Skip to main content Accessibility help

Medical Lessons Learned From Chernobyl Relative to Nuclear Detonations and Failed Nuclear Reactors

  • Cham E. Dallas


The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 involved the largest airborne release of radioactivity in history, more than 100 times as much radioactivity as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs together. The resulting emergency response, administrative blunders, and subsequent patient outcomes from this large-scale radiological disaster provide a wealth of information and valuable lessons for those who may find themselves having to deal with the staggering consequences of nuclear war. Research findings, administrative strategies (successful and otherwise), and resulting clinical procedures from the Chernobyl experience are reviewed to determine a current utility in addressing the appropriate protocols for a medical response to nuclear war. As various myths are still widely associated with radiation exposure, attention is given to the realities of a mass casualty medical response as it would occur with a nuclear detonation.

(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2012;6:330-334)


Corresponding author

Correspondence: Cham E. Dallas, PhD, 001 Barrow Hall, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602 (e-mail:


Hide All
1.Goans, RE ed. Medical Management of Radiological Casualties. 3rd ed. Bethesda, MD: Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute; 2009.
2.Dallas, CE. Nuclear detonation. In: Keyes, C, Pepe, P, Swienton, R, Schwartz, R, eds. Medical Response to Terrorism. New York, NY: Lippincott; 2004: 174185.
3.Swienton, RMarkenson, D, eds. Basic disaster life support. In: Nuclear and Radiological Events. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 2011.
4.Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President. Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Federal Emergency Management Agency; June 2010.
5.Holloway, HCNorwood, AEFullerton, CSEngel, CC JrUrsano, RJ. The threat of biological weapons: prophylaxis and mitigation of psychological and social consequences. JAMA. 1997;278(5)425427.
6.World Health Organization. Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programmes: Report of the UN Chernobyl Forum Expert Group “Health.”. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2006.
7.Litcher, LBromet, EJCarlson, G, et alSchool and neuropsychological performance of evacuated children in Kyiv 11 years after the Chornobyl disaster. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2000;41(3):291299.
8.Bar Joseph, NReisfeld, DTirosh, ESilman, ZRennert, G. Neurobehavioral and cognitive performances of children exposed to low-dose radiation in the Chernobyl accident: the Israeli Chernobyl Health Effects Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2004;160(5)453459.
9.Castronovo, FP Jr.Teratogen update: radiation and Chernobyl. Teratology. 1999;60(2):100106.
10.Dolk, HNichols, R; EUROCAT Working Group. Evaluation of the impact of Chernobyl on the prevalence of congenital anomalies in 16 regions of Europe. Int J Epidemiol. 1999;28(5)941948.
11.Kolominsky, YIgumnov, SDrozdovitch, V. The psychological development of children from Belarus exposed in the prenatal period to radiation from the Chernobyl atomic power plant. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1999; 40(2):299305.
12.Nyagu, AILoganovsky, KNLoganovskaja, TK. Psychophysiologic after-effects of prenatal irradiation. Int J Psychophysiol. 1998;30(3)303311.
13.Kulakov, VISokur, TNVolobuev, AI, et alFemale reproductive function in areas affected by radiation after the Chernobyl power station accident. Environ Health Perspect. 1993; 101(suppl 2):117123.
14.Yablokov, AV. 5. Nonmalignant diseases after the Chernobyl catastrophe. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009;1181:58160.
15.Wertilecki, W. Malformations in a Chernobyl-impacted region. Pediatrics. 2010; 125(4):e837e843.
16.Williams, DBaverstock, K. Chernobyl and the future: too soon for a final diagnosis. Nature. 2006;440(7087):993994.
17.De Wals, PDolk, H. Effects of the Chernobyl radiological contamination on human reproduction in western Europe. Prog Clin Biol Res. 1990;340C:339346.
18.Rojas-Burke, J. Scientists report surprise findings of thyroid cancer following Chernobyl. J Nucl Med. 1992;33:2324, 32–33.
19.Knudsen, LB. Legally induced abortions in Denmark after Chernobyl. Biomed Pharmacother. 1991;45(6):229231.
20.Irgens, LMLie, RTUlstein, M, et alPregnancy outcome in Norway after Chernobyl. Biomed Pharmacother. 1991;45(6)233241.
21.Spinelli, AOsborn, JF. The effects of the Chernobyl explosion on induced abortion in Italy. Biomed Pharmacother. 1991;45(6)243247.
22.Czeizel, AE. Incidence of legal abortions and congenital abnormalities in Hungary. Biomed Pharmacother. 1991;45(6):249254.
23.Trichopoulos, DZavitsanos, XKoutis, CDrogari, PProukakis, CPetridou, E. The victims of Chernobyl in Greece: induced abortions after the accident. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1987;295(6606):1100.
24.United Nations Security Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Scientific Annexes C,D, and E. Vol 2. New York, NY: United Nations; 2011. Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation: 2008 Report to the General Assembly with Scientific Annexes.
25.World Health Organization. Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident: 20 years later a UN report provides definitive answers and ways to repair lives. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; September 5, 2005.
26.Williams, ED. Effects on the thyroid in populations exposed to radiation as a result of the Chernobyl accident. In: One Decade After Chernobyl. Vienna, Austria: International Atomic Energy Authority; 1996:207230.
27.Ron, ELubin, JHShore, RE, et alThyroid cancer after exposure to external radiation: a pooled analysis of seven studies. Radiat Res. 1995;141(3):259277.
28.Williams, D. Radiation carcinogenesis: lessons from Chernobyl. Oncogene. 2008;27(suppl 2):S9S18.
29.Cockerham, LGWalden, TLDallas, CEMickley, GALandauer, MR. Ionizing radiation. In: Hayes, AW, ed. Principles and Methods of Toxicology. 5th ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2007:897982.
30.Howe, GR. Leukemia following the Chernobyl accident. Health Phys. 2007;93(5):512515.
31.Moysich, KBMenezes, RJMichalek, AM. Chernobyl-related ionising radiation exposure and cancer risk: an epidemiological review. Lancet Oncol. 2002;3(5):269279.
32.Sali, DCardis, ESztanyik, L, et alCancer consequences of the Chernobyl accident in Europe outside the former USSR: a review. Int J Cancer. 1996;67(3)343352.
33.Walker, RICerveny, TJ eds. Medical Consequences of Nuclear Warfare: Textbook of Military Medicine. Falls Church, VA: US Army Office of the Surgeon General; 1989.
34.Flynn, DFGoans, RE. Nuclear terrorism: triage and medical management of radiation and combined-injury casualties. Surg Clin North Am. 2006;86(3):601636.
35.Nesterenko, VBNesterenko, AVBabenko, VIYerkovich, TVBabenko, IV. Reducing the 137Cs-load in the organism of “Chernobyl” children with apple-pectin. Swiss Med Wkly. 2004;134(1–2):2427.
36.Verzijl, JMWierckx, FCHennen, LAvan Dijk, AGlerum, JH. The influence of extracorporeal clearance techniques on elimination of radiocesium after internal contamination. Health Phys. 1995;69(4):521529.
37.Musolino, SVHarper, FT. Emergency response guidance for the first 48 hours after the outdoor detonation of an explosive radiological dispersal device. Health Phys. 2006;90(4):377385.
38.Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. The Medical Aspects of Radiation Incidents. Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education; 2010.
39.Dallas, CEBell, WC. Prediction modeling to determine the adequacy of medical response to urban nuclear attack. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2007;1(2):8089.
40.Medvedev, Z. The Legacy of Chernobyl. New York, NY: WW Norton & Co; 1990.
41.Becker, SM. Communicating risk to the public after radiological incidents. BMJ. 2007;335(7630):11061107.


Medical Lessons Learned From Chernobyl Relative to Nuclear Detonations and Failed Nuclear Reactors

  • Cham E. Dallas


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed