THE EXPLOSION and fire at the Chernobyl number 4 nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, was the most significant nuclear event—in terms of acute injuries and deaths, the amount of radioactivity released into the environment, the size of the affected area, and the probable magnitude of long-term consequences—since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was the worst commercial nuclear power plant disaster in history, and the second to involve a meltdown of nuclear fuel—seven years after the first such instance at Three Mile Island in 1979. As in the case of previous nuclear disasters, it will be decades before the sequence of events and the consequences are fully understood.
I was in the Soviet Union in early June 1986, leading a medical lecture tour under an exchange program sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility. This provided an opportunity for extensive discussions with the Soviet physicians in charge of
Geiger HJ. The Accident at Chernobyl and the Medical Response. JAMA. 1986;256(5):609–612. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380050077024