Master of Environmental Studies Capstone Projects

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Environmental Studies 2010.


On April 26, 1986, Unit 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, causing the most severe disaster ever to occur in the history of domestic nuclear-power production. That explosion spread both fission products of the normal operation of the reactor and unexpended uranium fuel across a large area. In total, ~14 EBq5 radioisotopes were released from the reactor, some of the most harmful being 1.8 EBq of 131I, 0.085 EBq of 137Cs, 0.01 EBq of 90Sr, and 0.003 EBq of plutonium (2003-2005 Chernobyl Forum 22). More than 200,000 km2 of Europe received levels of 137Cs in excess of 37 kBq/m2; and ~70% of this area was in the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia (2003-2005 Chernobyl Forum Report 22). Of these 3 most affected countries, Belarus suffered the greatest level of 137Cs, absorbing ~33.5% of the total amount emitted. Although Belarus was severely affected, the consequences of this event have not been well studied and a full accounting of the human-health and environmental effects has not been released for the country. This report reviews, analyzes, and combines key literature available to date to document the current state of knowledge upon which further research and appropriate management strategies can be initiated. The investigation finds that deposition was influenced by atmospheric winds and precipitation that caused radioactive rain to enter the country. 137Cs and 90Sr remained within the top 15 cm of the soils and livestock accumulated large doses of radiation that was transferred to foods. Gomel and Mogilev continue to produce milk that exceeds the Belarusian limit of 100 Bq/L, and several small farms have not been adequately remediated. 1.7 million ha of Belarusian forests and resources were contaminated, causing mutations, cytogenetic effects, and chromosomal aberrations in several organisms. But, radiation has decreased in both the Pripyat and Dnieper Rivers. ~134 emergency workers suffered from ARS; thyroid cancer and mental health have clearly increased following the accident and some studies have identified increases in non-thyroid cancer cases as-well.



Date Posted: 20 January 2011