Radiation Blog

The 33rd Anniversary of Chernobyl: What Has Changed?

05.05.19 | Sunday | Nofit Amir

Fully acknowledged by the Soviets only when radiation alarms went off in Sweden, Chernobyl was the worst nuclear disaster in history. Thirty-three years later, the dramatic, unexpected catastrophe – which started from the routine testing of a nuclear reactor – is being rendered in an HBO mini-series (beginning May 6th). Figuring prominently in the series are the responders who knowingly sacrificed their lives trying to control radiation release into the environment. Had they been shielded then with StemRad’s recently developed radiation protection, the majority would most likely still be with us today.

Desperate Chernobyl responders in a futile attempt to protect themselves from external radiation. Up to 26 kg of lead radiation shielding was used but was not focused on protecting bone marrow.

The primary cause of death in the catastrophe was Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS). According to the UN Report on Chernobyl (2008), 134 first-responders suffered from ARS. While this is a tragedy in itself, this fact had wider tragic implications regarding the ability to contain the damage: Had they had the means to protect themselves, the capacity to contain the crisis would likely have increased significantly. As it was, civilians within 4,300 square kilometers (2,672 square miles) of the reactor were resettled due to the catastrophe, and the contaminated area was even more significant (though deemed inhabitable).

Of the 134 first responders suffering from ARS, 28 died within two months. According to the report: “Underlying bone marrow failure from the external whole body irradiation was the major contributor to all the deaths during the first two months….” The realization that protecting bone marrow is key to saving lives led to StemRad’s selective radiation shielding technology – which focuses on protecting the bone marrow. Thus, StemRad’s radiation shield largely prevents ARS. Below are the actual doses received by Chernobyl first responders, provided by official reports, and the chances of survival with the 360 Gamma according to testing conducted at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

We will surely be watching the five-part mini-series – while hoping wholeheartedly that the new opportunity to equip responders with effective radiation protection will be fully embraced.

Table 1. Actual doses received by firefighters responding to the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident.  Probabilities of survival based on the human radiation lethality curve are shown together with the corresponding projected probability of survival had the StemRad radiation shield been available.

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