The disastrous fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant seven years ago continues to extract a heavy toll on the people of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Ukrainian officials report that more than 8,000 people have died from the April 1986 event, which released as much radiation as 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.
Many more deaths are expected from the lingering effects of the world's worst nuclear accident. Incidences of children's thyroid cancer, immune deficiency diseases, and other radiation-related illnesses have multiplied in recent years and are likely to get worse.
But the horrors released by the plant are not only physical. The Moscow Times reported in January that 18 percent of the deaths of workers involved in the cleanup of the stricken plant were by suicide. Many of the workers reportedly suffered from nervous system and immune system disorders and high levels of stress.
People's fears -- and their anti-nuclear opinions -- were intensified in the wake of two separate fires at the Chernobyl plant in two days this January, as well as a report last November that safety systems had been repeatedly shut off at another Ukrainian nuclear plant in an effort to boost power production. The Ukrainian government has promised to shut down the Chernobyl plant completely by the end of this year. The country currently receives 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.
The government of neighboring Russia announced plans in January to build 30 new nuclear power reactors by 2010, at least one of which would be of a design similar to the Chernobyl plant. Russia currently has 28 operating reactors, virtually all of them built before the Chernobyl disaster.
Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners.