Chernobyl Liquidators' Health
as a Psycho-Social Trauma









2.1. Definitions of the Chernobyl Disaster and “Chernobyl”,
and their discussion

       The Chernobyl Disaster is defined in this study as a thermo-chemical explosion of the 4th unit of the Chernobyl NPP on 26.04.1986 (which released into the environment unprecedented quantities of radioactive materials and caused major ecological and social impacts), and its lasting until now and expected consequences.
       The Chernobyl Disaster is treated as a (1) complex, multifaceted radiation-ecological, psychological, social-economical phenomenon, a phenomenon (2) highly non-uniform in space and time, in terms of the distribution of its diverse radiation and non-radiation harmful factors.

       The purpose of this work is to study one particular domain of the Disaster. Howewer, in order to fulfil it, one should be aware about Why an accident at the Chernobyl NPP has become the Chernobyl Disaster? In my opinion, there are several reasons for this:
       1. It was a really large-scale technological accident.
       However, it was neither explosion nor fire at the industrial object which turned the accident into the Chernobyl Disaster.
       It was — radiation, which escaped the 4th energetic unit as a result of the explosion, fire and subsequent releases of radioactive matter from the broken unit into the environment.
       2. Radiation is an easily detectable contaminant. Really, should an accident of the same scale have happened at some chemical facility, very few laboratories would have been able to detect miserable (in terms of quantity of substance) amounts of the chemical pollutant at the hundreds and thousands kilometres' distances, for the measurements need highly sensitive and expensive — rare — equipment, and highly qualified specialists.
       3. Radiation was an object of a very special perception and had symbolic meaning. Radiation release was caused by one of the most novel and rapidly spreading technologies, the one which, on the one hand, symbolised the sci-tech progress as such, and, on the other hand, was perceived as a symbol of the civilisation-deadly nuclear war technology — an object of the hot and vast anti-war activities, protests and debates. The general public was used to perceiving radiation as an extremely dangerous hazard.
       4. It was an accident of international scale, with features of an international conflict. All countries affected, except for the USSR, were interested to reveal its real scale and actual hazard it represented.
       5. Because of all above reasons, the accident received a huge media coverage, and it has had important social and cultural consequences.

       The word “Chernobyl” usually signifies several essentially different notions:
       • The Chernobyl Disaster (defined as above, or in some similar way; the whole phenomenon, in short);
       • A vast area around the Chernobyl zone affected by the explosion and its consequences, with both evicted and “live” settlements — the contaminated area (whatever this term means...);
       • A more limited and clearly defined Chernobyl zone (it can be the 30-kilometer zone, or a broader area were settlements were evicted);
       • The town of Chernobyl itself (located 14 km south-east from the Chernobyl NPP, with the gamma-radiation levels 1000 and more times smaller than those at the liquidators' working sites at the NPP).
       These differences in meaning are very important to understand that a statement “I was in Chernobyl” can have essentially different geographical — and, thus, radiation, ecological, social etc. — sense. In this paper I will try to use the term “Chernobyl” in an unambiguous, explicit way.

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Design by: M.Opalev
Studio ARWIS  Kharkov, 2001