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Chernobyl Chronicle of events, consequences and prose of life

Radiation has always been present on Earth. From the very beginning, the origin of life in all its manifestations developed on Earth against the background of constantly existing radiation. Therefore, there is every reason to believe that living organisms should tolerate its influence well in the case when the level of the latter is not very high. In addition, today it is impossible to imagine medicine without X-ray diagnostics and radiotherapy, industry without atomic energy, X-ray flaw detection, etc. However, the analysis of the "nuclear" lessons of the past confirms that the impact on ecology and living organisms of a very high level of radiation leads to trouble.

2023 marks the 37th anniversary of the greatest man-made disaster in human history. It was on April 26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m., that a powerful explosion occurred at the fourth power unit of the Chornobyl NPP, which destroyed part of the reactor and the engine room. A fire broke out. The fire spread to the roof of the third power unit. It was extinguished until 5 o'clock in the morning.

The disaster was not only an environmental tragedy, but also a period of terrible trials for its liquidators and local residents, whose lives were forever changed. 31 people died from acute radiation sickness in the first months after the explosion at the Chornobyl NPP. 8.5 million people were exposed to radioactive radiation. About 240,000 people took part in the elimination of the consequences of the accident. The total number of liquidators for all years is over 600,000.

In the first days after the accident, the population of a 10-kilometer zone was evacuated, later the evacuation zone was expanded to 30 kilometers. 115,000 people were deported. They were forbidden to take their belongings and pets with them. In total, 2,293 settlements in Ukraine became radioactively contaminated.

As a result of the disaster, more than 5 million hectares of land were withdrawn from agricultural use. According to the number of accident victims, Ukraine ranks first among the former republics of the Soviet Union. About 60% of harmful emissions fell on Belarus. Those events and terrible consequences for humanity and nature are still remembered. Until now, our consciousness is disturbed by photographs of that time, footage of video chronicles and medical statistics of diseases.

At the end of 1986, the destroyed reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was covered with a special "sarcophagus". According to experts' estimates, about 95% of the fuel that was in the reactor at the time of the accident remained under it. On December 15, 2000, the work of the Chornobyl NPP was stopped. In 2004, a tender was held for the design and construction of a new "sarcophagus" - the New Safe Confinement. On October 29, 2007, work began, and on November 29, 2016, the NBK Arch was pushed onto the "Shelter" facility and put into operation. According to the plan of the designers, the new building will be able to solve the problem for at least a hundred years.

Due to the absence of people, a "conditionally protected" reserve was formed in the Chernobyl zone. Many species of animals and birds found shelter here, many of which are listed in the Red Book of Ukraine. Also, in peacetime, excursions to the exclusion zone were often organized.

It seemed that the repetition of such events was impossible. However, nature made its corrections and in 2011 we again witnessed terrible earthquakes in Japan, whose TV reports resembled fantastic movies and shocked the whole world with their victims and destruction. The most terrible circumstance of these events was the damage and explosions at the three Fukushima nuclear power plants, the first of which took place on March 11, 2011. Damage to nuclear reactors caused the release of radioactive substances into the environment, water, and food products. The press was full of reports about the detection of radioisotopes of iodine-131, strontium-90, and cesium-137 in environmental objects.

Despite all these and other similar events, today the atom remains one of the main and cheapest sources of energy supply for the earth's population, however, it also poses a potential threat to the environment.

What is the mechanism of the effect of radiation on the human body and what measures should be taken in the event of a similar situation?

When radioactive (ionizing) radiation passes through the human body or when radioactive substances are present in body tissues, the energy of waves and particles is transferred to these tissues. When energy is transferred to the cells and fluids of the body, their atoms and molecules are excited, which leads to cell damage, disruption of their activity and even death (depending on the radiation dose received and the state of health of the person at the time of exposure). Damage caused by ionizing radiation in the body will be greater, the more energy it transferred to the tissues. The amount of such energy transferred to the body is called a dose.

Damage to a person by radioactive radiation is possible as a result of both external and internal irradiation. External radiation is created by radioactive substances that are outside the body, and internal radiation is created by those that entered the body with air, water and food. With external irradiation, the most dangerous radiation is with high penetrating power, and with internal radiation – with ionizing radiation. It is believed that internal radiation is more dangerous than external radiation, from which we are protected by the walls of rooms, clothing, skin, special protective measures, etc. Internal radiation affects unprotected tissues, organs, body systems, and at the molecular and cellular level and harms the body more than external radiation.

Taking into account the above, attention should be paid to the main routes of entry of radioactive substances and available and simple preventive measures.

First of all, we should mention radioactive iodine -I-131, the release of which ("iodine shock") took place at the Chernobyl NPP and similarly in Japan. Its half-life is 8 days. As you know, normal iodine accumulates in the thyroid gland and is vital for its functioning. In case of deficiency of normal iodine in the body, radioactive iodine gets the opportunity to accumulate in the thyroid gland and damage it. That is, in such cases, the sufficient content of normal iodine in the body acquires a positive value. But, if you are concerned about your health, consult a doctor, and do not take iodine preparations yourself. The harm to the body from an overdose of iodine preparations can be greater than the harm from direct exposure to radioactive iodine.

What should be known about the ways in which radionuclides enter the human body and the prevention of their effects?

The main contribution to the contamination of people with radionuclides is made by food products. It is known that radioactive isotopes of cesium and strontium, which are chemical analogs of potassium and calcium, respectively, have high biological mobility. If they are present in the soil, they intensively enter the plants. The most dangerous are strontium-90 and cesium-137, which were characterized by a relatively high yield in the event of a nuclear power plant accident, a long half-life, a high coefficient of transition from soil to plants, and the intensity of inclusion in the biological chain. For example, in the commercial part of plant products (grain, root crops, tubers), root crops (table beets, carrots) are the most contaminated with strontium per unit of dry weight, legumes (peas, soybeans) are somewhat less, then potatoes, and the smallest amount - cereal crops ( wheat, rye).

Therefore, in regions with increased radiation exposure, special attention should be paid to clean nutrition and it should be, if possible, complete, diverse, with a large amount of nutrients, vitamins, macro- and microelements, amino acids. Many trace elements (sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, etc.) are competitive antagonists of some radionuclides. Therefore, with a decrease in the intake of any of them into the body, the danger of accumulation of its competing radioisotope in the corresponding critical organ increases sharply.

With normal and even increased intake of microelements with food products, competing radionuclides cannot be fully incorporated into the exchange and are mostly excreted from the body. For example, radioactive strontium and radium are absorbed in the intestine, but much more slowly than non-radioactive calcium, which is an ionic competitor of these radionuclides, which are included in the calcium pathway exchange. Therefore, a sufficient amount of calcium in the body prevents the accumulation of strontium and radium and promotes their elimination. On the contrary, a lack of calcium in food contributes to the accumulation of strontium in the body. According to the WHO, for a normal calcium balance, it is necessary to enter 0.4-0.5 g of calcium with food daily for adults, 0.4-0.7 - for teenagers, and 1.0-1.2 g - for pregnant women.

According to most scientists, during periods of threat of radionuclides entering the body, the daily dose of calcium should be increased by 2-3 times (up to 1-2 g), preferably with food. For example, 1 liter of milk contains 1.0-1.2 g of calcium. It is desirable to increase the amount of condensed milk, hard and processed cheeses, beef and eggs in the diet, as well as vegetable products rich in mineral salts and vitamins (apricots, cherries, cherries, citrus fruits, currants, rose hips, grapes, raspberries, zucchini, parsley, dill and etc.).

An ionic competitor of another common radionuclide, cesium-137, which poses a danger of internal radiation, is potassium. Increased intake of potassium in the body with such products as eggplants, green peas, potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons can also reduce the accumulation of radioactive cesium in critical organs.

There should be plenty of vitamins in the diet. According to many studies, even with small doses of ionizing radiation, the body's need for vitamins increases, since many of them, having certain properties, help the body to tolerate increased levels of radiation more easily. This is due to the fact that some vitamins, such as vitamin E, are antioxidants, that is, they protect many biological substances from oxidation. And the less oxygen there is in the cells, the less sensitive they are to ionizing radiation. The main sources of vitamin E are unrefined oils - soybean, corn, sunflower, and sea buckthorn.

It should also be remembered that as a result of technological processing of food raw materials and culinary processing of products, the content of radionuclides in them is significantly reduced. For example, the activity of radionuclides in mushrooms after washing and boiling is reduced by approximately 70-80% (provided that the decoction into which the radionuclides passed will be drained.

To remove radionuclides that have already entered the body, a rational diet with a sufficient amount of products that cause pronounced mechanical, chemical and thermal irritation, intestinal peristalsis is recommended. Useful products that have a significant amount of coarse vegetable fiber (wholemeal bread, pearl barley and buckwheat porridge, cold vegetable soups, dishes from boiled and raw vegetables),

When planning preventive measures, special attention should be paid to children and adolescents, as they have increased radiation sensitivity.

Despite all the difficulties, life continues and by following the data and other recommendations, it is possible to protect yourself, your family, and especially children, from additional radiation exposure, which will have a positive effect on health.

Лікар з радіаційної гігієни Валерій ЛИТЮК

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