Society

How Many People Have Died In Chernobyl?

The number of people who died from the Chernobyl accident is hard to know. Reports say that no more than 54 persons lost their lives because of the accident. Is it true?

The exact number of people who died from the Chernobyl accident is hard to estimate. While the official reports say that no more than 54 persons lost their lives because of the accident, the speculations of possible deaths caused by the radiation effects go up to hundreds of thousands. 

Reactor 4 Explosion

On 26 April 1986, reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew up. This was one of the most terrifying accidents ever to happen when it comes to nuclear power plants, and the full range of effects that were caused by nuclear fallout was something practically unknown to mankind.

After the initial reports of the incidents came in, it was confirmed that 30 people died because they were exposed to radiation; people that were working in the power plant along with the firemen that came to deal with the fire. However, a lot more people were diagnosed with so-called ARS, which stands for acute radiation syndrome. ARS was confirmed with 134 people, and 28 of them died in the next couple of weeks after the incident. 

Aerial shot of Chernobyl nuclear reactors with straight canals around in spring
Aerial shot of Chernobyl nuclear reactors with straight canals.

The Effects Of Radiation

When it comes to real numbers, it can be speculated that millions of people were affected by the radiation that poured out of Chernobyl’s reactor 4. Although the reactor was closed down relatively fast, as it was covered in concrete layers by October of 1986, the highly radioactive material buried underneath is still a significant threat to the environment around it. Despite the efforts of trying to cover up the leaking radiation, everyone who worked at the power plant or treated the people that came injured out of Chernobyl were exposed to high levels of radiation. 

It is estimated that close to 600,000 people helped with the clean-up work after the explosion, dealing with the radioactive debris in and around the Chernobyl power plant. With that, more than 350,000 people had to relocate away from the leaking reactor. The exclusion zone was around 1000 square miles from the power plant.  

How Many Died From Cancer?

The report done by the United Nations has estimated that more than 3 million people have been affected by the radiation and that the actual danger zone expands over 20,000 square miles. Another research that was delivered by the Union of Concerned Scientists speculates that even 27,000 people would die because of cancers that were caused by high levels of radiation.

Barbed wire fence and radioactive sign on the nuclear chemical power plant's field in Chernobyl Pripyat atmosphere.
Barbed wire fence and radioactive sign on the nuclear chemical power plant's field in Chernobyl Pripyat atmosphere.

This is further supported by the fact that a lot of thyroid type cancers, caused by the fallout of radioactive iodine, appeared in people that were just children when the Chernobyl incident happened. Another study done by Greenpeace is the darkest one for sure, as it suggests that 200,000 people already died because of cancers caused by the radiation from Chernobyl. 

However, the official death count that stands the same from the Soviet Union days is only 31. The only acknowledged deaths are of the two people that died on the day of the explosion, and 29 others who worked in the power plant or came to help, that died within a couple of weeks of the Chernobyl incident. 

About the Author

Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.

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