Intended for healthcare professionals


Chernobyl 25 years on

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 26 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2443
  1. Keith Baverstock, docent
  1. 1Department of Environmental Science, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland
  1. keith.baverstock{at}

Lessons have not been learnt and the full public health implications are unknown

On 26 April 1986, a nuclear incident occurred in the then Soviet Union in a place called Chernobyl. Radiological data garnered after the United Kingdom’s Windscale (Sellafield) nuclear incident in 1957 had been used a decade earlier to set emergency reference levels to protect the UK public after such events.1 These would be used to determine evacuation and food control policies in the immediate aftermath of an incident. In 1979, the Three Mile Island incident in the United States did not pose a threat to the UK, but it was clear in 1986 that Chernobyl might. Unfortunately, not all the UK authorities recognised this possibility, so when Cumbria and southern Scotland received fallout about a week after the incident the state of preparedness was less than optimal—the first radiological assessment appeared 20 days later,2 but it contained errors that went uncorrected for three years.3

The situation was much worse closer to Chernobyl: the fallout was serious and extensive, but the Soviet authorities initially denied that an incident had occurred, then acknowledged a small one, and …

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