#8 A myth-busting timeline

Here’s a timeline list of some of the most authoritative accounts of the effects of the Chernobyl accident. If you’d rather something cripser, try the World Nuclear Association’s sharp and well-referenced account

1986, August: UN-IAEA-USSR assessment meeting, 25 August (and an IAEA  document INSAG-1)
This was the crucial meeting at which Soviet specialists gave a surprisingly frank but still slanted account of the causes and effects of the accident. It seems to have provided the acceptable common ground which allowed the West to work with the Soviets as honest partners in the cleanup.

The western experts accepted that the USSR had been right to evacuate the 50,000 inhabitants of Pripyat, and people from the 30-kilometre Zone around the plant. They accepted more reluctantly that it may have been right to evacuate 135,000 people from land under the “plume” or radiation. They accepted that children had received iodine (which should have guarded them against thyroid cancers), though they were worried about the doses and timing of the medication.

Editor’s note: I can’t find this online now, 2011

1988, May: Kiev meeting of Soviet and international health experts
The scale of the disaster was presented for perhaps the first time. Soviet scientists admitted that “17.5 million people, including 2.5 million children under seven, had lived in the most seriously affected areas of Russia, Belorussia and the Ukraine. 135,000 had been evacuated from Pripyat and the 30-kilometre zone. Pregnant women and as many as 350,000 children had been sent to sanatoriums, rest homes and Pioneer holiday camps”. [a316] 25,000 square kilometres of land and 2,225 towns and villages were affected – 1,846 in Belorussia alone. [a320]

The Soviet scientists insisted, though, that the initial assessment of casualties remained accurate: 31 dead, with 209 under observation for varying degrees of radiation sickness. But, said one: “One must say definitely that we can today be certain that there are no effects of the Chernobyl accident on human heath”. A318

Editor’s note: I’m afraid I can’t now find the reference for the quotes above. But there is a useful NYT account of the upshot of the conference’s work:

1992: IAEA:  IAEA  document INSAG-7 (updating the earlier INSAG-1)

1996: Chernobyl, IAEA Bulletin, Volume 38, Number 3 – a report of the International Chernobyl Conference, Vienna,  April 1996

2005, September: UN assessment, Chernobyl’s Legacy: health, environmental and socio-economic impact

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Publication date

22 January 2011


Mind & body