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Chernobyl Liquidators



A heavy toll paid by firefighters and liquidators:

The magnitude of the disaster took the Soviet authorities by surprise. The urgency imposed dramatic conditions, but the habit of secrecy, combined with that of not having to be accountable, have lead these authorities to have hidden a time the nature and magnitude of the accident. For some firefighters and soldiers, protective measures were limited to a simple tissue over nose and mouth. Conscripts were called without being informed of the risks they face.

Air drops by helicopters
The plant personnel, firefighters and soldiers struggled to put the reactor under control. Helicopters were used to dump tons of sand and various materials on the ruins of the reactor to reduce the dispersion of radioactive matters and the direct exposure to radiation. Helicopter pilots were among the to intervene. Poorly protected, they received large amount of radiation and some of them paid with their lives for intervention.
BBC News

Tons of materials were first dumped by helicopter, then began the cleanup and the construction of a sarcophagus. They were hundreds of thousands to participate in these operations which lasted six months. They were called the liquidators. Conscripts were drafted without be much informed about the risks that they face. During some of the early timesinterventions, radioprotection measures were limited to a simple handkerchief over his nose and mouth.

An estimated 350,000 people, including soldiers, the plant staff, local police and firefighters were involvde in 1986 and 87 in the emergency measures and the containment and cleanup operations . Among them, 240,000 took part in major operations to mitigate the consequences of the accident at the reactor and in the exclusion zone.

An early intervention after the disaster
These images are taken from a film made during an early intervention intended to remove fragments of radioactive graphite from the roof of the twin reactor. They say more than words, the heroism of fire crews who were the first to intervene, the emergency, the derisory means given the magnitude of the disaster, the poignant absence of a significant radiation protection
CNRS/Images-Media

Later on the number of people registered as liquidators rose to 600,000. The exposures were very unequal. Some liquidators were exposed to high radiation levels, especially among the first teams that intervened on the site.

The liquidators medical monitoring is difficult since they belong to different nationalities (Russian, Ukrainian, Estonian ...) and they are now scattered throughout these republics of the former Soviet Union. The average dose from external radiation for the Russian liquidators, calculated from official data, is 108 mSv, 4.2% of liquidators having received more than 250 mSv.

The calculations on the number of victims are uncertain. By applying the rule of "LNT" recommended by the ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection), 3000 among the 600 000 liquidators of Chernobyl may die one day as a result of their exposure. This estimate assumes that the proportion between the number of deaths and the dose is the same as the proportion that was observed among the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the individual level, it will not be possible to distinguish cancers due to the accident from cancers due to other causes. Moreover, an excess of suicides was reported. The plight of the liquidators is also one of the consequences of the disaster.

The liquidators distress is sometimes increased by estimates not always based on reality. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the accident, a french television channel reported 400,000 deaths among the 600,000 liquidators. The same media reassessed to a million the total number of deaths from accident, 250 times the 4000 estimated in 2011 by the IAEA and ICRP agencies recognized for their competence and scientific honesty.

Inflation in numbers does not mean truth. With no ways to physically count the victims, passions and ideologies prevail unfortunately and often over reason. There is a certain irresponsibility in exploiting fears. Before diving into anxiety a Chernobyl liquidator by stating that two-thirds of his comrades have already died, check the calculations make sense.

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