Following a nuclear accident

Following a nuclear accident, a major dilemma for affected people is whether to stay or leave the affected area, or, for those who have been evacuated, whether or not to return to the decontaminated zones.
Populations who have to make such decisions have to consider many parameters, one of which is the radiological situation.

Feedback from Chernobyl has demonstrated that involvement and empowerment of the affected population is a way to provide them with the necessary elements to make informed decisions and, if they decide to return to decontaminated areas, to minimise exposure by contributing to the development of a prudent attitude and vigilance towards exposure.

1. Transparency
There needs to be complete transparency when it comes to nuclear accidents. After the Chernobyl disaster, the authorities failed to alert the public to the danger for three days, putting thousands of lives at risk.

2. Evacuate
Soviet authorities were initially in denial over the extent of the crisis and failed to move people living close to the reactor to safety in the hours and days after the incident. If they had acted sooner, countless lives would have been saved.

3. Closely monitor radiation levels in food

A report from the UN’s scientific committee on the effects of atomic radiation found that a rise in thyroid cancer was the only substantial medical legacy of Chernobyl in the general population. The cancers came about because Soviet authorities allowed children to continue to drink heavily contaminated milk. As a result, many children received high doses of radiation to the thyroid.

4. Comply with safety rules
The poor design of the Soviet RBMK, a lack of safety culture at the plant and errors by operators were responsible for the Chernobyl disaster. The accident illustrates the importance of complying with basic safety principles for nuclear power plants.

5. Plan ahead
Chernobyl accident demonstrated the need to establish an effective emergency response system in case of man-made accidents.