Psychological Response of Mothers of Young Children to the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Accidents One Decade Later

  • Evelyn J. Bromet
  • Leighann Litcher-Kelly
Part of the The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping book series (SSSO)


Over the past two decades, our research group investigated the psychological well-being of mothers of young children in the aftermath of the nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) in central Pennsylvania and the melt down at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northwest Ukraine. In spite of differences in culture and magnitude, these two catastrophic events had a number of common characteristics, making the comparison in the psychological responses to these events extremely valuable. Common features included the intangible nature of exposure to radiation, the delay in the evacuation order, incomplete disclosure by the authorities about what occurred, contradictory reports in the news media as the events unfolded, widespread rumors about adverse or bizarre effects on plants and animals, ensuing distrust of government authorities, the tendency to attribute new health problems to radiation exposure, fears about health effects on future generations, health monitoring by government agencies, and most important, lack of resolution about potential risks to the population at large.


Chernobyl Accident Psychological Response Mental Health Effect Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Environmental Health Perspective 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bard, D., Verger, P., & Hubert, P. (1997). Chernobyl, 10 years after: Health consequences. Epidemiologic Reviews, 19, 187–204.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baum, A., & Fleming, I. (1993). Implications of psychological research on stress and technological accidents. American Psychologist, 48, 665–672.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bromet, E. (1998). Psychological effects of radiation catastrophes. In L. E. Peterson & S. Abrahamson (Eds.), Effects of ionizing radiation: Atomic bomb survivors and their children (1945–1995) (pp. 283–294). Washington DC: Joseph Henry Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bromet, E. J., & Dew, M. A. (1995). Review of psychiatric epidemiologic research on disasters. Epidemiologic Reviews, 17, 113–119.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bromet, E. J., Goldgaber, D., Carlson, G., Panina, N., Golovakha, E., Gluzman, S. F. et al. (2000). Children’s well-being 11 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 563–571.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bromet, E. J., Parkinson, D. K., Schulberg, H. C., Dunn, L. O., & Gondek, P. C. (1982). Mental health of residents near the Three Mile Island reactor: A comparative study of selected groups. Journal of Preventive Psychiatry, 1, 225–275.Google Scholar
  7. Bromet, E. J., & Schulberg, H. C. (1986). The TMI disaster: A search for high risk groups. In J. H. Shore (Ed.), Disaster stress studies: New methods and findings (pp. 2–19). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, G., & Harris, T. (1978). Social origins of depression. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cardis, E. (1996). Epidemiology of accidental radiation exposures. Environmental Health Perspectives, 104(suppl.) (3), 643–649.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cwikel, J., Abdelgani, A., Goldsmith, J. R., Quastel, M., & Yevelson, I. I. (1997). Two-year follow-up study of stress-related disorders among immigrants to Israel from the Chernobyl area. Environmental Health Perspectives, 105, 1545–1550.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Davidson, L. M., & Baum, A. (1986). Chronic stress and posttraumatic stress disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 303–308.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Derogatis, L. R. (1983). SCL-90-R: Administration, scoring & procedures manual-II. Towson, MD: Psychometric Research.Google Scholar
  13. Dew, M. A., & Bromet, E. J. (1993). Predictors of temporal patterns of psychiatric distress during 10 years following the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 28, 49–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dew, M. A., Bromet, E. J., Schulberg, H. C., Dunn, L. O., & Parkinson, D. K. (1987). Mental health effects of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor restart. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 1074–1077.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Dohrenwend, B. P. (1983). Psychological implications of nuclear accidents: The case of Three Mile Island. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 59, 1060–1076.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Endicott, J., & Spitzer, R. (1978). A diagnostic interview: The Schedule for affective disorders and schizophrenia. Archives of General Psychiatry, 33, 766–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Feshbach, M., & Friendly, A., Jr. (1992). Ecocide in the USSR: Health and nature under siege. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  18. Flynn, C. B. (1981). Local public opinion. In T. H. Moss & D. L. Sills (Eds.), The Three Mile Island nuclear accident: Lessons and implications. Annals of the New York Academy of Science 365, 146–158.Google Scholar
  19. Green, B., Lindy, J., Grace, M., Gleser, G. C., Leonard, A. C., Korol, M. et al. (1990). Buffalo Creek survivors in the second decade: Stability of stress symptoms. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 60, 43–54.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hatch, M. C., Beyea, J., Nieves, J. W., & Susser, M. (1990). Cancer near the Three Mile Island nuclear plant: Radiation emissions. American Journal of Epidemiology, 132, 397–412.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Havenaar, J. M., Rumyantzeva, G. M., Vandenbrink, W., Poelijoe, N. W., Vandenbout, J., Vanengeland, H. et al. (1997). Long-term mental health effects of the Chernobyl disaster: An epidemiologic survey in two former Soviet regions. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154, 1605–1607.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Havenaar, J. M., & van den Brink, W. (1997). Psychological factors affecting health after toxi-cological disasters. Clinical Psychology Review, 17, 359–374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Houts, P. S., Cleary, P. D., & Hu, T-W. (1988). The Three Mile Island crisis: Psychological, social, and economic impacts on the surrounding population. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lifton, R. J. (1967). Death in life: Survivors of Hiroshima. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  25. Litcher, L., Bromet, E. J., Carlson, G., Squires, N., Goldgaber, D., Panina, N. et al. (2000). School and neuropsychological performance of evacuated children in Kiev eleven years after the Chernobyl disaster. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 41, 219–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McFarlane, A., Policansky, S., & Irwin, C. (1987). A longitudinal study of the psychological morbidity in children due to a natural disaster. Psychological Medicine, 17, 727–738.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Misao, T., Hattori, K., Shirakawa, M., Suga, M., Ogawa, N., Ohara, Y. et al. (1961). Characteristics in abnormalities observed in atom-bombed survivors. Journal of Radiation Research, 2, 85–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nikiforov, Y., Gnepp, D. R., & Fagin, J. A. (1996). Thyroid lesions in children and adolescents after the Chernobyl disaster: Implications for the study of radiation tumorigenesis. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 81, 9–14.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Phelan, J., Schwartz, J. E., Bromet, E. J., Dew, M. A., Parkinson, D. K., Schulberg, H. C. et al. (1991). Work stress, family stress and depression in professional and managerial employees. Psychological Medicine, 21, 999–1012.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Spitzer, R., Endicott, J., & Robins, E. (1978). Research diagnostic criteria: Rationale and reliability. Archives of General Psychiatry 35, 773–782.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Stiehm, E. R. (1992). The psychologic fallout from Chernobyl. American Journal of Diseases of Children, 146, 761–762.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Tarabrina, N., Lazebnaya, E., Zelenova, M., & Lasko, N. (1996). Chernobyl clean-up workers’ perception of radiation threat. Radiation Protection Dosimetry, 68, 251–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Viinamäki, H., Kumpusalo, E., Myllykangas, M., Salomaa, S., Kumpusalo, L., Kolmakov, S. et al. (1995). The Chernobyl accident and mental wellbeing—a population study. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 91, 396–401.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Whitcomb, R. C., & Sage, M. (1997). Nuclear reactor incidents. In E. K. Noji (Ed.), The public health consequences of disasters (pp. 397–418). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Yamada, M., Kodama, K., & Wong, F. L. (1991). The long-term psychological sequelae of atomic-bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In R. Ricks, M. E. Berger, & R. M. O’Hara (Eds.), The medical basis for radiation preparedness III: The psychological perspective (pp. 155–163). New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  36. Yevelson, I. I., Abdelgani, A., Cwikel, J., & Yevelson, I. S. (1997). Bridging the gap in mental health approaches between East and West: The psychosocial consequences of radiation exposure. Environmental Health Perspectives, 105(suppl.) (6), 1551–1556.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Evelyn J. Bromet
    • 1
  • Leighann Litcher-Kelly
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science StateUniversity of New York at Stony BrookUSA

Personalised recommendations