Chernobyl nuclear disaster

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Reactor No. 4 (2013)

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 in reactor - Block 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near the founded in 1970 Ukrainian city of Pripyat . On the seven-point international rating scale for nuclear incidents , it was classified as the first incident in the highest catastrophic accident category (INES 7) . This is not to be confused with a GAU, i.e. the technical design accident of a nuclear facility.

In a simulation of a complete power failure, carried out on April 25, 1986 under the direction of Anatoly Stepanowitsch Djatlow , there was an uncontrolled increase in output due to serious violations of the safety regulations and the design-related properties of the graphite-moderated nuclear reactor of the type RBMK -1000. April at 1:23 a.m. led to the explosion of the reactor and the fire of the graphite used as a moderator . Within the first ten days after the explosion, several trillion becquerels of radioactivity were released into the earth's atmosphere released. The Sun came into the atmosphere of radioactive materials , including the isotopes 137 Cs with a half-life (HL) of around 30 years and 131 iodine (HT: 8 days), contaminated as a result of fallout mainly the northeast region of Chernobyl , and by wind transport many countries in Europe. After the disaster, so-called liquidators began decontaminating the hardest hit areas. Under the direction of the Kurchatov Institute , a provisional protective coat made of reinforced concrete ( Russian объект "Укрытие" , object "Ukrytije" ), which is usually referred to as a " sarcophagus ", was erected by November 1986 .

There has been controversy for years about the global long-term health effects, especially those that can be traced back to an effective dose that is higher than that of natural radiation exposure . The WHO maintains a cooperation with the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency report generated a total of approximately 4,000 deaths worldwide primarily through cancer possible. According to this report, there were fewer than 50 deaths directly attributed to the catastrophe, mostly as a result of acute radiation sickness . The indirect and statistically determined deaths, on the other hand, are estimated to be much higher. The IPPNW brings in a report of 2016 hundreds of thousands of deaths statistically associated with the nuclear disaster. Millions of people suffer from long-term health effects. The UNSCEAR report published in 2008 concluded that a total of 43 deaths were due to the reactor accident at that time.

The most significant effect observed in the heavily contaminated areas around Chernobyl was the increased incidence of thyroid cancer , a form of cancer with a very good prognosis. This increased occurrence could have been prevented by the government at that time with simple medical means, by means of a so-called iodine blockade .

The then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU , Mikhail Sergejewitsch Gorbachev , described in a public statement in 1986 the Western reporting on the accident with allegedly thousands of deaths as "rampant anti-Soviet agitation" and called in his speech for international cooperation in the area of ​​the peaceful use of nuclear energy on.

In 2006, Gorbachev wrote in a book that Chernobyl was perhaps more than its perestroika the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union .

Course of events

Location of the power plant near the city of Pripyat
Satellite image of the region from 1997


The disaster occurred during an experiment under the direction of Anatoly Stepanowitsch Dyatlow , which was intended to simulate a complete failure of the external power supply to the nuclear reactor. This test was intended to provide evidence that enough electrical energy is produced in the system itself by the main turbine running down to be able to supply the cooling systems that are still required in the event of a power failure until the diesel generators start up.

The main causes of the catastrophe are firstly the design-related properties of the graphite-moderated nuclear reactor (type RBMK -1000), which shows unstable behavior in the low power range, and secondly serious violations by the operators of applicable safety regulations during the test, in particular the operation of the reactor in this unstable power range.

This type of reactor is characterized by a strongly positive void coefficient : If vapor bubbles form in the cooling water - for example due to a local increase in output at one point in the reactor or due to a pressure loss in the reactor after a pipe has burst - the reactivity in the reactor increases. The reason for this is that the neutron absorption of the cooling water is reduced in accordance with the formation of vapor bubbles, while at the same time the moderation effect of the graphite built into the reactor is retained. In the case of most other commercial reactor types, on the other hand, the void coefficient is negative because the cooling water there also serves as a moderator. If vapor bubbles form in these, the reactivity and thus the heat production are reduced.

In the accident reactor, the void coefficient was further increased due to the advanced burn-up of the nuclear fuel. Furthermore, compliance with the operational reactivity reserve (minimum required reactivity binding through control rods sufficiently inserted into the reactor ) was not monitored by the automatic reactor safety system. Instead, it was only specified in the operating regulations. In fact, the specified minimum value of the reactivity reserve was already undercut hours before the start of the experiment - the reactor should have been shut down. In addition, the operating team had switched off certain safety systems in order to be able to repeat the experiment if necessary. Otherwise, the automatically operating safety systems would have prevented this as planned by triggering an emergency shutdown during the attempt.

The final triggering of the explosive power excursion is probably due to a further special design feature of the control rod system: a large part of the control rods have graphite tips at their lower end, which initially cause a positive reactivity supply (increase in performance) amounting to half a β when moving in from the upper end position ; they only cause a reduction in performance at a greater depth.

When the shift supervisor Alexander Akimov finally ordered Leonid Toptunov to manually trigger the reactor emergency shutdown ( Russian Аварийная Защита 5-й категории (АЗ-5) , Avarijnaja Sashchita 5-j kategorii (AZ-5) , " Emergency protection of the 5th category") this is exactly the effect: many rods were introduced at the same time and their graphite tips added even more reactivity to the reactor . It immediately became overly critical , that is, the chain reaction of the nuclear fission ran faster and faster even without delayed neutrons and could therefore no longer be regulated. The power increased within a fraction of a second to a multiple (probably a hundred times) the nominal power. Large amounts of cooling water suddenly evaporated, and the resulting high pressure caused the reactor to burst. In addition, at the high temperatures, chemical reactions of the water vapor with the other reactor components (in particular graphite moderator and metal) formed hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which shortly afterwards mixed with air, which led to a second explosion.

Another weakness of the RBMK design as a pressure tube reactor was the lack of containment . However, it is unclear whether this would have withstood the explosions.

The postponement of the test by around half a day contributed significantly to the occurrence of the accident. The long holding time at part load led to an enrichment of the reactor with neutron-absorbing 135 xenon. The xenon poisoning made the neutron physical behavior of the reactor much more complex and confusing.

Planned test sequence

Even a shutdown nuclear power plant is dependent on the supply of electrical energy, for example to maintain cooling and for instrumentation and monitoring. Normally, the internal requirements of a shutdown power plant are covered from the public energy supply network or from neighboring units. If that is not possible, emergency power generators start up . However, these need a certain amount of time to produce enough electricity.

In the context of a shutdown of the reactor due to maintenance work, it should now be shown that the rotational energy of the decelerating turbines is sufficient to bridge the time of around 40 to 60 seconds until the emergency power generators start up completely. According to safety regulations, the test should actually have been carried out before commercial commissioning in December 1983. However, the financial incentives for the project managers for the timely commissioning were so high that this actually necessary security test was only carried out afterwards.

An analog experiment that had already been carried out in Unit 3 of the power plant failed in 1985 because the voltage of the generator on the main turbine dropped too quickly, so that the power supply from the generator would not have been sufficient to bridge the time until the emergency power generators started up and started up. Now the experiment in block 4 should be repeated with an improved voltage regulator .

It was planned to initiate the experiment with reduced reactor power (between 700 and 1000 MW thermal ) by closing the steam supply to the turbines .


Friday, April 25, 1986
01:06 am ( OESZ ) : As a first step, the thermal output of the reactor should be reduced from its nominal value of 3200  MW to 1000 MW, as is usual with a regular shutdown. The reactor should be shut down for a revision as well as for the test.

1:05 p.m .: About 50% reactor power has been reached. One of the two assigned turbines was switched off. At this approximately 50 percent power, the turbo generator  7 was switched off. It was accumulated neutron- 135 Xenon on.

2:00 p.m .: The emergency cooling system has started to be switched off. The reason for this was that no water should be pumped into the reactor in the event of an emergency cooling signal. In the meantime, due to increased demand for electricity, at the instruction of the load distributor in Kiev, the power reduction was interrupted when the power reached 1600 MW and the reactor continued to operate at this power. The operating staff now forgot to reactivate the emergency cooling systems.

11:10 p.m .: After the electricity demand had been met, further shutdown of the reactor began. The aim was to achieve 25 percent of the nominal output .

Saturday, April 26, 1986
midnight : A new shift team took over the reactor.

12:28 a.m .: At 500 MW, a switchover took place within the reactor power control. As a result of an operator error , as a result of which the setpoint for the total output control may not have been set correctly, or due to a technical defect, the output fell further to only about 30 MW, around 1 percent of the nominal output.

As after every power reduction, the concentration of the isotope 135 Xe in the reactor core increased (" xenon poisoning "). Since 135 Xe, as a neutron poison, absorbs the neutrons required for the nuclear chain reaction very strongly, the reactivity of the reactor continued to decrease due to the increase in concentration. When the operating team wanted to increase the output of the reactor again on April 26, 1986 at 12:32 a.m. by extending the control rods, they only managed to do so up to around 200 MW or 7 percent of the nominal output due to the Xe poisoning that had built up in the meantime.

Although operation at this power level was not permitted (according to the regulations, the reactor was not allowed to be operated below 20 percent of the nominal power, which corresponds to 640 MW) and there were also far fewer control rods in the core at this time than were prescribed for safe operation, the reactor was not shut down but continued to operate.

01:03 a.m. or 01:07 a.m .: When the turbine inlet valves are closed, the core emergency cooling system normally starts up. However, this was now switched off. In order to simulate its power consumption for the experiment, two additional main coolant pumps were put into operation one after the other. The resulting increased coolant throughput improved the heat dissipation from the reactor core at some points and accordingly reduced the average vapor bubble content of the coolant in the core. The positive vapor bubble coefficient caused a global decrease in reactivity, to which the (automatic) reactor control responded by extending further control rods. The reactor state shifted further into the inadmissible range.

1:19 a.m .: The water supply to the reactor was increased in order to deactivate the warning signals about the level of the water level and pressure, which would have led to a shutdown. According to the operating instructions, this procedure was not prohibited.

1:22 a.m .: The reactor was successfully stabilized and the water level in the reactor increased to two thirds of the prescribed value.

Entry width of the control rods (green) and the shortened absorber rods (yellow) retracted from below in centimeters. Time 1:22:30, about 90 seconds before the explosion

1:23:04 a.m .: The actual test began by closing the turbine quick-closing valves . This interrupted the dissipation of heat from the reactor, so that the temperature of the coolant now rose. As a result of the positive vapor bubble coefficient, there was now an increase in power to which the automatic reactor control responded with the retraction of control rods. Due to the relatively slow retraction speed of the control rods, however, the power could not be stabilized, so that the neutron flux increased further. This brought about an increased breakdown of the neutron poisons accumulated in the core (especially 135 Xe). As a result, reactivity and reactor performance increased further, which resulted in ever larger amounts of vapor bubbles, which in turn increased the performance. The effects rocked each other up.

01:23:40 PM : The shift supervisor Alexander Akimov 's Leonid Toptunov the command to trigger manually the disaster protection button, type 5 (emergency shutdown of the reactor). For this purpose, all control rods previously removed from the core were retracted into the reactor; But here a further design flaw of the reactor type became apparent: Due to the graphite blocks attached to the tips of the rods, the reactivity was initially increased briefly in the lower area of ​​the reactor by half a beta until the rod deeper into the core had penetrated. As a result, an area formed in the lower area of ​​the reactor in which the output exceeded the design of the structure of the reactor, making it impossible to retract the control rods any further.

The massively increased neutron yield due to the simultaneous retraction of all rods caused the reactivity to increase so much that finally (at 01:23:44 a.m.) more prompt neutrons ( i.e. without the delayed neutrons) were generated than were necessary to maintain the chain reaction ( prompt overcriticality ) and, as a result, the performance exceeded 100 times the nominal value within fractions of a second ( performance excursion ).

This power excursion in the reactor core caused the cooling water, graphite, control rods and fuel rods to heat up enormously. The first explosions may have taken place in the fuel elements. Subsequently, pressure pipes began to burst, so that the reactor design was exceeded, which provided for a maximum of two channels destroyed at the same time. The retracting control rods did not reach the end position, but were possibly blocked by a displacement of the reactor components due to overpressure. The zirconium in the cladding of the fuel rods as well as the graphite could react with the hot steam. Hydrogen and carbon monoxide were produced in large quantities and were able to escape due to the damage to the reactor core. Underneath the reactor building cover, these formed an explosive mixture of oxyhydrogen and water gas with the oxygen in the air , which presumably ignited and led to a second explosion just seconds after the nuclear power excursion. It is unclear which explosion led to the lifting of the 1000-tonne cover of the reactor core (biological shield). In addition, the explosions destroyed the roof of the reactor building (designed only as weather protection), so that the reactor core was no longer enclosed and had a direct connection to the atmosphere. The glowing graphite in the reactor core immediately caught fire. A total of 250 tons of graphite were burned over the next ten days, around 15 percent of the total inventory.

Large amounts of radioactive matter were released into the environment by the explosions and the subsequent fire of the graphite, with the high temperatures of the graphite fire causing a release at great heights. In particular, the volatile isotopes 131 I and 137 Cs formed dangerous aerosols , some of which were carried hundreds or even thousands of kilometers in a radioactive cloud before the rain washed them out of the atmosphere. Radioactive substances with a higher boiling point, on the other hand, were mainly released in the form of dust particles that were deposited in the vicinity of the reactor.

4:30 a.m .: Akimov reported to a member of the power plant management, Nikolai Fomin , that the reactor had remained intact. Although fragments of the fuel rods and graphite elements were scattered everywhere and the situation was obvious in daylight, the operators and the power plant management insisted until the evening of April 26 that the reactor was intact and only needed to be cooled. Corresponding reports were sent to Moscow. According to Grigory Medvedev, this fact is the main cause of the late evacuation of the city of Pripyat .

Around 5 a.m .: The fires outside the reactor were extinguished by the plant fire brigade . Block 3 was shut down.

Around 3:12 pm : The company photographer Anatoly Rasskasow took the first pictures of the radioactive smoke plume and the destroyed reactor block 4 from a helicopter. Most of his pictures were blackened due to the high radiation activity. He kept some of the prints to himself, and the other photos, along with the negatives, were given to the emergency team and the security authorities. Some recordings were only shown retouched on April 30, 1986 on Soviet television in order to be able to depict the extent of the accident in a less dramatic manner.

Sunday, April 27, 1986
Units 1 and 2 were switched off at 01:13 and 02:13, respectively. A start was made to fill the reactor in Unit 4 with lead , boron , dolomite , sand and clay. This reduced the release of fission products and covered the burning graphite in the core. A total of approx. 40 t of boron carbide was thrown off to prevent the chain reaction, approx. 800 t of dolomite to suppress the graphite fire and reduce the generation of heat, approx. 2400 t of lead to reduce the gamma radiation and a closed layer over the to form a melting core, and approx. 1800 t of sand and clay to filter the radioactive substances. Around 1,800 helicopter flights were necessary for this. The water introduced into block 4 for cooling collected due to the burst pipes in the rooms under the reactor, where it was heavily contaminated and radiated at around 1000 x-rays (= 10 gray) per hour. At the same time, the evacuation of the nearby city of Pripyat with a population of 48,000 began.

Monday, April 28, 1986
9:00 am : In the Forsmark nuclear power plant in Sweden , which is more than 1200 kilometers away, an alarm was automatically triggered due to increased radioactivity on the premises. Measurements on the employees' work clothing showed increased radioactive levels. After the company's own facilities could be ruled out as the cause, the suspicion was directed against a nuclear facility on the territory of the Soviet Union due to the current wind direction .

9:00 p.m .: After the Soviet authorities had initially issued a news blackout, the official TASS news agency reported an "accident" at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant for the first time. At 9:30 p.m. a message was read out on the Vremya news program that the reactor in Chernobyl was damaged and that “measures had been taken to remedy the consequences of the accident”. At 19:32 CET, the German Press Agency sent an initial breaking report to the newsrooms in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Tuesday, April 29, 1986
Soviet sources spoke of a "catastrophe" and two fatalities for the first time. International media reported for the first time in more detail about the accident, but had no image or film material from the scene of the accident. US military satellites provided the first images and information that did not reach the public in the afternoon.

Wednesday, April 30, 1986
A photo of the scene of the accident was shown for the first time on Soviet television, but it was retouched. The ARD news program Tagesschau also showed this photo.

Thursday, May 1, 1986
The French Earth exploration satellite SPOT 1 , which was only sent into orbit in February 1986 , provided the international television media with images of infrared images of the nuclear smoke plume above the reactor. On May 3, Landsat satellites also delivered images for the first time, but these were very imprecise and could not provide any information about the extent of the disaster.

May 4 and 5, 1986
A start was made below the facility to blow in gaseous nitrogen in order to extinguish the fire. At first this had the side effect that the heat in the core increased and so more radioactive particles were blown out.

May 6, 1986
The release of the fission products was largely prevented. Work began on installing a nitrogen cooling system under the reactor.

Response and countermeasures

After Pripyat had been evacuated on April 27, 1986, the next evacuation step until May 3 covered all residents within a 10 km radius of the reactor. On May 4, 1986, an area 30 km from the reactor was evacuated, affecting an additional 116,000 people. In the following years, another 210,000 residents were resettled. The exclusion zone is now 4300 km², which corresponds to a circle with a radius of 37 km.

Initially, the reaction to the Chernobyl accident was characterized by an underestimation of the situation and disinformation. On the morning after the explosion, the Soviet government was only informed about a fire in the nuclear power plant, not about an explosion. It was only when the civil defense in Pripyat measured dangerously high levels of radiation during the day and reported it to Moscow that party leader Mikhail Gorbachev convened a crisis team and dispatched experts to the scene of the accident. Although there was talk of an incident in Pripyat, instructions were only given to take iodine tablets and close windows and doors. The city is less than 5 km from the nuclear power plant, where a large part of the population also worked. While the evacuation of the city of Pripyat began 30 hours after the explosion in reactor block 4, which was accomplished with the help of 1000 buses, the experts settled there - initially without any protective measures against the radioactive contamination. It was not until two days after the explosion that increased radioactivity was measured at a nuclear power station in Sweden and scientists found out that the radiation was coming from outside that Moscow asked whether the causes there were known.

Now the first steps were taken to cool the damaged glowing reactor block and to avoid further problems. To reduce the radiation, helicopters, some of which had been withdrawn from Afghanistan, threw sand and boric acid into the reactor block from a height of 200 m . But this had no effect and the temperature rose. It was then decided to switch to lead. The extinguishing water that had collected under the reactor threatened to come into contact with the molten corium from fuel rods, graphite and concrete, which could have led to a steam explosion .

It was decided to pump out the extinguishing water with the help of the fire brigade from Pripyat. In addition, it was decided, with the help of miners who were hastily relocated to Chernobyl, to dig a 150-meter-long access from the third under the fourth reactor block and dig a chamber with a volume of 4500 m³ there in order to install a complex cooling system. Ultimately, this chamber was filled with concrete, because the aim was to prevent the radiation from contaminating the groundwater around the reactor, which supplied the whole of Ukraine. As a further measure, all the small villages around Pripyat were torn down and attempts were made to kill most of the animals.

The evacuation in the area around the power plant continued until a 30 km zone was finally cleared, but the population in the surrounding areas was still not informed of the danger, as the aim was to avoid a mass panic. During the May Day celebrations, a particularly large number of people were outside without being aware of the danger. The incident has now been announced internationally. On May 5, Hans Blix , Director of the IAEA , visited Chernobyl at the invitation of Gorbachev and visited the damaged reactor on a helicopter flight. At a press conference in Moscow, Blix and the Soviet leaders publicly announced an international conference on the Chernobyl incident in Vienna, at which the Soviet Union wanted to provide all available information. On May 14th, Gorbachev addressed the people in a televised address and put them in the mood to deal with the consequences of the accident.

Shortly afterwards, work began on transporting a large number of helpers to Chernobyl to seal the damaged reactor and to clean up the heavily polluted area around the power plant. The so-called liquidators , who under the command of General Nikolai Tarakanov only worked for a short time under life-threatening conditions, now had the task of decontaminating the rest of the area. Some of the liquidators were recruited from among those evacuated from the 30 km exclusion zone, but there were also Soldiers and reservists on duty.

The next major countermeasure was to clean the roof of the fourth reactor block from highly contaminated material. This was the first step in ensuring long-term protection against radiation. A sarcophagus made of steel and concrete was built over the damaged reactor. This was done with the help of helicopters and cranes, which were protected from the radiation with steel and lead plates. The work on the roof of the reactor, where the radiation exposure was greatest, should first be done by remote-controlled vehicles. However, after these failed under the extreme conditions, people were also deployed here. According to official information, 97% of the fuel rods are buried under the sarcophagus; However, this information is doubted, since more than 3% of its mass was ejected from the fourth reactor block during the explosion.

To bind the radioactive dust on the ground, a sticky polymer- based substance was distributed around the reactor by helicopter , which was given the name Burda (Russian for "thin broth"). The roofs of all buildings in the settlements were cleaned. On the reactor site, 300,000 m³ of contaminated soil was removed, pushed into trenches and sealed with concrete.

After many years of construction, a new sarcophagus ( New Safe Confinement ; also known as "Arka") was pushed over the old, cracked sheathing in November 2017, right next to the damaged power plant block, which no longer offers adequate protection. Today around 300 liquidators live in the exclusion zone. They are involved in the new construction and maintenance of the old sarcophagus.


The main released radionuclides with estimated released activity
Radionuclide Half-life Activity in 10 15 Bq Mass g
85 kr 10.8 a 33 2290
133 Xe 5.25 d 6500 939
129m Te 33.6 d 240 215
132 te 3.2 d ≈1150 100
131 I. 8.02 d ≈1760 382
133 I. 20.8 h 910 21
134 Cs 2.06 a ≈47 980
136 Cs 13.2 d 36 13th
137 Cs 30.2 a ≈85 26587
89 Sr 50.5 d ≈115 106
90 Sr 28.8 a ≈10 1959
103 Ru 39.3 d > 168 140
106 Ru 374 d > 73 599
140 Ba 12.8 d 240 89
95 Zr 64.0 d 84 105
99 months 2.74 d > 72 4th
141 Ce 32.5 d 84 79
144 Ce 285 d ≈84 713
239 Np 2.36 d 400 46
238 Pu 87.7 a 0.015 23
239 Pu 24 100 a 0.013 5661
240 pu 6 560 a 0.018 2142
241 Pu 14.4 a ≈2.6 682
242 Pu 375,000 a 0.00004 274
242 cm 163 d ≈0.4 3

Controversial judgment

The consequences of the reactor disaster are still very controversial. A report published by the Chernobyl Forum in September 2005 describes the health, ecological and socio-economic effects from the point of view of the members of this forum.

The Chernobyl Forum is a working group under the umbrella of the International Atomic Energy Agency ( IAEA ). The Chernobyl Forum consists of four subsidiary organs of the United Nations (the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UN Emergency Aid Coordinator (OCHA) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Nuclear Radiation ( UNSCEAR )), four autonomous organizations linked to the UN by treaties (the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Bank , the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)) and from the Governments of Belarus , Russia and Ukraine .

The elaboration of the Chernobyl Forum has been criticized by some scientists and non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace or IPPNW . The report is accused of partiality, deliberate trivialization of the consequences of the reactor accident and methodological deficiencies. The study only covers the consequences in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine, although a considerable part of the radiation exposure occurred in Central and Western Europe. In addition, the study by the Chernobyl Forum disregarded publications that suggest higher numbers of victims. Finally, it is criticized that the investigations only started five years after the accident.

With The Other Report on Chernobyl (abbreviated as TORCH ) a “counter report” was published for the drafting of the Chernobyl Forum. This report was prepared by British scientists Ian Fairlie and David Sumner. He predicts far more serious health-damaging consequences of the reactor accident. The study was commissioned by the Green MEP Rebecca Harms and supported by the “Altner Combecher Foundation for Ecology and Peace”.

The following information comes mainly from the above two studies. Both studies work with the linear no-threshold model , which is controversial in nuclear medicine , which assumes that a low level of radiation exposure over a long period is essentially as damaging to the genetic makeup as a high level of radiation exposure over a short period of time. This ignores the fact that living, healthy cells have well-studied DNA repair mechanisms that can repair genetic damage to a certain extent. In the world there are residential areas in which an annual dose of 500 mSv is reached in places through natural radioactivity without an increased cancer rate being found there over long periods of time.

Contaminated areas

Cesium-137 contamination in 1996 in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine in kilobecquerels per square meter

The largest releases of radioactive substances occurred during the ten-day period after the explosion. About 15 percent of the release occurred as a result of the criticality excursion on April 26, 1986, and the largest part was distributed in the following days due to the graphite fire. Due to the great heat of the graphite fire caused by the construction, gaseous or volatile substances (e.g. iodine or cesium) reached altitudes of 1500 to 10,000 m. The clouds with the radioactive fallout initially spread over large parts of Europe and finally over the entire northern hemisphere . Changing air currents drove them first to Scandinavia, then over Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, southern Germany and as far as northern Italy. A third cloud reached the Balkans, Greece and Turkey. Within these countries, the soil was polluted differently depending on the regional rainfall.

Approximately 6400 km² of agricultural land and forest areas , which were located near the power plant and were therefore very heavily polluted, had to be completely abandoned for human use . A total of around 218,000 km² was radioactively contaminated with more than 37 kilobecquerel (37 kBq) 137 Cs per square meter. More than 70 percent of these areas are in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. While the highest concentrations of volatile nuclides and fuel particles were generated here , more than half of the total amount of volatile constituents and hot particles was deposited outside these countries. Finland, Sweden, Norway, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia each received more than one petabecquerel (10 15 Bq) of 137 Cs. The less affected countries in Europe included Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. Some regions in Great Britain and Scandinavia as well as in the Alpine region are sometimes exposed to high levels of cesium contamination; pollution only decreases slowly over the years because the half-lives of some radioactive isotopes in fallout are several decades. Some countries still have restrictions on the production, transport and consumption of food that is still contaminated by the Chernobyl fallout. A total of around 3,900,000 km², i.e. 40 percent of the total area, was contaminated with at least 4 kBq / m² 137 Cs . Outside Europe, the Middle East and North Africa were particularly affected.

Austria was one of the hardest hit countries. There was an average 137 Cs contamination of 18.7 kBq / m². The maximum values ​​reached almost 200 kBq / m² in some areas. Higher values ​​were only measured in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine and some areas of Scandinavia.

In the most heavily polluted areas of Germany, in the southeast of Bavaria, the soil contamination was up to 74 kBq / m² 137 Cs. Even today, mushrooms, wild berries and wild animals are still relatively contaminated in some regions in southern Germany. According to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection , contamination there is around ten times higher than in northern Germany. In 2002, 137 Cs values ​​of up to 20 kBq / kg were measured in the muscle meat of wild boars from the Bavarian Forest . The average value was 6.4 kBq / kg and thus more than ten times the EU limit value of 0.6 kBq / kg. According to a report by the Daily Telegraph , the radiation exposure of wild boars in Saxony in 2014 was still so high that 297 of 752 animals killed exceeded the limit of 0.6 kBq / kg and had to be destroyed.

The mean effective dose for an adult caused by the reactor accident in Chernobyl fell in Germany from 0.11 mSv in 1986 to less than 0.012 mSv in 2009. For comparison: it is in the range of the exposure caused by the nuclear weapon tests carried out in the atmosphere , which is given as less than 0.01 mSv. The mean effective dose from natural radiation exposure is on average 2.1 mSv per year, the artificial radiation exposure caused by X-ray diagnostic and nuclear medicine examinations is around 1.8 mSv per year.

The measurements of radioactivity in food fish from the North Sea and Baltic Sea carried out by the vTI Institute for Fisheries Ecology between 2004 and 2009 show that the radioactive contamination of fish with 137 Cs in the Baltic Sea due to the Chernobyl disaster is an order of magnitude higher than the level of fish from the North Sea. The radioactive pollution is, however, well below the legal limit values.

On April 5, 2020, the Ukrainian environmental inspection service announced that a forest fire had released radioactivity in an area of ​​around 100 hectares in the exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant. The cause of the forest fire is believed to be that residents started the fire on April 4, 2020 by illegally burning rubbish. Two weeks after the eruption, an estimated 11,500 hectares had burned down according to evaluations of satellite images. In addition, the fires caused persistent and thick smog in Kiev. The fires destroyed 38 homes in neighboring Zhytomyr Oblast after the fires spread to villages. The fires were fought by more than 700 firefighters who also used helicopters. To support and contain or extinguish the fires, the Federal Republic of Germany provided 80 dosimeters to measure radioactivity and a fire truck.

Exposed groups of people

Heart of the liquidators medal
More medals from Chernobyl

Immediately after the accident and until the end of 1987, around 200,000 clean-up workers (" liquidators ") were deployed. Of these, around 1000 received radiation doses ranging from 2 to 20  gray (Gy) within the first day after the accident . In contrast, the later deployed liquidators received significantly lower doses of radiation up to a maximum of around 0.5 Gy with an average of around 0.1 Gy. According to the WHO , the number of liquidators increased to 600,000 to 800,000 in the following years. The number cannot be exactly quantified, as only 400,000 liquidators were registered and their data is also incomplete. The liquidators were later honored with a medal for their work.

In the spring and summer of 1986, around 116,000 people were evacuated from the 30-kilometer zone around the reactor. Around 240,000 more people were later relocated. For the Ukrainian evacuees, a mean dose value of 17 mSv (fluctuation range 0.1 to 380 mSv) was calculated, for the Belarusian evacuees a mean value of 31 mSv (with a maximum mean value in two localities of 300 mSv).

In the first days after the accident, the ingestion of radioactive iodine with food led to strongly fluctuating thyroid doses in the general population, averaging around 0.03 to 0.3 Gy with peaks of up to around 50 Gy. An exception to this were the few inhabitants of Prypiat , who received significantly lower thyroid doses through the timely distribution of tablets with stable iodine ( iodine blockade ).

For the more than 20 years since the accident, the non-evacuated population received effective total doses of an average of around 10 to 20 mSv with peak values ​​of a few 100 mSv, both through external radiation and through ingestion as internal radiation exposure. Today, the five million people affected in contaminated areas generally receive Chernobyl-related doses of less than 1 mSv / year, but around 100,000 still receive more than 1 mSv per year.

Health consequences

According to WHO and IAEA (2008), almost 50 people died as a result of acute radiation sickness . In the three most severely affected countries, around 9,000 additional fatal cases of cancer and leukemia are to be expected due to the increased radiation exposure. For the whole of Europe, Elisabeth Cardis estimated in 2006 that around 16,000 additional thyroid cancers and 25,000 other additional cancers can be expected by 2065.

The best-documented health impact is a significant increase in thyroid cancers of around 1,800 cases after the accident. According to UNSCEAR , this is the largest increase in cases of a single cancer caused by a single event. The second disease that has been extensively studied is leukemia, particularly among children and cleaners. Some studies found an increased rate, others did not. Many scientists believe that it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the number of leukemia cases.

There is still a bitter debate about the number of deaths. This is in part due to the methodological difficulty of associating low doses of radiation with statistical effects of disease. In addition, the accident-related increase in cancer cases is overshadowed by a much larger number of cancer cases that would have occurred even without the accident. Last but not least, political motivations play a role in these estimates. In publications by associations critical of nuclear energy and environmental organizations, there are hundreds of times higher numbers of illnesses and deaths than in the mass media.

In light of the ongoing controversy, the IAEA and other international organizations convened the Chernobyl Forum to form an authoritative consensus. In September 2005, the forum concluded that the total number of fatalities attributable to the accident was around 4,000. However, the reception of this report was by no means universally positive. The main problem was that the report was limited to the hardest hit areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, ignoring the larger total population of these and other countries.

In addition to cancer, social and psychological trauma are arguably the greatest problems for the population in the areas around Chernobyl. Some scientists consider these psychological consequences to be the greatest health problem as a result of the accident. The Belarusian author and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich addresses this aspect of the catastrophe in her work.

Radiation sickness

134 people, especially power plant workers and fire fighters, were diagnosed with radiation sickness immediately after the incident . 28 of them died in 1986 as a result of radiation sickness, most of them in the first few months after the reactor accident. Between 1987 and 2004, 19 other helpers affected by radiation sickness died, some of them possibly from the long-term effects of radiation sickness.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is a rare cancer of the hormonal system with a worldwide prevalence of 4.7 / 100,000 in women and 1.5 / 100,000 in men. In most regions of the world, a significant increase in the number of diseases has been observed over the past 30 years. The reasons for this have not yet been clarified. The thyroid is an organ that needs iodine for the production of thyroid hormones and therefore actively absorbs and stores it. In addition, it is a small organ, so that even small amounts of radioactive iodine can trigger a high local dose of radiation.

A large amount of radioactive iodine was released from the accident. Yet the thyroid radiation dose received by the general population was relatively low; in small children about 2 Gy near the facility and 2.2 Gy in the most heavily contaminated areas (Gomel in Belarus).

The increase in thyroid cancer was observed for the first time just a few years after the disaster, most clearly in people who were under five at the time of the disaster. In children born after December 1, 1987 - that is, after the radioactive iodine had practically completely decayed - no increase can be observed.

The differentiated thyroid cancer , by far the most common type has, however, with timely medical treatment one of the best forecasts among cancers. Targeted radiation therapy with radioactive iodine makes it easy to treat and in many cases also curable. If a relapse occurs, it is usually not resistant to renewed therapy with radioactive iodine and can usually be suppressed. To date, about 6000 cases have been diagnosed in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Although around 30% of patients experience a relapse, only one percent are likely to die from the disease. Of the 6000 cases, 15 died (up to 2011). Thyroid cancer remains a relatively rare cancer with very few deaths, despite the very dramatic increases of several hundred percent in the affected areas.

It is controversial whether there is an increased risk of thyroid cancer also for people who were already adults at the time of the highest exposure to radioactive iodine.


The increase in leukemia in the significantly contaminated areas around Chernobyl is controversial.

A ten-year study on children born in the Ukraine in 1986 revealed a significant increase in all types of leukemia: “The risk rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia is dramatically higher for boys and, to a lesser extent, for girls. For both sexes combined, the relative risk of acute lymphatic leukemia in exposed areas is more than three times higher than in unexposed areas (relative risk RR = 3.4). ” (Quote from IPPNW report: Health Consequences of Tschernobyl, 2006, page 50 ff .) The revised report drawn up in 2011 comes to similar conclusions. Numerous medical studies are cited that show an increase in leukemia among the affected population, including in other European countries: “In Greece, children who grew up in their mother's womb at the time of the Chernobyl reactor disaster fell ill 2.6 times as much often from leukemia such as children who were born before or a long time after the disaster. " (Quote from IPPNW report: Health Consequences of Chernobyl, 2011, page 76)

A publication in the renowned science journal Nature in 1993 came to the conclusion that there was no accumulation of leukemia cases in and around Chernobyl. However, the possibility was mentioned that an accumulation could also occur at a later point in time.

A 2007 meta study published in the journal Health Physics (with peer review ) concluded that there was no statistically significant increase in leukemia cases.

More cancers

The increase in the incidence of numerous other types of cancer in Europe due to Chernobyl has been scientifically investigated by various studies. The increase in breast cancer in Belarus is illustrated by a work by Pukkala et al. documented in the International Journal of Cancer on February 27, 2006. In Ukraine, the lifetime after a diagnosis of gastric and lung cancer was significantly reduced. Central nervous system tumors and brain tumors in young children also increased in Ukraine. In addition to chronic lymphatic leukemia and multiple myeloma, the focus is primarily on lymph gland cancer types such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma . The available studies only examined the cases that occurred in the respective countries or areas. However, they provide information about which cancers are also at increased risk in the other affected countries.

Genetic and Teratogenic Damage

The German section of the International Doctors for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) wrote in 2006: "In total we have to reckon with 18,000 to 122,000 genetically damaged people in Europe as a result of the Chernobyl disaster." Just a week after Chernobyl, Germans from Ukraine returned, increased chromosomal damage was found. From 1985 to 1994, five to twelve week old fetuses were examined for malformations in Belarus. During this period there was an increased number of malformations. At the beginning of 1987, an accumulation of trisomy 21 in babies was found in Belarus. Teratogenic damage due to Chernobyl has been demonstrated in numerous European countries. In West Germany and the GDR, for example, newborns had a cleft lip and palate around 10% more frequently than before the accident . In Turkey, anencephaly and spina bifida increase by about threefold (20 instead of 6 out of a thousand newborns) and Chernobyl was suggested as an explanation. Both are very serious malformations that arise during embryonic development .

A study by Michail Malko in 2014 showed an increase in the risk of congenital malformations from 0.58 to 0.70% in the heavily contaminated area and from 0.58 to 0.60% in the slightly contaminated area around the reactor before and after the accident. The increase in cancer risk for all forms of cancer apart from thyroid cancer was of similar magnitude . Here, as described above, the risk sometimes increased by up to a hundredfold. The risk of developing leukemia rose from 0.0028% to 0.0032% and decreased again to 0.0029% six years after the accident

A 1992 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology concluded that there was no significant increase in birth defects after the reactor disaster.

"After evaluating the available epidemiological studies, the Chernobyl Forum sees neither evidence nor an indication of reduced fertility in men and women, the number of stillbirths , other negative birth consequences, complications during childbirth and the general intelligence and health of the Children who could be a direct result of ionizing radiation. The decreased birth rates in the contaminated areas could be due to public fears and the relocation of many younger people. A moderate but steady increase in reported congenital malformations in contaminated and uncontaminated areas of Belarus appears to be due to more complete coverage rather than radiation.

The researchers or editors of one position have repeatedly accused the representatives of the other position of bias or rejected their findings because of incomplete validation of the data and other methodological deficiencies. There are also contradicting results, for example from observations in the animal world, according to which the mutation rate “in the vicinity of processing plants or accident-free nuclear power plants” is higher. Authors who suspect ecological dose-effect relationships for stillbirths, malformations and for the gender ratio at birth - among other things in Bavarian districts with different levels of exposure - are countered that, against the background of the comparatively low increases in radiation doses in Germany, which occur within the Fluctuations in natural radiation exposure, it is not to be understood that such massive effects should be detectable. This skepticism is supported by numerous negative epidemiological findings in Germany and other European countries, some of which have significantly higher radiation doses. In addition, no biological mechanisms have so far been found that could make such a causal relationship plausible to the extent described.

Against negative epidemiological findings, it is again argued that the nonsignificance is wrongly presented as evidence of a non-existent effect. The openly formulated statement in some studies that such effects either do not actually exist or could not be proven due to the study design would be correct. In addition, it has not yet been shown that there was also a greatly increased rate of stillbirths and malformations in relatively unpolluted areas. This would be an indication of other causes or a purely coincidental connection.

Some researchers assume an increase in genetic mutations in children of parents affected by the accident and observed this after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. However, there is no comparable evidence of genetic damage in the children of survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs . According to researcher Dillwyn Williams, there has been a lack of reliable knowledge about the damage, among other things due to the fragmentary studies.

Other (physical) health consequences

In the countries hardest hit by the Chernobyl disaster, a significant increase can also be observed in many non-malignant diseases. Average life expectancy has dropped significantly. However, both also apply to the non-contaminated areas. It is controversial to what extent these changes are due to higher radiation exposure or to other factors (e.g. poverty, poor nutrition, unhealthy living conditions, economic and social upheavals after the collapse of the Soviet Union, psychological stresses in connection with the disaster, as well as evacuations and resettlements , self-damaging behavior, better diagnostics and recording of diseases). The reliability of the data and the methodological quality of many studies vary widely.

In diseases of the lens of the eye (e.g. cataracts ), a connection with radioactive exposure is likely. Even relatively low doses of the order of 250 mGy seem to cause an increase in the formation of cataracts. Such a dose included exposed many cleanup workers in the first few days after the explosion. In other eye diseases ( accommodation disorders , macular dystrophies and vascular changes), a connection with radiation activity is suspected. Further observations are necessary here.

High radiation activity can cause a wide range of cardiovascular complications. The effects of chronic and low-level radiation exposure on the cardiovascular system are less clear.

In Russia, a large study of Chernobyl emergency workers found a significantly higher risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. Whether this higher risk is solely due to higher radiation doses or to competing causes of the disease must be observed in further studies. However, it is consistent with the results of studies carried out on survivors of atomic bomb attacks.

Impairments of the cellular and humoral immune system have been found in several studies . However, it is difficult to interpret these findings because they can also have other causes (stress, chronic infections, nutritional deficiencies, chemicals). The long-term consequences of such impairments are still unclear.

Autoimmune diseases of the thyroid

There is also a high prevalence of autoimmune thyroiditis in the Chernobyl region , which is due to diet-related iodine deficiency and short-lived iodine isotopes. The effect is greatest in children born immediately before the reactor disaster. They show antibodies against the thyroid gland early on, even before it is damaged by the own immune system. Since it can be assumed that the risk group will later develop an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland, attention should be paid to this in addition to cancer screening.

Mental health and psychosocial effects

Scene from the village of Kopachi, which was abandoned due to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, within the "Forbidden Zone"

As the British nuclear physicist Peter E. Hodgson pointed out in 1999, the direct or indirect mental and psychosocial consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe put a considerable strain on health . The psychological consequences of the accident include fear of possible consequences of the radiation, being pushed into the role of victim, which leads to a feeling of social exclusion, and stress in connection with evacuation and resettlement. Epidemiologists point out that the catastrophe also had an impact on the broader population due to its social impact. Fear and hopelessness can lead to symptoms of illness and a lifestyle that is harmful to health (diet, alcohol, tobacco), factors that significantly increase the damage to health.

Stress, depression, fear, and medically unexplained physical symptoms were two to four times higher in accident-affected populations than in control groups, although the rate of diagnosed mental disorders was not increased. Symptoms were found up to eleven years after the accident. The severity of the disorders is significantly related to the individual risk perception and the diagnosis of a health problem as a result of the accident. In general, the psychological consequences were consistent with those of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki , the reactor accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant or the Bhopal disaster . The World Health Organization as well as Israeli and American researchers found no damage to the brain development of unborn babies and young children from radiation exposure. Ukrainian reports suggesting cognitive damage in liquidators as a result of radiation exposure have not been independently confirmed. One study found a significant increase in liquidators' suicides, suggesting significant emotional distress. Given the persistence of the psychological consequences in the population, scientists recommend educational programs and psychosocial interventions.


Abandoned ships on the Pripyat

The Chernobyl disaster is costly and damaging to the region's economy. However, because of the economic upheaval following the collapse of the USSR , the economic effects of the disaster cannot be precisely quantified. In a letter dated July 6, 1990 to the United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar , the Soviet Ministry of Finance estimated the direct economic losses and expenditures as a result of the disaster at around 9.2 billion rubles for the period from 1986 to 1989 . This represented around 12.6 billion US dollars . In Ukraine, 20 years after the accident, it accounts for 5 to 7% of the state budget annually. In 1991 it was still 22.3%, which had fallen to 6.1% by 2002.

Agriculture and forestry are particularly affected branches of the local economy. Due to the radiation exposure, almost 800,000  hectares of land and 700,000 hectares of forest can no longer be used economically. Agriculture in the region also suffers from the “Chernobyl stigma”, which leads to very low demand for products from the region. Due to this fact, there is hardly any private investment in the region's agricultural sector.

Personnel peculiarities

It is also controversial what part the wrong decisions of the power plant personnel had in the occurrence of the accident. It is a fact that company regulations have been violated. To what extent they were known to the staff is questionable. Inexperience and insufficient knowledge, especially in connection with increasing the output of the reactor ( poisoned with xenon ), are cited. Since a new type of voltage regulator was to be tested during the experiment, electrical engineers formed a large part of the staff present. At the time of the attempt, different shift personnel were present than originally planned.

Power plant director Viktor Bryukhanov and five senior employees were sentenced to long prison terms in 1987. The engineer Nikolai Antonowitsch Dolleschal , who, as head of the Research and Construction Institute for Energy Technology (NIKITE) named after him, was considered to be primarily responsible for the development of the RBMK reactor type, was already 87 years old and only retired after the reactor disaster. The relationship between this step and the meltdown at Chernobyl was never officially confirmed.

Reactions in other European countries

Federal Republic of Germany

Political discussion on nuclear energy

In southern Germany, discussions about the extent of radioactive contamination of food and other possible contaminations and how to deal with it appropriately dominated the public for months. The social controversy was characterized on the one hand by factual discussions, on the other hand the fundamental attitude to nuclear energy increasingly moved into the focus of the discussion, especially since the controversy about the Wackersdorf reprocessing plant was being conducted at the same time . Recommendations were given for plowing under crops or for blocking children's playgrounds, although from today's perspective it is debatable to what extent these were appropriate and necessary.

In the aftermath of the reactor disaster, the consensus on the use of atomic energy , which had already been called into question by the anti-nuclear movement, crumbled . Large parts of the population were now in favor of phasing out nuclear energy. In politics, this demand has now also been taken over by the SPD , among other things. by Erhard Eppler and the SPD chancellor candidate Johannes Rau , who advocated a gradual exit. Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) spoke on behalf of his parliamentary group in the Bundestag for a reduction in the share of nuclear energy in the energy supply in the future (1985: around 31%), but this was out of the question for an early phase-out, as this was the case is neither necessary nor feasible. Prime Minister Lothar Späth (CDU) called nuclear energy a transitional energy, and after Chernobyl it was necessary to consistently think about an energy policy that did not need nuclear energy in the long term. The FDP called the nuclear energy in their national convention in 1986 in Hannover also as a transition energy, must work towards their resignation as part of the energy supply.

After Chernobyl, 58 percent of the West German population felt personally threatened. Under the impression of the accident, the proportion of vehement opponents of nuclear power in Germany doubled from 13 to 27 percent. Events such as a reportable incident with radioactivity leakage in the THTR Hamm-Uentrop just nine days after Chernobyl , which the operator initially denied but later admitted, contributed to this loss of reputation for nuclear power.

A few weeks after the accident, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety was founded in the Federal Republic of Germany . The establishment of this ministry was above all a reaction to the inadequately coordinated handling of politics with the Chernobyl disaster and its consequences. On December 11, 1986, the German Bundestag passed the Radiation Protection Precautionary Act (StrVG) to protect the population, to monitor radioactivity in the environment and to keep human radiation exposure and radioactive contamination of the environment as low as possible in the event of radioactive accidents or incidents .

However , the Chernobyl disaster did not lead to a fundamental change in nuclear policy . The expansion of nuclear energy was continued against all odds and by 1989 six nuclear power plants that were already under construction or largely completed were put into operation: Brokdorf , Hamm-Uentrop , Mülheim-Kärlich , Isar 2 , Emsland , Neckarwestheim . Only the Kalkar fast breeder and the Wackersdorf reprocessing plant could no longer be enforced due to massive protests.

Safety checks at German nuclear power plants

The German nuclear power plants were subjected to a safety review against the background of Chernobyl. In 1987, shortly after the first test results were available, the decision was made to finally shut down the graphite-moderated pebble bed reactor AVR (Jülich) in 1988, which (although it has never been officially confirmed) can be seen as a consequence of insufficient protection of this reactor against graphite fires such as in Chernobyl.

Soil pollution and effects on fresh milk and vegetables

In the Federal Republic of Germany, after the reactor accident became known, the federal radiation protection commission asked farmers to postpone the switch from winter feeding of dairy cows to summer feeding (and pasture) until after the first rains, which was actually due at the beginning of May 1986. The disaster coincided with a period of good weather lasting several weeks, which on the one hand greatly stimulated the growth of the meadows, but on the other hand also caused the radioactive dust to spread to the west with a steady east wind. Later there was a compensation payment for the farms for the additional costs incurred in feeding.

The Radiation Protection Commission also issued limit values ​​for fresh milk and leafy vegetables, beyond which the products could not be sold. Sales of approved dairy products as well as fruit and vegetables also fell drastically. In May 1986 alone, the Rewe food group destroyed unsaleable dairy products and fresh vegetables worth around 3 million DM .

On September 15, 1986, the radiation protection commission in Bonn announced that the contamination of foodstuffs in the Federal Republic of Germany by radioactivity had, with a few exceptions, greatly decreased.

Contaminated whey and disposal problems

Some dairies in particularly affected areas in southern Germany had been instructed to separate the whey from the milk and not to sell it, but to store it, since 134 Cs and 137 Cs with half-lives of two and thirty years, respectively, were found in the milk of the cows . The proposal to apply this whey to fields as fertilizer had no chance of being implemented. The Bavarian Ministry of Agriculture advised dairies to temporarily switch from milk and yogurt to cheese production - the radiant radionuclide is excreted with the whey, the cheese water that runs off the curdled milk. A total of 5046 tonnes of whey powder were obtained from the whey at Meggle AG in Wasserburg am Inn . This concentrated the radioactivity and measured values ​​of up to 8000 Becquerel per kilogram of whey powder. The limit value for the free marketability of contaminated whey powder was 1850 Becquerel. From May 1986, the contaminated whey powder was stored in railroad cars on sidings near Rosenheim . For the no longer marketable goods, Meggle AG was compensated by the Federal Administration Office with 3.8 million DM.

On January 23, 1987, the Bavarian Ministry of Environment and Food sold around 3,000 tons of the contaminated whey powder for 150,000 DM to the LOPEX company based in Linden . LOPEX wanted to transport the wagons to Cologne and Bremen, which the media followed with great interest. The responsible authorities in the federal states then requested a return transport to Bavaria. Around 2000 tons of the contaminated whey powder were also stored in a warehouse in Forsting near Pfaffing in Bavaria . From February 1987 Federal Environment Minister Walter Wallmann intervened and let the contaminated whey powder, which is declared as waste, pass into the possession of the federal government without a corresponding legal basis. From February 1987 a total of 242 federal railway wagons with the radioactive waste (whey powder) were entrusted to the protection of the German armed forces and temporarily stored at the Feldkirchen (Lower Bavaria) sites and on the premises of the Wehrtechnischen Dienststelle 91 in Meppen .

On July 22, 1987, the German Federal Environment Minister Klaus Töpfer announced that the contaminated whey powder stored at the Bundeswehr sites in Hungen, Hesse, was to be disposed of and processed into cattle feed . The federal government will assume the costs of DM 13 million. As a result, there were violent protests by the citizens of Hungen from August 1st. The radioactive whey powder has now been temporarily stored on the site of the decommissioned Lingen nuclear power plant . With an ion exchange process developed by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover , the whey powder was treated in Lingen from February 1989 onwards in special facilities built by Noell GmbH (subsidiary of Preussag AG). After that, the contamination was 100 Becquerel per kilogram. From March 1990 a total of 242 German Federal Railroad wagons (150 from Meppen and 92 from Straubing) drove into Lingen. The decontamination was completed by the end of 1990. The liquid whey was later scattered on fields as fertilizer and concentrated cesium was collected in around 180 barrels. These barrels with radioactive waste were stored in the Morsleben repository for radioactive waste (ERAM). The plant itself was dismantled and mostly scrapped. According to the Federal Government, the costs for processing and disposing of the whey and its residues totaled 34 million euros in 2016.

Mushrooms and game meat

In some forest areas in southern Germany (e.g. the Alps and the foothills of the Alps, the Munich area, the Bavarian Forest, the Upper Palatinate Forest) it rained shortly after the disaster; by radioactive rain much radiant substances got into the ground. Radioactive cesium-137 (Cs-137) has a half-life of 30.17 years.

Tube mushrooms (for example chestnuts or birch boletus) accumulate cesium more than other types of mushrooms. The least polluted are varieties that grow on wood, e.g. B. the frilled mother hen . The Bavarian State Office for the Environment offers current information on its website.

In 1997, the Munich Environmental Institute discovered samples of chanterelles (Austrian chanterelles) with excessive levels of radioactivity due to cesium, which should not have been placed on the market. The goods were declared as " Hungary " and " Macedonia ", but research showed that they had been redeclared and probably came from the Ukraine . In 2009, a sample of chanterelles with the indication of origin " Carpathian " exceeded the guideline value. According to the opinion of the environmental institute, it is common practice that chanterelles from Belarus are packaged in low-polluted Lithuania and that these goods are then put on the market as chanterelles from Lithuania and that high and low-polluted mushrooms are mixed to ensure that the maximum value is not exceeded. These practices are considered to be the reason why the radioactive pollution of Eastern European chanterelles is unexpectedly increasing and the pollution of mushrooms from Belarus is decreasing. Boletus badius and hydnum repandum ARE APPLICABLE as "cesium collector", other species such as the lepiota would take in only small amounts, and Pfifferling cep would take a middle position. Bavarian chestnut boletus and a sample from Austria showed maximum values ​​of over 1000 Bq / kg in 2012 and were thus well above the limit value.

The level of Cs-137 contamination varies considerably depending on the type of fungus and from location to location. Activities of more than 1,000 Bq / kg Cs-137 were recorded in the years 2014 to 2016 in orange falcons (Hygrophorus unicolor) and brown-disc snails (Hygrophorus discoideus) , common earth knights (Tricholoma terreum) , red-brown semolina mushrooms (Hydnum rufescens.) , Semolina mushrooms repandum) , chestnut boletus (Xerocomus badius) and brown vaginal cord (Amanita umbrinolutea) .

Since wild boars are particularly looking for certain types of truffle that can accumulate cesium, wild boar meat is still partially highly contaminated.

German Democratic Republic

In contrast to the information policy in the Federal Republic of Germany, the SED leadership attempted in the GDR to calm the population by failing to report and making false reports out of consideration for the Soviet brother state. It was not until the fourth day after the accident that a short press release was published by the Soviet news agency TASS , which reported on an accident in which a nuclear reactor was damaged in Chernobyl. Afterwards, help was "given to those affected (...)" and measures were taken to remedy the damage. The released radioactivity was not reported and the corresponding measured values ​​were only published when they no longer reached the initially threatening level after several days. When a few days after the accident in western media falsely reported thousands of deaths (according to WHO and IAEA (2008) almost 50 people died as a result of acute radiation sickness), the GDR leadership denied this news as "clumsy anti-Soviet agitation ”.

In the weeks after the accident, there was suddenly a plentiful supply of vegetables in the GDR; it was the one that the West did not buy from the Eastern bloc suppliers. Since many citizens did not buy these offers because of the warnings received via Western radio and television programs, this fruit was distributed free of charge in kindergartens and schools. Erich Honecker was quoted as advising mothers to wash fresh lettuce before eating. The internal warning from the Atomic Safety Office that fresh feed would contaminate the milk and that a change in feed would be advisable was not published because there was a lack of canned feed from the previous year. In the Saxony-Anhalt area in particular, the radioactivity in the milk produced in this way was 700% above the limit value for baby milk, which the population was not informed about. The head of the office commented on the accident with the words: "Every shoemaker pats himself on the thumb."

At the same time, the few reports of a stabilization of radioactivity at a low level could be read in the newspapers without writing about the level before the disaster. Günter Schabowski , a member of the Politburo at the time, also obtained information from the Western media and was worried; In the event of a disaster, however, an iron law applied: “Refrain from making your own comment. They only tell what they manufacture in Moscow. ”So then“ leading experts ”in the GDR claimed that there was no danger from the accident. The reports in the West are a targeted campaign to distract from the armament there and the danger posed by nuclear weapons. Compared with Oskar Lafontaine and Johannes Rau , Erich Honecker spoke May 6, 1986 with the words:

“Immediately after the accident became known, the President of the Academy of Sciences reported to the Politburo. The population of the GDR was adequately informed at all times. Leading physicists in the GDR, such as Professors Lanius and Flach , provided information in a detailed television broadcast. In the FRG, on the other hand, a large-scale agitation was sparked in the style of war reporting. "

In reality, Honecker and the SED Politburo were informed at an early stage without reacting to it or even asking for further assessments. So it was not until May 20, 1986, four weeks after the accident, that the population was calmed down more comprehensively by a report from the Office for Radiation Protection, rather than informed. In this it was stated that the “tight controls carried out prove” that “no health hazards ... existed or existed” for residents of the GDR.

To calm the population, top GDR athletes had to take part in the 1986 International Peace Tour, the starting point of which was Kiev, only 100 km from the accident reactor. The overall winner of the race, Olaf Ludwig , later said that he could have refused to start, but that would inevitably have led to the inevitable end of his sporting career. Journalists were instructed not to write about the “shining winner” and to relativize the fact that almost half of the registered teams did not start.

For environmental groups in the GDR, the event was a signal to leave. For the first time, a debate began about the peaceful use of nuclear energy . In petitions to the People's Chamber and the Council of Ministers , GDR citizens demanded the exit from nuclear energy for the first time (in the GDR, the Rheinsberg and Greifswald nuclear power plants were in operation, reactor 5 of which was shut down on November 24, 1989, reactors 1 to 4 in February 1990 ).


Radioactive environmental contamination

The Austrian federal territory is one of the most severely affected areas in Western Europe: of the total of 70 PBq released radiocesium, 1.6 PBq, i.e. 2%, were deposited in Austria, the average exposure of 137 Cs from the Chernobyl event in 1986 was 19.1 kBq / m², whereby the Salzkammergut and neighboring areas, the Welser Heide and the Hohe Tauern were particularly affected, as well as the Niedere Tauern and the Koralp region / Southeast Carinthia (with average contamination > 100 kBq / m²), in relation to the population the central area of Linz and the city ​​of Salzburg with> 11 (kBq / m²) / (population / km²), and Vienna , Graz , Klagenfurt , Villach and Innsbruck ≈ 10.

Measures at that time

The main measures taken were controls in the food sector in order to keep ingestion low: sales ban for green vegetables and sheep and goat milk, green fodder feeding for dairy cows, consumption of cistern water, and long-term import bans for food from highly polluted agricultural producing countries, prohibition of shooting game, Feeding plans in domestic agriculture (substitute feed, dilution with uncontaminated feed, finishing fattening with low contaminated feed, feed additives to reduce cesium absorption) or limit values ​​for sewage sludge application.

In later studies it has been shown that these measures, which have received little public attention, have had more protective effects on the production and trade side than, for example, recommendations on direct changes in behavior.

Long term effects

The radiation exposure has fallen within 20 years from an initial 0.7–0.4 mSv first year dose to 0.003 mSv per inhabitant (2001) and in the 2010s was less than 1 ‰ of the total radiation exposure (approx. 4.3 mSv / a). Overall, people living in Austria were likely to have been exposed to an additional effective dose of 0.6 mSv on average by the reactor accident by 2006, which is only 15 of the usual annual exposure from natural sources (natural radon, cosmic radiation, etc., approx . 3 mSv / a).

To date, 30 years after Chernobyl in April 2016, the contamination of game is still so high that it is mandatory to check the radiation exposure of hunted animals before they are allowed to enter the food cycle. If the permissible values ​​are exceeded, the hunted hunt must be sent to professional animal carcass disposal. In some areas, mushroom picking is still to be classified as critical without any precise knowledge of the local pollution.

Political Impact

The most obvious consequences of the Chernobyl event in Austria are political in nature:

Before 1986: Zwentendorf nuclear power plant

A few years before the Chernobyl accident, the nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf an der Donau in Lower Austria was almost completed at the end of the 1970s . After the fuel rods that had already been delivered had been brought in, trial operation was to begin in 1978/79. However, the Austrian anti-nuclear power movement had become so strong in the meantime that the “ Zwentendorf referendum ” was held in November 1978 - against the declared will of Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky , whose political goal was to ensure that Zwentendorf goes into operation. The question was voted: "Should the legislative resolution of the National Council of July 7, 1978 on the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Austria (commissioning of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant) become law?"

With an extremely narrow majority of 50.5%, the entry into force of the federal law [es] on the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Austria (commissioning of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant) was rejected and commissioning was indirectly prevented.

In December 1978, which was federal law on the prohibition of the use of nuclear fission for energy supply in Austria, the so-called Proliferation Act , passed. The completed power plant subsequently became an investment ruin and in the years that followed it became a spare parts store for reactors of the same type, as well as a widely used training center for employees of nuclear power plants.

In the 2010s, the power plant was re-used: "Zwentendorf", the Austrian synonym for "anti-nuclear power", was rededicated by the successor owner, the Lower Austrian energy company EVN , to a location for the generation of renewable energies .

Before and after “Zwentendorf” there are two other trend-setting events in Austrian history: The construction of the Kaprun power station in the years of reconstruction - as an economic “success story” - and the occupation of the Hainburger Au in  1984 - as a turning point in the understanding of democracy - in the energy sector. For this reason, even the major energy suppliers have been pursuing a course in the direction of renewable energies since the 1980s, which also benefits Austria's natural resources.

After 1986: "Atom-free Austria"

In 1986, “Chernobyl” even solidified the Austrian anti- nuclear policy . Since then, it has been a unanimous consensus both socially and politically and has never been questioned again. After that, there was no longer any significant domestic political conflict over energy issues in Austria as a whole. The EU accession of Austria has it also changed nothing on 1 January 1995th

As a result of the Chernobyl accident, there were several initiatives against foreign nuclear power plants on the Austrian side in the following years:

In July 1997 an initiative proposal was passed unanimously in the National Council. With this “nuclear-free package”, which included several measures for the implementation of an anti-nuclear policy. Parts of the package were laid down in an agreement between the government on the one hand and the environmental organizations Greenpeace , Global 2000 and Anti Atom International (AAI) on the other. At the end of November 1997 the referendum “Atomic Free Austria” took place .

Under the Austrian EU Presidency (the second half of 1998) and in view of the impending EU - enlargement in 2004 , adopted German government under Chancellor Viktor Klima in its 103rd Ministerial Meeting July 6, 1999 an action plan. This was unanimously adopted on July 13, 1999 as a resolution of the National Council on the "implementation of the action plan [of the federal government] for further Austrian anti-nuclear policy in a European context". On the same day, the Federal Constitutional Law for a nuclear-free Austria was also passed unanimously , in which the previous provisions of the Atomic Barrier Act of 1978 were raised to constitutional status. It came into force when it was promulgated on August 13, 1999.

In June 2003 a referendum “Atomic Free Europe” initiated by the FPÖ and remained relatively unsuccessful was held. As the last milestone so far after the Chernobyl accident, the National Council passed a “resolution on the continuation of Austria's anti-nuclear policy and efforts to reform the EURATOM treaty” on July 8, 2010 .


The Soviet leadership was careful not to inform as few people and institutions about the nuclear disaster as absolutely necessary. For this reason, no information about the Chernobyl explosion was passed on to the brother states in Central Europe in the first few days , even though the nuclear power plant in question is, for example, only 418 km from the Polish border.

The wind had initially transported the radioactive material to Scandinavia , but after two days back to Central Europe. On April 28, at around 5:33 a.m. , a radiation measuring station in Mikołajki in northeastern Poland was the first to notice a rapid rise in radionuclides in the air. The measured value was half a million times higher than usual. At around 9:00 am, the central radiation protection authority in Warsaw , the Centralne Laboratorium Ochrony Radiologicznej (CLOR for short), was informed. The CLOR immediately triggered an internal alarm because it assumed that a nuclear weapon had detonated . In the course of the day, however, it was realized that the radiation had to come from a reactor. However, inquiries to the Soviet authorities about this went unanswered. It was not until 6 p.m. that the CLOR found out about the events in Chernobyl via the BBC .

On the night of April 29, the CLOR advised the Polish government to take appropriate protective measures and immediately distribute tablets with stable iodine to the population. Around 11:00 a.m., the top management of the PVAP decided to dispense iodine to the population in the eleven voivodships near the border with the Soviet Union. In the absence of adequate tablets, a liquid iodine-potassium iodide solution was administered. Within one day almost 19 million Poles were supplied with iodine. In addition, farms were instructed to remove their cattle from pasture. In addition, in some regions it was recommended not to consume fresh milk, fruit, vegetables or mushrooms for a while. It was not until April 30, 1986 that the Polish press reported nationwide about “the leak of a radioactive substance in a nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union”. However, due to the upcoming May Day celebrations , the PVAP decided not to take any further measures.

The entire Polish population only learned of the extent of the catastrophe in the course of the political system change in 1989 . As a result, there were nationwide demonstrations against the Żarnowiec nuclear power plant, which has been under construction on the Polish Baltic coast since 1982 . The massive protests against the facility first led to extensive investigations and finally to the halt of construction. In 1990 the nuclear power plant was given up under the first democratically elected Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki .


In May 1986 the French Institute for Radiation Protection (SCPRI) stated that it had measured 137 Cs levels between 25 Bq / m² in Brittany and 500 Bq / m² in Alsace; In 2006, the successor institute, the IRSN, named values ​​between 10,000 and 20,000 Bq / m² from Alsace to Corsica. 137 Cs was a major component of the fallout. Allegedly, it is no longer possible to understand how the 1986 values ​​came about. The then Environment Minister Carignon criticized the mistakes made at that time 20 years later.

On May 1 and 2, 1986, Le Figaro and France-Soir reported that France was affected by the radioactive cloud. First tests of water and milk samples, some of the results of which were published on May 6, showed, according to the SCPRI, too little pollution to represent a health risk, which is why no protective measures were recommended for France. However, since other countries had ordered protective measures, accusations of passivity were quickly raised in the press. In 2001 and 2002, more than 500 sick people complained about the government's behavior at the time. Although thyroid cancers were on the rise, they were not due to the accident, according to French nuclear experts. The former doctor and employee of the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives Bernard Lerouge accused the media of having focused on the pessimistic estimates of the anti-nuclear movement. He accused TV documentaries of distorting and manipulating public opinion because the opinions of the scientific community had been ignored.

Other countries

In Sweden , surveys in September 1986 showed that attitudes towards nuclear energy were on average becoming more negative. Many interviewees counted the risks of nuclear energy among the most threatening of all risks. Subsequent surveys found that attitudes among the Swedish population returned relatively quickly to the pre-accident generally positive level.

An analysis of coverage of the event and its aftermath in seven European countries, published in 1988, concluded that the media reported reasonably well the information from official sources, although some shortcomings were identified on issues such as radiation exposure and its risks. A study in five countries (Germany not included) commissioned by the European Commission in the 1990s could not find any evidence of an increasing influence of media reporting on the accident on public perception of the risk, even though the public reporting was often perceived as alarming has been. An analysis of the coverage of the American newspapers New York Times , Washington Post , Philadelphia Inquirer , Wall Street Journal and Morning Call from Allentown , Pennsylvania as well as the evening news of the television stations ABC , CBS and NBC in the first two weeks after the disaster showed that insufficient information was provided to make it easier for the public to understand nuclear energy and to classify the accident. Exaggerated scaremongering or an excess of negative reports, however, could not be observed.

In response to the nuclear disaster, US hematologists from the University of California in Los Angeles offered their help a few days after the incident and, with the help of the political mediation of Armand Hammer , a transplant team they sent under the direction of Robert P. Gale , Richard E. Champlin, Paul Terasaki and Yair Reisner in Moscow Hospital Number 6 in collaboration with Soviet hematologists performed bone marrow transplants on radiation victims from Chernobyl to treat blood-damaging radiation sickness, albeit with only moderate healing results.

Current situation

The neighboring town of Pripyat is now a ghost town and is the center of the zone called restricted area . Many buildings in the city have been renovated to provide accommodation for the workers and engineers of the former Prypiat power plant park, soldiers, police officers and firefighters. Around 700 of the 14,000 people who once refused to leave the region or who returned to their villages after the disaster in 1986 now live in the outskirts and in the urban area of ​​Chernobyl. In its list published in 2006, 2007 and 2013, the environmental protection organization Blacksmith Institute ranked Chernobyl as one of the ten places with the greatest pollution in the world.

Final shutdown of the power plant

All three still functional blocks were restarted after the cleanup was finished. After the decontamination work in 1986 and 1987, the government was of the opinion that the radiation had no further effects on staff. The second reactor block was shut down in October 1991 after a fire in the turbine hall.

At a meeting in Corfu in June 1994 , the European Union decided to propose a cooperation program to Ukraine that would lead to the decommissioning of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The G7 supported at their meeting in Naples this EU foray in July 1994th This finally led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding by the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Halifax, Canada on December 20, 1995 , in which the aim was to shut down the reactors by the year 2000. Funding came from the EU's TACIS program. Unit 1 was taken offline in November 1996, and in December 1997 the Ukrainian government decided to shut down reactor 3. In June 2000, the decision was finally made to finally shut down Unit 3 on December 15, 2000.

First protective cover

Sarcophagus of the 4th block in March 2006

The damaged reactor block was covered by a temporary, permeable so-called “sarcophagus”. Inside, the situation after the explosion is largely preserved in hot form. Of around 190 tonnes of reactor core mass, it is estimated that around 150 to 180 tonnes are still inside the sarcophagus: partly in the form of corium , partly in the form of dust and ash, washed-out liquids in the reactor sump and foundation or in another form.

In 1992, Ukraine, together with a French company, held a concept competition to find ideas for a long-term solution for Block 4. After a short time, an effective protective coating was chosen and a winner was chosen. For this purpose, a complete covering of Block 3 and Block 4 should be built. However, since Block 3, which was still active at the time, would have had to be shut down for this concept, this project was rejected again. The cost of this has been estimated at three to four billion US dollars.

In February 2013, the roof of the machine hall, which is about 70 meters away from the sarcophagus, collapsed due to large amounts of snow. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Civil Protection, no radioactive particles were released.

Second protective cover ("New Safe Confinement")

“New sarcophagus” under construction, June 2013
New protective cover in its final position over the damaged reactor block, October 2017

The aim of the international “Shelter Implementation Plan” was to build a new, more durable sarcophagus: As a first step, the roof of the original sarcophagus was reinforced and its ventilation system improved. The new sarcophagus was set up approx. 200 meters next to the damaged reactor from 2010 to 2016 and then moved over the old sarcophagus on plastic sliding rails. This should make it possible to remove the old sarcophagus without releasing further radioactive substances. This is provided with two cranes that were specially manufactured on site for this purpose under high radiation exposure. Among other things, they can also shred radioactively contaminated substances. On September 17, 2007, the contract was awarded to the Novarka consortium .

By March 2016, the German federal government had paid around 97 million euros into the Chernobyl Shelter Fund (CSF); contribution commitments still to be fulfilled amount to around 19 million euros.

On November 14, 2016, work began on moving the new protective cover towards the old sarcophagus. She took her final position on November 29th. On April 25, 2019, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced the completion of a 72-hour test run of the protective cover. The official commissioning in the presence of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj took place on July 10, 2019.

Commemoration and reception

Unlike other accidents and environmental catastrophes of this magnitude, such as the most momentous accident to date in the chemical industry in Bhopal, India, in 1984, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster left a lasting impression in the western world as well as in the successor states of the Soviet Union.


Shortly after the disaster, annual commemorative events began to take place in larger cities, especially in the former Soviet Union. Here rallies or church services are held in spring, at which thousands of participants remember the victims of the reactor explosion with lit candles, minutes of silence, vigils or bells ringing. They are also demonstrating for the peaceful use of nuclear energy or, in the long term, for the decommissioning of all nuclear reactors.

Museum and memorials

A national museum set up in the Ukrainian capital Kiev shows pictures, videos, remnants of clothing or points out the villages that no longer exist with signs that are crossed out.

There are now also warning monuments, such as in the Russian capital Moscow or in the Ukrainian cities of Kiev, Kharkiv or Zaporizhia . In Kharkiv, two monuments commemorate the catastrophe: one made of red porphyry and another, three-colored, in the Park of Youth. Another monument dedicated to the helpers ("liquidators") on the site of the nuclear power plant was destroyed. In Zaporozhye a sculptor has created a stone on a fountain like a split atom, not far from it is a granite boulder with a plaque for the victims of the disaster. In the city of Slavutytsch , which was newly built after the reactor accident, there is a memorial with photos and life data of some of the victims. Kiev commemorates the firefighters and engineers who died as a result of their work in the disaster with a memorial. Politicians in the country regularly lay memorial wreaths on the symbolic bent metal. The Mitinskoye Cemetery ( Митинское кладбище ) (Moscow) houses the graves of 28 deceased firefighters and a memorial. The Chernobyl catastrophe was also reflected in religious art and icon painting.

Exhibitions, concerts and other activities

Memorial event 25 years after the reactor accident (Vienna 2011)
Kang Jinmo at the opening ceremony in Bamberg 2011

In 1990 the non-profit organization Heim-statt Tschernobyl was founded. Since 1991, groups of voluntary helpers from Germany have been traveling to Belarus for three weeks every year in the summer months and building a new house in the non-contaminated north together with affected families as part of a resettlement program. An essential part of the concept is the ecological construction and the responsible use of energy.

The German artist Till Christ organized the exhibition "Visual Energy - After Chernobyl: Resources, Energies and Us" in the Berlin Kunsthaus Tacheles in collaboration with students from the State Academy for Design and Art from Kharkov . It was seen between October 2005 and April 2006. In 2006, the Swiss city of Thun held a memorial exhibition in its town hall with the support of the ambassadors of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, Swetlana Alexijewitsch, has repeatedly dealt with the reactor catastrophe in her literary work. wrote a “Chernobyl prayer”, which was set to music and premiered in 2006 by the French composer Alain Moget as an oratorio under the title “And they will forget us”.

Every year there are other commemorative activities around the world such as photo exhibitions, concerts, publications or scientific conferences.

As an example of the reception of the nuclear catastrophe in the fine arts, the cycle “Ash Pictures” from 1986 by the artist Günther Uecker should be mentioned .

In Bamberg there is a monument to Chernobyl: a helpless black granite turtle lying on its back . The world map is engraved on her stomach . The turtle is a design by the South Korean artist Kang Jinmo , which he submitted as part of a competition organized by the Bund Naturschutz in Bayern in 1987. The turtle symbolizes the helplessness against the atomic contamination of large parts of Europe after the reactor disaster in April 1986.

From April 3 to 5, 2006, the Society for Radiation Protection held an international congress in Berlin entitled “20 Years After Chernobyl - Experiences and Lessons for the Future”.

At three international congresses in 2004, 2006 and 2011, the IPPNW discussed the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster and the prospects for a world free of nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons with the public. The congress held from April 8 to 10, 2011 with the motto “Atomic Energy Time Bomb: 25 Years of Chernobyl - Nuclear Phase Out Now!” Took place under the impression of the Fukushima nuclear disaster .

Films, media and events about the disaster

In 1990 the film Raspad was presented at the Venice International Film Festival and received the gold medal of the President of the Italian Senate .

In 1991, Turner Home Entertainment produced the TV drama Chernobyl - The Last Warning , directed by Anthony Page .

In 2006, ITV produced the drama The Girls Who Came To Stay . The film tells the story of a couple who take care of two girls from Belarus. It turns out that the girls were exposed to high levels of radiation at the time of the accident.

In 2011 the multi-award-winning short film Seven Years of Winter was made under the direction of Marcus Schwenzel. In his short film, the director tells the drama of the orphan Andrei, who four years after the Chernobyl disaster is sent by the fence Artyom to the nuclear area of ​​the reactor to plunder the abandoned apartments.

In February 2011, the feature film took part in the competition program of the Berlinale 2011 on a Saturday . The Russian-Ukrainian-German coproduction tells the story of the failure of a young party official and his friends to escape. Immediately after the accident, he had already recognized its grave consequences.

Also from 2011 is the feature film Wounded Earth . It is about the consequences of the catastrophe on the life of a young woman.

On April 26, 2011, a benefit concert was held in the Berlin Philharmonic to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

In 2011 the Wendland Film Cooperative published a portrait of Rostislav Omeljaschko, co-founder of the historical-cultural expeditions to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and accompanied him several times to the exclusion zone.

The documentary The Wolves of Chernobyl , broadcast in 2015 , deals with the effects of radioactivity on the animal world.

The documentary ZDF History: The Chernobyl Legacy from 2016 is particularly about the findings - such as a significantly larger circle of responsible persons and more extensive consequences - which Valery Legasov , the head of the investigation committee, named in his audio legacy and before was never allowed to publish.

The television series Chernobyl by HBO in 2019, shows the consequences of the nuclear disaster of April 1986 and is expected to largely rely on real facts. However, the series has been criticized several times for partly factually incorrect representations and exaggerations. However, the series was largely enthusiastically received by the audience and was briefly the best-rated series in the Internet Movie Database . Tourism operators reported that interest in Chernobyl travel "rose dramatically" after the HBO series aired. Russian media described the series as an "anti-Russia propaganda work".

In 2020, the Ukrainian secret service SBU and the Institute of National Memory published previously secret documents and minutes of official talks on the nuclear disaster.


In 1987 the album Liebe, Tod & Teufel by the Austrian music group EAV published the song Burli , which was written in response to the nuclear disaster .

On March 23, 2007, the game STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl , which is set after a fictitious accident in 2008 in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, was released. This was followed by the parts STALKER: Clear Sky (September 5, 2008, EU) and STALKER: Call of Pripyat (November 5, 2009, DE).

On May 25, 2012, Brad Parker's Chernobyl Diaries was a horror film in the United States. The film based on a script by Oren Peli is based, plays 25 years after the disaster in Pripyat .

The action film Die Hard - A Good Day to Die (2013) is set in part in the contaminated restricted area from which nuclear-weapon- grade uranium is to be recovered.

The International Atomic Energy Agency also mentioned this type of RBMK reactor before the Chernobyl nuclear disaster . In a publication available on her website (IAEO Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 2) she speaks of the “economically fully justified construction” of this type of reactor and that with very little effort (by increasing the power density in the core) an increase in output of 1000 MW el. To 1500 MW el. Can be achieved.

The Ukrainian name Чорнобиль (Tschornobyl) denotes the type of plant Artemisia vulgaris ( mugwort ), which is sometimes confused with wormwood ( Artemisia absinthium ). Therefore, the nuclear disaster was associated with a passage from biblical revelation: “The name of the star is wormwood. A third of the water became bitter and many people died from the water. "( Rev 8:11  EU )

See also


Country reports from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
  • SK Shoigu, LA Bolshov (Ed.): Twenty years of the Chernobyl accident. Results and Problems in Eliminating Its Consequences in Russia 1986–2006. Russian National Report . Moscow 2006, PDF ( Memento from February 1, 2012 in the Internet Archive ).
  • 20 years after Chornobyl Catastrophe. Future outlook: National Report of Ukraine . Kiev 2006, ISBN 966-326-172-2 , (PDF; 7.4 MB) ( Memento from January 4, 2014 in the Internet Archive ).
  • VE Shevchuk, VL Gurachevsky (Ed.): 20 Years after the Chernobyl Catastrophe: the consequences in the Republic of Belarus and their overcoming. National report . Committee on the Problems of the Consequences of the Catastrophe at the Chernobyl NPP under the Belarusian Council of Ministers, Minsk 2006, ISBN 985-01-0628-X , ZIP file ( Memento from February 1, 2012 in the Internet Archive ).

Reports from IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR
  • UNSCEAR 2008 Report. Sources and effects of ionizing radiation . Volume 2. Annex D - Health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident . New York 2011, online (PDF)
  • IAEA (Ed.): The Chernobyl accident: Updating of INSAG-1: INSAG-7: A report by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group . Vienna 1992, ISBN 92-0-104692-8 , online (PDF)
  • Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine . April 2006, online (PDF)
  • IAEA (Ed.): Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Impacts (...). Press release (German), September 2005 ( PDF ( Memento of April 13, 2006 in the Internet Archive ))
  • Ian Fairlie, David Sumner: The other report on Chernobyl (TORCH). An independent scientific evaluation of a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Berlin / Brussels / Kiev 2006 ( PDF online ).
  • Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and Their Remediation: Twenty Years of Experience . Report of the UN Chernobyl Forum Expert Group "Environment" (EGE), August 2005 online (PDF)
  • Burton Bennett, Michael Repacholi, Zhanat Carr (Eds.): Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programs. Report of the UN Chernobyl Forum Expert Group "Health" . World Health Organization, Geneva 2006, ISBN 92-4-159417-9 , ( PDF , 1.6 MB).
Further literature
  • Götz Buttermann, Hanns Seidel Foundation (Ed.) Radioactivity and Radiation Chernobyl - Medicine - Technology , Verlag RS Schulz, Percha 1988, ISBN 3-7962-0183-0 .
  • Svetlana Alexievich : Chernobyl, A Chronicle of the Future. 3. Edition. Piper, Munich / Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-492-30625-6 .
  • Ian Fairlie, David Sumner: The Other Report on Chernobyl (TORCH) . Berlin / Brussels / Kiev 2006, ( PDF ( Memento from April 20, 2011 in the Internet Archive )).
  • P. Zoriy, H. Dederichs, J. Pillath, B. Heuel-Fabianek, P. Hill, R. Lennartz Long-term observation of the dose exposure of the population in radioactively contaminated areas of Belarus - Korma Study II (1998–2015) . Verlag Forschungszentrum Jülich, ISBN 978-3-95806-137-8 , 2016 Korma study II study
  • Gerd Ludwig , Michail Gorbatschow (essay): The long shadow of Chernobyl. Illustrated book, Edition Lammerhuber, 2014, ISBN 978-3-901753-66-4 ( picture preview) . Photo book with current photos from inside the reactor.
  • Vjačeslav Šestopalov, et al .: Groundwater vulnerability: Chernobyl nuclear disaster. American Geophysical Union, Washington 2015, ISBN 978-1-118-96219-0 .
  • Fabian Lüscher, Stefan Guth: Chernobyl 1986 - a completely normal accident? RGOW 4/2016, pp. 6–10. PDF
  • Adam Higginbotham: Midnight in Chernobyl - The Secret Story of the Greatest Nuclear Disaster of All Time . First edition. S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 2019, ISBN 978-3-10-002538-8 . Retelling of the events in the style of a thriller, based on extensive sources and interviews of the people acting at the time
  • Plochij, Serhij Mykolajovyc: Chernobyl - History of a tragedy . Penguin Random House, 2019, ISBN 978-0-141-98835-1 . Retelling of the events as a non-fiction book, based on extensive sources and interviews of the people acting at the time
  • Kate Brown: Manual for survival - A Chernobyl guide to the future . Penguin Random House, 2020, ISBN 978-0-141-98854-2 . Interviews with survivors and current researchers in the region held as a travel report
  • Johannes Grotzky : Chernobyl. The catastrophe. Contemporary reports, commentaries, reviews. Norderstedt 2018, ISBN 978-3-75280-414-0 .


  • Information Circle KernEnergie (Ed.): The reactor accident in Chernobyl. Causes of accidents, consequences of accidents and their management, securing and disposal of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. 4th edition. Hermann Schlesener KG, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-926956-48-4 , online (PDF)
  • 20 years after Chernobyl - a balance sheet from the point of view of radiation protection . Report of the Radiation Protection Commission (SSK) of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Issue 50, H. Hoffmann, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-87344-127-6 , ISSN  0948-308X .
  • Peter Jacob, Werner Rühm, Herwig G. Paretzke: 20 years of Chernobyl - the health effects. In: Physics Journal. Volume 5, Number 4, 2006, pp. 43–49, (online)
  • Melanie Arndt: Uncertainty before and after the disaster. From the anti-nuclear movement to the commitment to the “Chernobyl children”. In: Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History. 7 2010, pp. 240-258.
  • Gerd Ludwigs, Michail Gorbatschow: The long shadow of Chernobyl. Illustrated book. Edition Lammerhuber, Baden 2017.


  • The effects of the Chernobyl reactor accident on Austria . Contributions to food affairs, veterinary administration, radiation protection . In: Federal Chancellery - Section VII, Ernst Bobek (Ed.): Research reports . 2. verb. Edition. tape 2/88 . Austrian Staatsdr., Vienna 1988 ( PDF , - contemporary summary).
  • P.Bossew, et al .: Cesium pollution of soils in Austria . Monographs. Ed .: Federal Environment Agency. tape 60 . Vienna March 1996 (excerpt from the Federal Environment Agency press office , news archive 2006, quoted in Chernobyl and the consequences for Austria , - 20-year status).
  • Peter Bossew, Martin Gerzabek, Franz Josef Maringer, Claudia Seidel, Thomas Waldhör, Christian Vutuc: Study "Chernobyl Consequences in Upper Austria" . Final report. Ed .: University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Department of Forest and Soil Sciences. Vienna April 2006 ( Study "Chernobyl Consequences in Upper Austria" ( Memento from December 24, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) [PDF] Investigation of the health effects of the Chernobyl reactor disaster in particularly polluted areas of Upper Austria; on behalf of the Province of Upper Austria. General part and special study of the with the most heavily polluted zones in Austria).

Web links

Commons : Chernobyl nuclear disaster  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident, WHO (2016)
  2. IPPNW Report 2016 - 30 years after Chernobyl, 5 years after Fukushima. (PDF) Retrieved January 14, 2020 .
  3. ^ The Chernobyl accident UNSCEAR's assessments of the radiation effects, UNSCEAR
  4. E. Cardis et al: 20 years on: Cancer Consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Journal of radiological protection (2006).
  5. UNSCEAR 2008 Report to the General Assembly with Scientific Annexes, Volume II. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), New York 2011
  6. "14. May 1986: Speech Michail Gorbachev ", archive of the SWR, March 10, 2016 [1]
  7. Chernobyl was the cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union in Der Standard from July 11, 2006; accessed on April 26, 2021
  8. a b c Grigory Medvedev: Burned Souls - The Chernobyl Catastrophe . Hanser, Munich 1991.
  9. ^ Information circle on nuclear energy (ed.): Chernobyl. The reactor accident . Bonn 1996, p. 5, (PDF) ( Memento from April 9, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  10. a b c d e f g h i j k Information Circle KernEnergie (ed.): The reactor accident in Chernobyl. 4th edition. Hermann Schlesener KG, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-926956-48-4 , online (PDF)
  11. International Atomic Energy Agency (ed.): The Chernobyl accident: Updating of INSAG-1: INSAG-7. P. 119.
  12. International Atomic Energy Agency (ed.): The Chernobyl accident: Updating of INSAG-1: INSAG-7. P. 67.
  13. ^ A b International Atomic Energy Agency (ed.): The Chernobyl accident: Updating of INSAG-1: INSAG-7. P. 114.
  14. International Atomic Energy Agency (ed.): The Chernobyl accident: Updating of INSAG-1: INSAG-7. P. 128.
  15. International Atomic Energy Agency (ed.): The Chernobyl accident: Updating of INSAG-1: INSAG-7. P. 69.
  16. Grigory Medvedev: Burned Souls - The Chernobyl Catastrophe. Hanser Verlag, Munich 1991, p. 172 f.
  17. Sigrid Totz: Chernobyl: The Accident ( Memento from August 12, 2013 in the Internet Archive ). March 28, 2006, , (accessed April 17, 2011).
  18. Chernobyl: Chronicle of the reactor accident . , (accessed April 17, 2011).
  19. YouTube : The Tagesschau (2:11 am) from May 1, 1986 (the corresponding photo can be found at minute 1:01)
  20. ^ IAEA: Ten Years after Chernobyl: What do we really know? . 1996, (accessed April 19, 2011).
  21. Constantin Seibt: They called themselves biorobots . In: Tages-Anzeiger . March 28, 2011, ISSN  1422-9994 ( [accessed June 12, 2019]).
  22. Partly based on: Chernobyl: Anatomy of a Catastrophe. In: Stern . Issue 17, 2006, (online) , (accessed April 17, 2011).
  23. Nicolaus Schröder: Chernobyl sarcophagus: Golden grave or sensible protection? (No longer available online.) Bayerischer Rundfunk , April 26, 2012, archived from the original on March 12, 2017 ; accessed on March 9, 2017 .
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Coordinates: 51 ° 23 '22 "  N , 30 ° 5' 57"  E