Beyond Trauma pp 213-232 | Cite as

Health Problems in Areas Contaminated by the Chernobyl Disaster

Radiation, Traumatic Stress, or Chronic Stress?
  • Jan Van Den Bout
  • Johan M. Havenaar
  • Ludmilla I. Meijler-Iljina
Part of the The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping book series (SSSO)


On April 26, 1986, one of the four blocks of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded as a result of human error. The fatal accident sequence was initiated by the decision of the plant’s management to shut down all safety mechanisms in the reactor in an overnight experiment to test the generator under extreme conditions. That night, at 01.24 hours, eyewitnesses outside Chernobyl Unit 4 observed two explosions, one after the other. Burning debris and sparks shot into the air above the reactor, some of which fell on the roof of the machine room and started a fire. The explosions left a gaping hole in the roof, exposing the reactor core to the outside air (Medvedev, 1990; Mould, 1988). Firefighters from the nearby town of Pripyat made heroic efforts to control the fires. Even after rescue workers had entered the Unit 4 building, the operating crew reacted with disbelief to the reported devastation of the reactor’s core. Disbelief and outright denial also characterized the first official response. The authorities had only recently proclaimed that the Chernobyl reactor was so safe that one could have built it on Red Square in Moscow. Only when alarming background readings of radioactivity in the Scandinavian countries made it apparent that a large-scale nuclear accident was occurring somewhere in the Soviet Union did the first public announcements appear in the Soviet press. The state press agency, TASS, issued a four-line statement that an accident had occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and that every measure had been taken to limit the damage.


Thyroid Cancer Traumatic Stress Chernobyl Accident Radioactive Contamination Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Van Den Bout
    • 1
  • Johan M. Havenaar
    • 2
  • Ludmilla I. Meijler-Iljina
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Clinical and Health PsychologyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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