As Japan struggles to contain the fallout from four failed nuclear reactors, the world has developed renewed interest in Chernobyl, the site of the most serious nuclear accident to date. NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien found that nearly 25 years after the Chernobyl meltdown, signs of the accident still exist.
People, plants and animals in the region have all experienced biological changes that most scientists attribute to the high level of radiation that spread over the area after a nuclear reactor melted down. Large swaths of dead trees stand where forests used to grow, and many animals show signs of genetic defects like altered coloration and tumors. Most disturbing is the fact that years after the accident, people in the area and their offspring show increased cancer rates and signs of illness.
Vasyl Kavatsiuk, who was one of the workers charged with putting the radioactive material back into the reactor so it could be cemented shut, says he is sure his two daughters' leukemia illnesses were due to his radiation exposure. But, he says he had a job to do to protect millions more from the radiation.
Today, workers in Japan are also sacrificing their own well-being to keep the radiation leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at bay.
"If you think about that, you are getting more sick more than you're supposed to be. You are just thinking I have to do this. This is my job. I have to finish this. I have to do this. Anyhow, somebody must do that." - Vasyl Kavatsiuk, Chernobyl liquidator
"They call it red forest because this is strong radiation. The leaves of trees became red." - Gennady Milinevsky, University of Kiev
1. What is radiation?
2. How does a nuclear power plant work? What is its fuel?
3. When can radiation be dangerous? How does it affect living things?
. Do you think nuclear power is a good option for generating energy? Why or why not? What dangers do other sources of energy, such as oil and coal, pose to the environment and humans?
2. If you were tasked with cleaning up after a nuclear accident, would you do it? Why or why not? Do you think the people on the Chernobyl memorial seen in this video should be considered heroes?
3. According to the video, how does radiation affect living cells and genes?
Nuclear Power Plant Failures in Japan Raise Safety Questions: