Environmental Impact of the Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown

To analyze the environmental impact analysis of the Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown, it is essential to understand the structure and location of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the timing of the meltdown accident. The plant is located in Ukraine, 130 kilometers towards the north of Kiev city, close to the borders of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia (Lallanilla 1; (Saenko, Ivanov and Tsyb 234). It is composed of a human-made reservoir and a Pripyat river (Lallanilla 1). The accident occurred in 1986 when the power plant went out of control. It is reported that this happened during a test. The meltdown led to very high levels of radiation being released into the atmosphere. The outcome of this was the emission of nuclear wastes and fuel residues being deposited into the environment (Maltini 1). Several studies have been conducted to establish the environmental impact of the accident. These studies present several areas where the effect can be attributed. While some studies operational the environmental impact in terms of the level of damage or contamination caused, some operationalized environmental pollution in terms of the nature of contamination generated. Others look at the environmental impact in terms of the section of the environment affected. This paper presents an environmental impact based on the sections of the environment affected as suggested by (International Atomic Energy Agency 2)



The first category looks at radionuclide release and deposition. Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown led to the release of radioisotopes. This caused radioactive contamination in the surrounding areas. The radioactive emissions were of varied physicochemical and compositions such as aerosol mixtures, gases, fuel particles, mineral particles, and other organic compounds. These components have varying radionuclide percentages, making it very difficult to measure environmental pollution’s level and nature in a single analysis. While the initial spread and deposition of the substances were within a radius of 100kms, these components’ effect became more spread as a result of rain (Saenko, Ivanov and Tsyb 234). Through splash, these components found themselves into water bodies, plants, and even animals through drinking (International Atomic Energy Agency 2).

The second area of pollution is witnessed in urban environments. The components that came from the meltdown found themselves being deposited in various surfaces, including roofs, walls, lawns, and open areas such as streets and parks. This led to contamination. The nearest city of Pripyat and surrounding settlements became the most affected by the emissions. The pollution also spread to neighboring areas through external radiation.  People had to be moved to safer places to avoid potential illnesses and fatalities. This termination equally found itself on the ground and water bodies during wet seasons. While these contaminations have significantly reduced, there are secondary contamination reports, especially in sewage systems and sludge storage areas. To restore safety, there are measures to maintain the required air dose rate (International Atomic Energy Agency 2).     

The third area of the pollution is the agricultural environment. Most of the chemicals found themselves in plants and animals during the meltdown through a direct surface deposition. Deposition of radioiodine isotopes was considered the most worrying occurrence in the first two months. This is because of the faster transfer rate of radioiodine isotopes into plants and animals, causing food contamination. When these substances are absorbed in the plants, they find themselves in animals and even humans through consumption. Deposition on plant surfaces became an issue of great concern. This is because, in addition to plants producing food in terms of fruits and vegetables and serving as animals’ feeds, they also play a significant role in balancing the ecosystem (International Atomic Energy Agency 3).

The forest environment is the next form of environment identified in this study. During the accident, animals and trees were not spared. It feared that there was a deposition of radiocaesium in the forests. High concentrations were confirmed in forest products such as mushrooms, wild fruits, and game meat. Studies indicate that such substances are still present in the game products, and the challenge may persist for some time. Interestingly, the transfer of substances such as Caesium-137 can happen even though the timber. Owing to the varied use of timber, these substances’ spread is complicated to contain (International Atomic Energy Agency 3).

The aquatic environment was not spared too. It is one of the most affected environments. Generally, close to all substances on the surface end up in a water body. Rains and floods wash substances on the surfaces of buildings, plants, animals, and many others. During the accident, much water got contaminated through direct deposition of radionuclides. A very high concentration of radionuclides was observed immediately after the accident. This was observed in rivers and lakes and even sources of drinking water like the Kiev reservoir. However, the effect of water population was not as a dare and long-lasting. This is due to physical decay and absorption radionuclides by soils around and beneath the lakes and reservoirs. Similarly, absorption by aquatic life witnessed a significant reduction with a relatively shorter time. However, through secondary contamination, the chemicals still find their way into aquatic lives. The effect of the accident on the aquatic environment has been more serious in locations closer to the accident scene. Water bodies far away, such as the Black and Baltic Seas, did not record are high concentration of the substances (International Atomic Energy Agency 4).

Out of severe environmental pollutions, the accident caused the deaths of 2 members of staff and five fire-fighting officials. These were the initial fatalities recorded from the accident. Besides, the radiation activities during the accident caused severe radiation illnesses in close to 400 individuals. Despite very intensive response and treatment actions taken, including 13 bone marrow transplants, 28 patients were lost by the 4th month. By the end of 2004, a total of 54 deaths had been recorded (Saenko, Ivanov and Tsyb 234). The effect was also evident in plants and animals. For plants, serious decomposition on leaves led to drying up and severe contamination. For animals, serous contamination led to illnesses and death in dare situations.


From the literature studied in this paper, it is evident that the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown’s environmental effect was severe. The impact was felt by literally every part of the environment and almost all living organisms. The magnitude of contamination slightly varied in various sections of the environment, with all sections experiencing severe contamination. In more severe instances, the contamination led to the loss of plants, animals, and humans. In addition to direct contamination, there are secondary contamination instances, majorly through consumption and drinking. While most of the contaminations have been contained and significantly reduced, the substances can still be traced in some environments. From this report, it is clear that Nuclear Power Plants should be located in a very isolated location, far from settlements and other livelihood sources such as water bodies and forests. Besides, they should be constructed with many safety measures installed to avoid a meltdown or reduce emission if such eventualities occur.

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Works Cited

International Atomic Energy Agency. Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and their Remediation: Twenty Years of Experience. Radiology Assessment Report. New York: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2006.

Lallanilla, M. Chernobyl: Facts about the Nuclear Disaster. New York: Live Science, 2019.

Maltini, F. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident: its decommissioning, the Interim Spent Fuel Storage ISF-2, the nuclear waste treatment plants, and the Safe Confinement project. Paris: Comsoc FM Consultants Associates, 2017.

Saenko, V., et al. “The Chernobyl Accident and its Consequences.” Clinical Oncology (2011): 23(4):234-43.