Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident in Ukraine
The Chernobyl Nuclear disaster is one of the world’s worst civilian disasters in history. On the 26th April 1986, engineers set out to test a backup cooling system, but the test went horribly wrong (Alanzi, 1986). There were four reactors on site, but the test was being conducted on the fourth reactor. The affected reactor had only been in operation for only three years. Reports by experts indicated that the accident was as a result of safety compromise that resulted in a flawed reactor design being operated by personnel who lacked adequate training. Uranium fuel rods. During the test, the removal of almost all control rods caused the technicians to lose control over the flow of coolant into the reactant. Consequently, the reactor overheated causing an explosion that shot over 8 tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere. It took 15 days for the first responders to contain the fire inside the reactor (Zhdanova, Zakharchenko, Vember & Nakonechnaya, 2000). Reports indicated that within the first few weeks on the accident, 31 people lost their lives owing to acute radiation poisoning and injuries sustained from the incident. The aftermath of the accident was increased risk of cancer among children and thyroid cancer among adults (Hatch, Ron, Bouville, Zablotska & Howe, 2005). Even so, the consequences of the disaster have not yet been established as there are still differences in the estimates provided by government and non-government organizations assessing the potential risk of the accident.
The Steam explosion removed the 1,000 metric-ton cover off and caused the rupturing of the rest of the 1660 pressure tubes in the reactor (Alanzi, 1986). Following the rupturing of the tubes, the reactor core was exposed to the environment causing a release of massive radioactive materials on site. The level of radiation released into the environment was exacerbated by the fire that continued to burn for over 10 days. As a result, there were many fatalities resulting from the effects of acute radiation poisoning. Within the first few weeks of the accident, 31 staff members and first responders succumbed to the radiation poisoning and accidents sustained during the accident (Ginzburg & Reis, 1991). In the years following the accident, the cases of cancer in children increased by about 90% in Ukraine and within the fallout region (Flavin, 1987). In addition to this, over 7000 cases of thyroid cancer were reported (Hatch et al., 2005). The expected death toll associated to the incident is estimated to fall anywhere between 4000 and 90000 cases overall.
By the time of the commissioning of the fourth reactor of the Soviet Union was not paying much attention of safety. As a result, the design and operation of the nuclear reactors was not done to the highest quality standards as would be expected for a plant that possess so much danger to members of the public. In addition, there were three other reactors that had been constructed and were working as expected. Inadequate safety analysis coupled with questionable competency of the technicians in charge to the test constituted of the root causes of the explosion (Christodouleas, Forrest, Ainsley, Tochner, Hahn & Glatstein, 2011). Facilitated by a culture that was not focused on safety, there was insufficient emphasis on independent safety reviews which meant that there were no watchdogs against safety compromise at the plant. Reports on the cause of the incident indicated an erroneous removal of almost all the safety rods led to the explosion that cost thousands of lives and many more following the effects of exposure to radiation. In addition, the failure to establish effective communication channels also contributed to the accident. Failure to communicate the safety standards and associated risks between the operators and designers at the plant steered the events leading to the fatal accident. The conduct of the personnel also speaks to their level of integrity and readiness to pursue their safety and that of the members of public from the imminent threat.
Emphasis on the Safety Culture
Following the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, a number of steps were taken towards ensuring that the remaining nuclear plants met the required safety standards. The concept of the ‘safety culture’ was born following the occurrence of the accident with the aim of protecting civilians and the environment from the detrimental effects of radiation (Rahu, 2003). Governments had to come together as they developed standards and safety measures to be applied in all nuclear plants across the world. It was resolved that ensuring nuclear safety would require more than just technology. For instance, integrity of the technicians working in nuclear plants was made a core element in ensuring the overall safety of the reactors. Risk communication would also receive a high priority to reduce the impact of the radiation on civilians and the environment. Various systems were designed to provide guidance and protocols for ensuring nuclear safety across the globe. Some of these systems include the OHSAS 18001, ISO 14001 and ANZI Z10 to name but a few. Every nuclear plant was required to receive certification prior to commencing operations which would work well in improving the overall safety standards associated with nuclear plants. The introduction of external bodies that would regulate the safety of nuclear operation would also enhance the level of safety measures employed in nuclear plants. Further, the incident steered sensitization on the implication of radiation both on the environment, animals and human beings.
Given the magnitude of the damage caused by the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, there was need for global effort to achieve safety often by preventing the building of more nuclear plants. The approach applied to facilitate this effort was to establish ways of achieving global peace and security without necessarily having to rely on the manufacture and creation of nuclear weapons as for defense purposes. A number of events constituted the global strategy for ensuring safety involving the production and use of nuclear energy. The signing of the Non-Proliferation Nuclear Weapon (NPT) treaty was a major step towards accomplishing this goal across the globe. NPT became international landmark treaty for preventing the spread of nuclear weapon and technology and promoting cooperation among member countries towards the peaceful use of nuclear energy (Alanzi, 1986). Several countries across the globe signed the NPT treat while others particularly in Africa and South America formed the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NNW) member countries. A few exceptions exist such as south Sudan which was the only country that did not join in the efforts against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, the country is not involved in the production of nuclear weapons or nuclear energy. Other non-member states such as Pakistan and India engage in the manufacture of nuclear arms. On the other hand, Israel, despite holding a policy of ambiguity around the possession of nuclear weapons is believed to have sophisticated nuclear arsenal. North Korea was a signatory state but withdrew from the treaty in 2003 and tested its first nuclear device in 2006.
The major issues associated with ensuring global nuclear safety revolve around the problem of cover up. Many nations are unwilling to disclose the full damage and magnitude of nuclear arsenal which could create anxiety among compliant members. For instance, in the event of an incident such as the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the full potential damage of the accident has not yet been established years after later. The need to avoid legal responsibility is a major reason behind the cover up despite awareness of the consequences of radiation both on animals and the environment.
The main preventative approaches are centered on driving a culture of change so that nuclear energy is utilized to foster development rather than being viewed as an anchor of power. Ensuring compliance is also a major goal that the NPT member countries seek to achieve. So far, a majority of the countries remain compliant to the safety standards which is a sign of great progress (Saenko, Ivanov, Tsyb, Bogdanova, Tronko, Demidchik & Yamashita, 2011). In addition, recognition of hazards will play a major role in ensuring that the goal towards control and effective management of nuclear energy as well as ensure coordination on a global scale.
Aftermath of the Disaster on the City
Like many regions that are located near nuclear fallout zones, the country became deserted as it was inhabitable. Although the other three nuclear reactors continued to produce energy supplied to various parts of Ukraine, the region was made inaccessible to civilians. Both the water and air in the region is contaminated which means that it is not safe for humans and animals (Reynolds & Seeger, 2005). Following the radiation pollution of the area, there is minimal to no vegetation which form an important part of a balanced ecosystem.
During the Chernobyl disaster, there were approximately 115,000 people to be evacuated and 500,000 personnel working to contain the disaster. Risk communication was essential in ensuring that the civilians were evacuated and that the personnel were well versed with the risks associated with the task (Seeger, 2006). Disbursement of the information would prevent further damage resulting from the radiation pollution.
Rules of Risk Communication
Work in Partnership with the Public
The people share a right to participate in decision making particularly on matters that impact them. These effects are realized in various avenues such as property, environment as well as everyday lives. Public engagement also facilitates the fulfilment of the goal of risk management which is to ensure that members of the public are well informed. Risk managers are required to demonstrate respect for the public through involving them early in the decision-making process. In addition, risk managers ought to ensure that the public understands that decisions on risk are often based on the magnitude, but other aspects such as perception also come into play. As a result, they should adhere to the high moral as well as ethical standards.
Give an Ear to the Audience
People have an interest in issues like trust, credibility, empathy, courtesy, control, competence, and compassion than mortality statistics and details of risk assessment. Communication that neglects public opinion is bound to fail. Risk managers should refrain from making assumptions about what people. Instead, they should focus on learning through active engagement. In addition, it is important to recognize any symbolic meanings and hidden motives which could make the process of risk communication harder
Honesty and Openness
The messenger should be trustworthy and credible for risk communication to be accepted. Short-term judgment on these two are usually made based on verbal and non-verbal communication. In addition, the long-term judgment is based on actions and performance. Risk managers are obliged to state credentials, but not to expect trust from the public. If there is an answer that an individual is uncertain about, the risk manager should express willingness to get back client and consult the questionnaire before providing an answer. Make sure any errors are corrected. Disclose any information about risks, as soon as possible. Give information as it without exaggeration of minimizing. It is important to talk about data, strengths, uncertainties, and weaknesses including others from various sources. Identify causes of bad estimates and cite ranges of risk where necessary.
Coordinating and Collaborating with Credible Sources
Establishing allies is an effective way of facilitating the disbursement of risk information. Conflicts and public disagreements are often barriers to communication. Allies help establish the ground for passing the necessary information. Risk managers are obliged to gradually organize communications between and within organizations. Devoting time and other resources to build lasting relationships and alliances using credible intermediaries.
• Speak with Clarity and Compassion
Clarity is an important aspect of communication. It is important to avoid complex jargon when explaining risk and its dynamics. The aim is to ensure that the message is delivered effectively and that the target audience understands it clearly. Risk managers are obliged to use clear language with minimal technical and complex vocabulary. It is important to recognize the local norms, such as speech and dress code of the people. Speakers should strive to achieve brevity yet respect people’s need for information.
Plan Carefully and Evaluate the Performance
Employ different risk communication strategies which are compatible with the different audiences, goals, and media. Risk communication will be effective only if there is a plan and evaluation is conducted carefully. Evaluation allows for the identification of the outcomes of a given process and hence determination of the success rate. Often, this works in maintaining the trust of the audience who gain more confidence on seeing tangible results from the process.
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Seeger, M. W. (2006). Best practices in crisis communication: An expert panel process. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 34(3), 232-244.
Zhdanova, N. N., Zakharchenko, V. A., Vember, V. V., & Nakonechnaya, L. T. (2000). Fungi from Chernobyl: mycobiota of the inner regions of the containment structures of the damaged nuclear reactor. Mycological Research, 104(12), 1421-1426.
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