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Chernobyl Liquidators: An Analysis of Government Response and Deployment
When the Chernobyl nuclear accident took place, the government responded with Chernobyl Liquidators. Their effectiveness has been questioned, and the way they have been treated after the fact has also been questioned. As with most disasters that are cleaned up by human beings, people who were on that team often get sick at a later date. There is sometimes no rhyme or reason to why some of them get sick and others do not, but there are generally deep concerns about whether anyone who does become ill is compensated correctly for the pain and suffering that have occurred in their lives. The Chernobyl incident occurred on April 26, 2986, and there were many people from the Russian population that were called in to help clean up. They were called clean-up workers, but they also gained the name "liquidators." Certificates were given to more than 600,000, recognizing them as liquidators and acknowledging their help in the matter (Cheney, 1995).
Of course, those people were exposed to radiation. Then, in the 1990s, the U.S.S.R. dissolved. That made it very difficult to acquire any of the health records for the individuals who had worked as liquidators in the past. They are scattered in various countries throughout that region, and the Russian government has not been faithful about keeping accurate records of the Chernobyl incident. It is likely that there are not even good estimates regarding the actual extent of the damage. Physicians in Belarus did studies, however, that showed cancer diagnoses to be approximately four times higher in the population of liquidators than it is in the standard, overall population of Russian people (Cheney, 1995). The figures quoted by any and all agencies are completely controversial, so there is no certainty to any of the data. Further, there is no way to get or prove certainty in the data, especially after this much time has passed. People who study the incident are left with more questions than answers.
Chernobyl has been classified as the worst nuclear disaster in history (Read, 1993). The cost of the cleanup crippled the economy in the U.S.S.R. For some time, and the human cost was also very great. Even now, there are still people feeling the effects of the cleanup in which they participated after Chernobyl. A systems test on the day of the incident resulted in a power surge that was unexpected. Because of the surge, workers attempted an emergency shutdown. Instead of working correctly, this caused another, more aggressive power surge to take place. A reactor vessel ruptured because of this, and explosions began. The graphite moderator was then exposed to the air, which caused its ignition. The fire that occurred from this ignition sent radioactive smoke and fallout into the air (Medvedev, 1991). People who lived nearby were evacuated, and many of them were resettled somewhere else because it was not safe for them to return to their homes and businesses after the disaster.
Nuclear issues are not like floods and fires, where people can go home after the immediate danger has passed. Instead, radiation lingers and continues to cause problems for a long period of time. There was a multi-disciplinary response to the incident, but in some cases there was nothing to be done. Unprotected workers who did not expect the explosion and resulting fire and smoke cloud received a lethal dose of radiation within just a few minutes time. There was nothing that could be done for those individuals. The dosimeters that were used to measure the radiation after the incident did not register high enough to tell workers the actual radiation level. They only showed "off scale," which indicated that the radiation was above 0.001 R/s (Medvedev, 1990; Read, 1993). It is highly possible that the radiation levels were much higher in some areas and some cases, but could not be measured as such. The lower readings meant that the reactor crew chief assumed the reactor was still intact. The other evidence - reactor fuel and pieces of graphite lying around the building - were completely ignored by the chief and his crew. They remained in the building until the morning, pumping water into the reactor. Within three weeks, the majority of them were dead of…[continue]
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