Chernobyl, Fukushima
Different Accidents, Similar Consequences

Chernobyl // Sputnik

The April 26, 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant affected the lives of millions of people. Nearly 8.4 million residents of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were exposed to radiation and more than 400,000 were relocated from heavily polluted territories. There are about five million people, including around 1.6 million in Russia currently living in areas with a low level of radiation but officially recognized as polluted. All these people have been monitored by health authorities for more than 30 years now.
The medical and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl disaster have been compounded by many negative social and socio-psychological processes that remain relevant to this day. Many of them are very much similar to what people resettled from contaminated areas after the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant in Japan have experienced and continue to experience today.

Above all, this is increased anxiety which they felt in the immediate aftermath of the accident and which many of them still feel now. This is largely due to the fact that people did not know what happened or how to react. In the absence of reliable and sufficient information in the first days and months after the accident at the NPP, people could not assess the danger and decide whether to leave or stay, to let children go outside or not, what to eat and what not to, etc. What they feel now is irrational fear, unrelated to the fact that their lives are not currently in danger. But this is the psychological aftereffect of the catastrophe they have experienced.

In another consequence of the Chernobyl disaster people lost their trust in authorities, health workers, scientists, international organizations, including the IAEA and WHO which is exactly what happened to people after the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents. To avoid panic, the authorities did not provide full information about had happened. However, sometimes they were not completely in the know themselves and could not quickly and adequately assess the situation.
Twenty years after Chernobyl, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev admitted: "The government did not hide the truth about the Chernobyl disaster. It just did not know the whole truth itself." In the absence of official information, people relied on hearsay feeding off rumors. This further exacerbated the situation and the general atmosphere of distrust.

After the Chernobyl catastrophe many people were evacuated and experienced serious stress caused by what is called the destruction of the community. Rapid resettlement, the breakdown of social ties, changing lifestyle, a sense of uncertainty, fear of unemployment in a new place – all these symptoms were observed in people after the Chernobyl accident and in Fukushima. Years later, this stress has dissipated but the anxiety for the health of children and future generations is still there.

This parental anxiety has been passed onto their children. Even though children's adaptive abilities are better than in adults, many of them also experienced stress and a sense of discomfort, for example, when they were teased by their classmates in a new school.

Here is an excerpt from the interview Sputnik had with Belarusian journalist Ales Dostanko who witnessed the events of those days:

"I was 12 when the children of people resettled from the contaminated areas came to our summer camp. We did not know what contaminated territories were really all about, but we still felt that radiation is a scary thing. Initially we avoided mixing with them. Some called them "Chernobyl hedgehogs" and the moniker stuck. I think it contained both sympathy and fear of catching radiation, as if it were some sort of virus."
According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Education of Japan, similar discrimination and bullying by peers was also experienced by children evacuated from the area around the crippled Fukushima-1 nuclear station.

Only after the Fukushima accident did the world nuclear community finally adopt unprecedented safety requirements for nuclear power plants. Automated radiation control systems are now in place around all of Russia's nuclear power plants allowing anyone who would like to assess the situation not only at nuclear power plants, but also at other radiation-hazardous facilities. However, the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters have left such a deep imprint on the public consciousness that the irrational fear of nuclear power plants and other nuclear enterprises still runs high and this applies in equal measure to both Russia and Japan.
Chernobyl // Sputnik
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