Chernobyl Liquidators' Health
as a Psycho-Social Trauma









1. Introduction

       Possibly, the most interesting feature of this study of the liquidators' (participants' of various mitigation works in the Chernobyl zone during first five years after the explosion on April 26, 1986) health state as a result of detrimental action of the disaster's harmful factors of non-radiation (namely, social and psychological) nature — is that its author is a former ordinary liquidator himself: In the summer of 1986, two and a half month after the explosion, I, a civilian scientist-chemist, was drafted from military reserve and served in the Chernobyl zone as a radiation reconnaissance platoon commander.
       Being aware of many radiation — as well as non-radiation — circumstances of the disaster, still unknown for the outsiders and even experts in the field, and affecting the liquidators not only during their work and stay in the zone, but also in their subsequent, “post-zone” life, and complementing this insider's knowledge with literature data and interviews (some of them — anonymous) with the liquidators, the experts in the related fields and the members of the general public, in this work I will argue against the widely-spread perception and treatment of the Chernobyl Disaster as a predominantly radiation catastrophe, where non-radiation factors play only a minor, marginal role.
       To be more precise: I will argue that the health state for a large (probably dominating) share of the liquidators can be explained rather by the effects of non-radiation harmful factor of social, psychological and economic nature, associated with their participation in the work in the Chernobyl zone, than by the direct injury of physical health by radiation. This is a very practically important question, for different mechanisms of injury need different means for its remediation.

       In order to fulfil this goal, in Chapter 2 I will give necessary definitions and briefly discuss the exposure of the liquidators to radiation and non-radiation harmful factors in the Chernobyl zone. Chapter 3 will provide an assessment of the present health state of the liquidators as it is reported in scientific literature. In Chapter 4 I will overview possible frameworks of interpretation of the effects of non-radiation harmful factors of the Chernobyl zone upon the liquidators' health. Chapter 5 will be devoted to non-radiation harmful factors of the “post-zone” period of the liquidators' life and their effects. It will be concluded with comparison of the Chernobyl liquidators' case with other cases of populations affected by radiation and non-radiation mass-traumatic events. A brief summary of the main findings of the study concludes the main text. It is followed by several personal remarks and self-observations of the author in the course of the study, which may be helpful for the adequate interpretation of the research and its results.
       The extensive list of references embraces sources from diverse fields, relevant to the comprehensive treatment of the research problem.
       The book is complemented with 2 appendices. Appendix 1 contains the paper, delivered by the author at the European Parliament, at the workshop dedicated to discussion of the project of the European Union radiation protection standards (Brussels, 1998); it appears to be important for getting the right idea about the reliability of the Chernobyl “documented” irradiation doses, and discusses the possibilities of their use for the purposes of research and legislation.
       Appendix 2, Chernobyl National-Memorial Park: The bases of the project, is an excerpt of the recent unpublished yet work of the author, developing — upon the results of the study presented in this book — a set of new practical approaches and measures for the mitigation of the Chernobyl aftermath on the health of the affected populations and on the society in general. The project of the Chernobyl National-Memorial Park is one — and, perhaps, the most paradoxical and unexpected — measure from this set; it is included in this book to give some idea about the full spectrum of the mitigation measures, adequate to the task of mitigation of the impacts of the event so complex, as the Chernobyl Disaster.

       Supplement illustrates how the material, presented in the book, can be used for educational purposes in the universities.

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Studio ARWIS  Kharkov, 2001