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Chernobyl ¿ ethical and environmental considerations

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1 Author(s)
Warner, Frederick ; University of Essex, Department of Chemistry, Colchester, UK

The paper summarises briefly the main facts of the Chernobyl incident, the reactions to it, and the consequences in terms of global atmospheric pollution. Meteorological conditions determined the pattern of fallout, which over the UK for Cs137 varied in the ratio 10: 4000 Bq/m2 (on grass). There has been poor understanding by the media and the public of the quantitative aspects, aggravated by the differing characteristics of the several radionuclides (15 are listed), and the recent use of SI units in the west (becquerel, gray, sievert), while USSR still uses the old units (curie, rad, rem). Very complete information on fallout in the British Isles was obtained from Bracknell's meteorological data and the atmospheric dispersion models operated at Imperial College. Within two weeks, the cloud had spread widely across the northern hemisphere to North America and Hong Kong, but none in the southern hemisphere. Transfer through food chains depended on the variety of circumstances: the monitoring programmes and control measures were found to be in need of improvement, as no criteria existed for the amounts that justify intervention in the supply of foodstuffs to the public. Long-term effects in the UK of the measured radiation from this incident, in terms of deaths per year attributed to cancer are statistically 125, but must be compared with 1200 due to natural radiation out of a total of 150000 cancer-related deaths, which, in turn, are about one quarter of all deaths. The genetic consequences are insignificant, compared with the effects of smoking, or becoming parents at an advanced age. The disaster has underlined the responsibilities of top management and of professional engineers, the need to promote a ?safety culture?, and the value of effective organisation, the international exchange of experience, and the role of the media in improving public information. In any nuclear emergency, there are now older engineers and scientists who are willing to volunteer their s- ervices, as exposure is of less consequence to them than it would be to younger staff.

Published in:

Physical Science, Measurement and Instrumentation, Management and Education - Reviews, IEE Proceedings A  (Volume:134 ,  Issue: 10 )

Date of Publication:

December 1987

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