The Russian military’s control of the Chernobyl nuclear power site has resulted in its soldiers falling sick with radiation poisoning.
Since 2014, Russia and Ukraine have been at war with each other. However, in February of this year, things escalated significantly when Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine as part of a ‘special military operation’. The invasion has resulted in one of the world’s largest refugee and humanitarian crises within Europe. Moreover, reports have come in of Russian soldiers, stationed at Chernobyl, experiencing radiation sickness.
On the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its troops stationed themselves at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. According to reports, the soldiers drove through the ‘Red Forest’, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust into the air. The ‘Red Forest’ is currently the most contaminated area in the world today. The ten-square-kilometre area received the highest dose of radiation during the Chernobyl disaster and is part of the exclusion zone. Now, the Russian convoy’s procession through the area has got scientists worried about a spike in radiation levels.
In a Facebook post, Yaroslav Yemelianenko, CEO of tour operator Chernobyl Tour, reported that several Russian soldiers had been rushed to a nearby medical facility after getting exposed to high levels of radiation. The Russian forces had apparently fallen ill after digging trenches at the site. Moreover, workers at the site stated that the soldiers did not wear any anti-radiation gear as they stormed through in their armoured vehicles.
Although the International Atomic Energy has acknowledged that Russian soldiers may have contracted radiation poisoning, they have yet to verify the claims.
What is Radiation Sickness?
Acute radiation sickness, or radiation poisoning, occurs from exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation over a short period of time. Accidental exposure can occur due to accidents at nuclear facilities such as Chernobyl. Intentional exposure can also occur after atomic bombings such as the ones in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The high level of radiation destroys the body’s cells, most commonly the ones lining the stomach, the intestinal tract, and the bone marrow.
Symptoms usually begin within an hour of exposure and depend on the dose of radiation. Initial signs and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, headache, and loss of appetite. However, more symptoms can appear over a period of weeks, or even years. Severe exposure can result in hair loss, increased infections, internal bleeding, dizziness, or decreased level of consciousness. Although radiation sickness is a rare occurrence, it is often fatal.
Since radiation’s effects are irreversible, treatment is mostly supportive and symptomatic. Antimicrobials are used for those experiencing low levels of white blood cells and increased susceptibility to infections. In case of severe damage to bone marrow, doctors conduct transfusions and in some cases stem cell transplants. Moreover, doctors also prescribe potassium iodide to patients. However, it does not treat the condition but instead reduces radiation damage to internal organs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), radiation sickness results from exposure to a dosage of 70 rads from an external source. Therefore, scientists believe that it is highly unlikely that Russian soldiers experienced a high enough dose by just digging trenches at the site. Instead, they believe the soldiers may have experienced a psychosomatic response to being in a highly contaminated region. Another theory states that their symptoms may have resulted from stress or other environmental factors.
Russian Troops Withdraw from Chernobyl
In 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl power plant melted down, resulting in the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The resulting radiation spread for hundreds of miles across Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation. Scientists estimate that the radiation levels from the disaster were several times more than the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The resulting radiation not only affected wildlife and farmlands but also caused long-term effects on humans. Moreover, the incidence of thyroid cancer dramatically increased among those exposed to the Chernobyl fallout. Researchers noted a significant increase among children. According to researchers, radiation causes multiple DNA breaks within samples of exposed individuals; thus, causing cancer.
However, there is no evidence of radiation causing transgenerational effects. A previous study showed that offspring of individuals exposed to the Chernobyl disaster did not demonstrate increased genetic mutations.
Nevertheless, the fact that Russian soldiers most likely inhaled some of the dust from the ‘Red Forest’ means they came in exposure to several radionuclides. All of which are carcinogenic and toxic, even at very low levels.
According to the latest reports, Russian forces have begun clearing out of the contaminated site. In an interview with AFP, a US defense official stated that the troops are moving towards Belarus.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that the radiation levels at Chernobyl continue to be within ‘safe levels’. However, many argue that there is no such thing as a safe level for ionizing radiation.