Written by Atharv Balaji, a grade 5 student.
26th April 2021 was the 35th anniversary of the worst man-made calamity, the Chernobyl disaster.
The radiation from the power plant brought long-term diseases to those who were affected and they feared it would affect the next generation too. However, the latest studies show no mutations in the DNA of children whose parents were exposed to radiation.
What are nuclear power plants?
Before we get to the disaster, let us learn what nuclear power plants are.
Scientists experimented by breaking a heavy element, U239 (Uranium) into its basic form. They bombarded it with Neutrons. The Neutrons broke the Uranium into smaller elements. The process released more Neutrons which continued the cycle. This is known as a chain reaction. Scientists also noticed the energy in the form of heat being released. They created nuclear power plants to harness this heat and generate electricity. They even created bombs called atom bombs, which were used in world war II on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
What happened in Chernobyl?
The Chernobyl disaster is a nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine. There was a poorly designed test happening in reactor 4 when it exploded. The explosion released nuclear radiation which travelled as far as eastern Europe. A few died in the explosion and many got radiation poisoning, of whom some died a few years later from thyroid and other cancers. After the disaster, there was an evacuation of more than 300,000 people from the town of Pripyat and other nearby towns.
Scientists predicted that no one can live in the area for at least 20,000 years. People who were affected by the radiation were afraid to have kids because there were many rumours about mutations and they thought it would affect their children.
35 years on, scientists are still studying the long-term human and environmental effects of the disaster.
Latest scientific discovery
A study led by professor Meredith Yeager from the US National Cancer Institute studied the DNA of children of liquidators (workers who cleaned up after the disaster) and the people who had been affected by the radiation. This is the first study to screen the genes of children of affected parents to find out if they were at risk from mutations linked to cancer. The scientists were looking for new mutations in the children which were not present in their parents.
They found no such mutations in the children’s DNA. This suggests that children are at less risk of DNA mutations from their parent’s exposure to radiation.