Children and Parents Exposed to the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster: What to Know and What You Can Do to Help

In 1986 the world watched in horror as the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear disaster unfolded in the Soviet Union. It was by far the greatest nuclear power plant disaster the world has ever seen and left many people with serious lifelong health problems. Children and their parents were among the most exposed to its devastating effects. In the more than 30 years after the disaster in Ukraine, the knowledge of its long-term effects is still evolving. To this day, newer generations are still feeling the devastation of the accident and many questions remain unanswered. Read on to learn more about how children and parents were exposed to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, its potential long-term effects, and what we can do to help.

What Happened in Chernobyl

On April 26, 1986 the world witnessed the disaster that unfolded at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union (which is today Ukraine). Operator error caused an uncontrolled nuclear reaction and forced emergency evacuations of tens of thousands of people in the region.

The damage caused by the disaster was extensive. The nuclear accident and resulting fire released more than 400 times more radiation than the combined amount released by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War 2. It created an immense radioactive cloud, contaminating large portions of the Northern Hemisphere, including parts of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and other European countries.

It would be over ten years after the disaster occurred before the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was finally sealed off with a concrete shield. Over these years, intense radiation exposure to the citizens of the nearby town resulted in a major public health crisis with long-term effects that are still being studied and better understood.

How Children and Parents Were Exposed to the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster

At the time of the accident, most of the people living in the nearby town of Pripyat were evacuated. Despite being forced to leave their homes, to this day, many citizens of the affected area remain exposed to radiation.

Of those who stayed put and were exposed to the radiation, both parents and children were especially vulnerable due to their increased levels of physical contact and daily activities. Further, research conducted since the disaster is beginning to suggest that infants were among the most exposed of all since pregnant women were exposed during the most critical time of their babies’ development.

Apart from those living in the area, the accident continues to threaten the health and wellbeing of people living nearby today. The danger is attributed to the contaminated soil that has been spread in the area, as well as dust that still contains radioactive particles.

Potential Long-Term Effects

The short-term effects of the contamination were immediate. A sharp increase in the number of deaths from thyroid cancer, particularly among younger individuals was observed in the years immediately following the disaster.

Since then, further studies have been conducted and many further long-term effects have been uncovered. Developmental delays, birth defects, and genetic damage are among the most severe issues to be considered and endured by generations of affected individuals.

For instance, studies have shown that cases of premature death, thyroid cancer, leukaemia and other types of cancer, have all increased significantly in the area since the disaster. Babies born in the region are far more likely to have physical deformities than those born elsewhere, and the area continues to be affected by a variety of lingering health issues related to the radiation exposure.

How You Can Help the Children of Chernobyl

The best way to help those affected still living in the Chernobyl region is to provide donations to relief organizations that are working to help those in need. There are many local initiatives and non-profit organizations devoted to providing food, clothing, and medical supplies to families suffering from the health and economic consequences of this disaster.

Although it is impossible to undo the damage already done, awareness is an important step. Informing more people about the disaster in Chernobyl and its long-term effects is a good way to start taking action. The more people that are made aware of the issue, the more likely it is to become a priority and to eventually receive the attention and help it deserves.

As the decades pass since the fallout at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the effects of the accident have only become more apparent. While it is impossible to undo the damage caused by the disaster, learning more about it and lending a helping hand in any way possible is still possible. Every effort made in support of the children and families affected by the Chernobyl disaster is a step towards minimizing the continued suffering of those affected.