and accumulation of humanitarian consequences, severe social and economic depression of the affected regions and associated psychological problems of the general public and the workers had become the most significant problem to be addressed by the authorities. The majority of the >600,000 emergency and recovery operation workers and five million residents of the contaminated areas in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine received relatively minor radiation doses which are comparable with the natural background levels. An exception is a cohort of several hundred emergency workers who received high radiation doses and of whom 28 persons died in 1986 due to acute radiation sickness. Apart from the dramatic increase in thyroid cancer incidence among those exposed to radioiodine at a young age and some increase of leukemia in the most exposed workers, there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the somatic diseases due to radiation. There was, however, an increase in psychological problems among the affected population, compounded by the social disruption that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union. Despite the unprecedented scale of the Chernobyl accident, its consequences on the health of people are far less severe than those of the atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Studying the consequences of the Chernobyl accident has made an invaluable scientific contribution to the development of nuclear safety, radioecology, radiation medicine and protection, and also the social sciences. The Chernobyl accident initiated the global nuclear and radiation safety regime.

* International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria.

For correspondence contact: M. Balonov, Protection Laboratory, Institute of Radiation Hygiene, Mira St 8, 197101 St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, or email at

(Manuscript accepted 19 July 2007)

©2007Health Physics Society