Biomedical issues of minimizing the consequences of the accident
Biomedical issues of minimizing the consequences of the accident

The explosion of the nuclear power plant reactor and the release of a huge amount of pollution into the atmosphere caused a number of medical and biological problems, which include the quality of water and water supply, the livelihoods of residents of contaminated territories, in particular Kiev, the need to decontaminate soil, air, water and food and protect health the general population. And solution of all these problems could only be based on deep knowledge. That is, scientists have been again entrusted with large and complex tasks.

The accident occurred during a series of tests. Among the causes of the explosion are:

  • design errors;
  • unskilled personnel actions;
  • shutdown of the security system during the experiment.

At the time of the explosion of a nuclear reactor, its depressurization occurred, as a result of which the radioactive substances contained in nuclear fuel fell into the environment. In the first hours of the accident, Ukrainian lands were not subjected to the most massive radiation pollution.

As you know, at first the air masses carried radiation clouds, mainly, on the Belarusian territory. In this regard, Belarus received 60% of the total pollution. At the same time, about 50% of radionuclides fell outside the former Union. This was due to the fact that a volcano with a height of 1.5-5 km was formed over the destroyed reactor of the 4th Chernobyl NPP unit, which threw out nuclear fission products for 40 days, until the chain reaction zone was littered with sediments.

During this time, radionuclides rose to a height of 10 km, from where radiation clouds spread them over certain territories of Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania. Harmful substances fell out with precipitation there. The main burden of eliminating the social problems of the Chernobyl disaster fell on the Ukrainian SSR. Authorities resettled residents within a 30-kilometer radius from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, forming an exclusion zone. 5 million hectares of land were taken from the agricultural fund.

Radionuclide Contamination Monitoring

To develop a monitoring system for radionuclide contamination of vegetation cover and soil, the Department of Biophysics and Radiobiology of the Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR organized an expeditionary survey of Kiev, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, Vinnitsa, Cherkasy and other areas, as well as the coastal zone of the Dnieper River basin.

The presence of appropriate trained radiation safety specialists was necessary to carry out a huge volume of dosimetric studies. The Institute for Nuclear Research has trained more than 350 qualified specialists for these purposes.

Among the most complex and pressing issues facing science was the supply of clean water to the population of Ukraine, with the possible pollution of the main source of drinking water – the Dnieper River, since 12 types of radionuclides were detected in its waters in appreciable quantities.

On May 6, 1986, the chairman of the standing commission on the problems of water supply V.M. Shestopalov prepared information on priority measures for organizing water supply for the population in the territory exposed to radioactive contamination.

Based on the achievements of this commission, a meeting was held with the participation of B.E. Paton on the problem of drinking water purification from the Dnieper. At the same time, the question was raised of creating operational monitoring of the surface and underground hydrospheres of the Dnieper River basin within the Ukrainian SSR, with a parallel analysis of the sorption capacity of sludge. Thus, the task was to simultaneously study water pollution and to develop any possible methods for its purification.

The organization of work on the study of the pollution of the hydrosphere of Ukraine as a whole was assigned to the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. Already on April 29, 1986, the first data were obtained on increasing the radioactivity of water in the Kiev reservoir and the tributaries of the rivers that empty into it.

A big problem in the zone of influence of the Chernobyl disaster was the need to protect groundwater and water intakes from surface sources of pollution: radioactive stains and drains, burial sites of radioactive waste, and more. Its solution was to give impetus to further research in the field of radioecology.

Radiation is not always fatal, the main thing is the quality of medical care

According to official statistics, there are almost two million people affected by the Chernobyl accident today in Ukraine. The number of Chernobyl victims decreases annually, and annually most of them discover new diseases. These are mainly oncological diseases.

And if in the past years the victims of the Chernobyl disaster developed thyroid cancer, breast cancer and leukemia, now, 33 years after the accident, Chernobyl patients are expected, including the development of cancer of the digestive system. This is also known in the National Scientific Center for Radiation Medicine of the National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine.

The liquidators of the Chernobyl accident say that they would like better medical support. And doctors tell us that, among other things, they lack modern diagnostic equipment, in turn, those who develop it complain about the lack of adequate funding for scientific programs for research on the effects of Chernobyl on the human body.

For the first time, world society recognized the connection of Chernobyl only with thyroid cancer in those who lived in radioactively contaminated areas or those who were evacuated. Later, studies were conducted, and the connection of the Chernobyl disaster with radiation cataracts, for example, of the female genital organs was proved, and these studies are now recognized by the world medical community. Society is very slowly building up knowledge.

We need good epidemiological studies, in which not only the Chernobyl victims themselves, but also the entire progressive world community would be interested. Epidemiologists are ready for serious scientific research, together with doctors they are waiting for the proper financing of such “expensive research programs.” How can one not recall the words of Professor Dmitry Bazyka: “One should not think that radiation is fatal, the main thing is the quality of medical care.”

Joint US-Ukrainian project

“Our staff conducted epidemiological studies among 110,000 participants in the liquidation of the Chernobyl accident,” Dimitry Bazyka, a general director of the Center for Radiation Medicine says. “These are high-class epidemiological studies that until recently were not conducted in Ukraine. We started these studies with the United States National Cancer Institute in 1997”.

In 1999, an interstate agreement was signed between Ukraine and the United States on the study of the medical consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. When a separate patient is diagnosed with cancer in front of the doctor, it is impossible to establish why he became ill and whether the cause is really due to radiation received more than three decades ago. But if there is data from tens of thousands of liquidators, then they can be compared with the incidence rate throughout Ukraine – then this is a fact proven scientifically.

Ukrainian scientists, together with American colleagues, have been conducting the study of the relationship between radiation and oncology since the late nineties. The results of this joint study have already become the property of world science. Today it is proved that every third case of leukemia in liquidators is caused by exposure to radiation.

It has been proven that thyroid cancer growth is associated with radiation, and that radiation cataract of the eye can develop at significantly lower doses than previously thought. Thanks to Ukrainian-American cooperation, we were able to obtain data that are recognized by the whole world, we have made a breakthrough in the field of radiation biology and medicine.

A joint project to study the long-term consequences of Chernobyl continues today. Together with the Americans, Ukrainian scientists are looking for the answer to the question: is there an increased risk of getting cancer for the second generation, the descendants of the Chernobyl victims? For this, genetic changes are studied in fifty families — parents exposed to radiation, and the children who were born to them after that.

The project will help to prove whether there are risks or not, and how much the radioactive dose received by the parents is dangerous for posterity”. As they say at the Center for Radiation Medicine, the echoes of Chernobyl will last in the form of increased statistics on cancer at least another 20-30 years. Medicine must be ready to respond to these challenges.

1986: sisters of mercy in white coats

“Over the years, thousands of people in white coats passed through medical unit-1, located in Chernobyl. Most of them returned home, honestly and professionally fulfilling their duty. But there were those who remained at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant – the most persistent, convinced that it was impossible to do without them, consciously taking risks, for the sake of the health of others.

For a third, the personnel of MSCh-1 consisted of those who arrived at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, in the first days after the accident. Alas, among the physicians were also those whom the acute radiation sickness had first torn off from fulfilling professional duty, then from the family, and as a result, it had taken life. Doctors are people too, radiation did not spare anyone. A native of Chernobyl, Lyudmila Dmitrievna Sutkova, worked in Pripyat before the Chernobyl accident, she was on shift on the night of the accident – she was on duty at the clinic. “It was not scary,” she said.

Only it was very unfortunate that everyone who was burned, those who were brought to us that night from the station. We did everything to ease their terrible suffering. We ourselves did not understand what happened. We had no remedies; many doctors and nurses received radiation from the fact that they later understood the reasons for what happened. It was scary to look at the guys who were brought from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant”.

Maria Petrovna Dudarenko was on duty at the clinic on the night of the tragedy, she stayed after the night shift along with her friend and nurse and continued to receive patients from Pripyat on the morning of April 27. Nurses helped prepare patients for dispatch to specialized clinics, alleviated the suffering of those irradiated and burned. And there are hundreds of such stories.

The Chernobyl accident became a litmus test that revealed the problems of centralized management in the Soviet Union. On the one hand, the fate of the republic was controlled by the Center, but the Moscow party leadership behaved incorrectly in the conditions of eliminating the consequences of the disaster. It preferred to keep silent about the problem, rather than informing citizens about the danger.

As a result, evacuation from the exclusion zone began a day later, and in Kiev, in the first days after the disaster, the population was in full swing preparing for May Day street celebrations. At the same time, the radiation background had already exceeded the norm by several times in the Ukrainian capital. But who then cared?