U.S. NRC Blog

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Moments in NRC History: Chernobyl’s Lessons Learned

On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Ukraine spewed radioactive material into the environment — with immediately tragic effects. Two workers at the site died within hours of the explosion from non-radiation causes. Another 134 suffered from acute radiation sickness, which was quickly fatal for 28 of them. An 18-mile radius around the plant was eventually closed and the population evacuated – not to return even to this day.

So begins a new YouTube video, posted today, that is the first of our “Moments in NRC History.” This video is narrated by the NRC’s historian, Tom Wellock, and highlights what the NRC – and the world’s nuclear industry — learned from this disaster.

“It was a world-wide phenomenon that is still being studied for its health effects and how to prevent and deal with severe reactor accidents,” he says in the video.

The video includes archival footage of Chernobyl and provides updates on the health effects of the accident. It also outlines the three major phases of the NRC’s investigation into the tragedy:

• determining the facts of the accident;

• assessing the accident’s implications for regulation in the U.S.; and

• conducting follow-up studies suggested by the assessment.

Chernobyl is an important historical milestone, the most severe accident in civilian industry history. It alone was rated a seven – the highest level – on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, until the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

“The goal is always to use history to prevent problems in the future,” Tom says.

We hope you take a few minutes to view this new video.

Eliot Brenner
Public Affairs Director

10 responses to “Moments in NRC History: Chernobyl’s Lessons Learned

  1. Banana August 22, 2012 at 7:41 am

    “Chernobyl is an important historical milestone, the most severe accident in civilian industry history.”

    Chernobyl was a huge accident, but the worst in history? No WAY! Any single plane crash could be worse, or Bhopal perhaps? Please think before you write.

    • Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm

      Banana you may want to do a little research before you comment. Chernobyl will remain at a dangerous radiological level for another 1000 years. People are still dying as a result of this disaster some 20+ years later. The danger of it is still a real threat as they race to build a new “shield” over the original one to prevent collapse. If it does collapse, we may be faced with another nuclear disaster of epic proportions. A single plane crash or the “one time” incident in Bhopal India pale in comparison to Chernobyl or Fukushima.

  2. joy cash August 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    The NRC’s silence regarding continuing dangers of Fukushima is deafening.
    San Onofre is our Fukushima in waiting.

  3. fresh August 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    By using history, we can see that accidents of all sorts are always tried to be covered up until the point that someone busts them and they have to fess up. By using history we can see how the greatest nuke researchers, the grand daddies of nuke, knew that we were opening a pandora’s box.

    Humans did not evolve just recently to become non-greedy, humans have not developed to ignore their bias to deny facts in front of their eyes, humans will not fess up until the damage is already done.

    By using history, we can see that the greatest good any nuclear pro, such as myself, can do, if to expedite the phase out of all nuke in a logical manner, starting with the Mark 1 clunkers in the USA first, while keeping all Japanese plants shut down.

  4. CaptD August 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    How about a video that is not an infomercial for the NRC?

    A few suggestions:

    ..1. Why the NRC cannot “field’ an actual 50 mile escape plan for US nuclear reactors?

    ..2. Meltdown can happen, despite NRC regulations, here is why…

    ,,3. Reactor leakage and what it could mean to you and your family.

    ..4. Historic NRC accident investigations and why they did not make the front page headlines.

    • Rick Maltese August 22, 2012 at 2:28 am

      Your suggestions imply that it is the NRC’s job to educate the public. Most current reactors have no guarantees that they will have no melt downs but it is also true that most airplanes have no guarantees that they won’t crash. The NRC does need some better PR after recent problems with the chairman stepping down. It would also be nice to know that the NRC will not be swayed by specific political influence from people like Harry Reid, Obama or others.

  5. Joffan August 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    One key lesson from Chernobyl remains almost completely unlearned, as evidenced by the events after Fukushima.

    In terms of public restrictions and evacuations, over-reaction to a radioactive release is likely (today) to be the worst consequence of any significant accident, as it induces anxiety, isolation, poor choices, and loss of both communities and economies. Setting – and sticking to – tolerable levels of public radiation exposure which are set on the basis of evidentiary harm, not merely models, is key to preparing for an accident. It is vital to distinguish between the controlled environment of a workplace, where extreme conservative levels can be achieved, and the uncontrolled situation following an accident where a realistic, not conservative, appropach is required. The Japanese are failing to live up to that by revising tolerable levels downwards on the basis on zero information and closing nuclear plants for no defensible reason. Greater harm is resulting from these restrictions on lives and losses of capability and prosperity from these measures.

    • fresh August 22, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      Uh, sure, I see, since the cancers generated from Fukushima will not be for years and decades, lets just pretend there are no ill effects until we have proof.

      In other words, the standard you set for yourself (nuke worker) is much more safe than the standards you would force down the throats of the downwinder public in an accident. Sound like a typical greedy response. Protect yourself, screw the public.

      When we have great alternatives, you brontos are still stuck on nuke. give us a break you are killing us, and we “get it”

      • Joffan August 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm

        The point is: don’t incur the large, real and immediate ill-effects of evacuation and restrictions in order to avoid an unproven small ill-effect at some unknown point far in the future.

        Simple enough. This isn’t “screwing the public”, it’s finding the best policy for an emergency event. And I have every reason to see it from a public policy point of view; despite your abusively phrased assumptions, I have never been employed in the nuclear industry.

        And we don’t have great alternatives for electrical generation. We have alternatives, but they are not magically zero impact, and they require more resources and more effeort, leading to higher electricity prices.

      • fresh August 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        The real answer is to stop playing with nuclear fire, pretending we are so advanced that we can handle this technology and everything that mother nature and human greed can throw at us.

        Not to mention those spent fuel pool scattered throughout the country are a perfect easy hit terrorist target. Killing ourselves for “cheap energy”, with a nuke plant at a 1.666% annual rate of return on investment, whereas solar provide power at 3cents to 10cents per kWH and a 10% to 35% annual rate of return on investment.

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