Google Maps user finds ‘scary’ statue in Chernobyl
The catastrophic accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant occurred on April 26, 1986, in the No. 4 nuclear reactor close to the city of Pripyat, in north Ukraine. The event saw 400 times more radioactive material than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sent into the sky and land in the surrounding area. Locals were evacuated and told to pack enough for three days, however, most never returned.
But it was not just the immediate surrounding areas in the Soviet Union that were affected – the poisonous radiation that spewed into the atmosphere drifted over Western Europe, causing a spike in radiation-related diseases and deaths in the following years.
Declassified files in 2017 showed how Whitehall was plunged into chaos over what to do while former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was out of the country on an official visit to Japan.
A report by Number 10 detailed how “Whitehall lacked a firm lead” over the bank holiday weekend.
It stated: “Anxious telephone callers inundated Maff [the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries] and seriously hampered communications.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986
The accident occurred in the No. 4 nuclear reactor
“Not until after the weekend did DoE and environment ministers firmly take charge of the Government’s response.
“Before that, the ill-coordinated nature of the information and advice aroused rather than calmed public anxiety.”
Officials were said to have been thrown into dismay when they discovered there was no contingency plan for dealing with an incident involving an overseas nuclear facility.
In one moment of pure “farce,” Environment Minister William Waldegrave mistakenly gave out the telephone number for the Department of the Environment (DoE) drivers’ pool instead of Whitehall’s technical information centre during a radio interview.
Then, Environment Secretary Kenneth Baker sought to assure the public the risks were “insignificant,” only for John Dunster, the head of the National Radiological Protection Board, to say the death toll in the UK would run to “tens of people”.
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The radioactive material carried over into the UK
Mr Dunster had to explain the next day that the “tens of deaths” would arise from cancer over the next 30 to 40 years.
The report explained: “Both conclusions derived from the same assumption and analysis. Mr Dunster was quantifying what he regarded as an insignificant risk.”
Mrs Thatcher complained the Government had given the “appearance of disarray” when she returned.
The Government later banned the sale of sheep across thousands of farms on the basis that the animals had likely ingested radioactive material from fallout absorbed by plants.
In June of the same year, almost 9,000 British farms were affected by restrictions brought in on the movement and sale of sheep meat.
The area nearby was evacuated
This meant livestock had to be scanned by officials before they were allowed to enter the food chain.
Parts of Cumbria, Scotland and Northern Ireland were impacted, but North Wales was hardest hit, with sheep still failing radioactive tests 10 years after the accident.
The last restrictions on the movement and sale of sheep in the UK were lifted in 2012.
Most of the background radiation present in the UK today comes from radon as opposed to the fallout from Chernobyl.
The odourless, colourless gas is formed by the radioactive decay of the small amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils.
In the UK, Public Health England (PBS) has calculated that on average people are exposed to about 2.7 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation a year.
Most residents never returned
However, in their report they also stipulated that the average background dose is more than twice that in Cornwall, at 6.9 mSv per year.
Drivers passing across the border from Somerset into Devon encounter a sign that reads: “Warning: You are now entering a radioactive area.”
High levels of radon are present wherever the land is rich in granite, a material particularly conducive to the formation of radon gas.
This means high levels are also present in Aberdeen – as well as in parts of northern Wales, north-west Northern Ireland, the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District.
But they are perfectly safe, according to health experts.
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In a CT scan, the organ being studied typically receives a radiation dose of 15 mSv in an adult to 30 mSv in a newborn infant.
Exposure to 100 mSv a year is the lowest level at which any increase in cancer risk has clearly observed.
Researchers caution that a cumulative 1,000 mSv would probably cause a fatal cancer many years later in five out of every 100 persons exposed to it.
The radiation levels in the worst-hit areas of the reactor building in Chernobyl were estimated at 300,000 mSv.