The Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident on April 26, 1986, in the former Soviet Union, demonstrated, for the first time, that the effects of any such nuclear accident are not localized, but rather spill over into neighboring countries and have global consequences.

This phenomenon has been described most succinctly as a nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere.

Human Factors Causes of the Chernobyl Accident

"The root cause of the Chernobyl accident, it is concluded, is to be found in the so-called human element....The lessons drawn from the Chernobyl accident are valuable for all reactor types."

International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Summary Report on the Post-Accident Review Meeting on the Chernobyl Accident (1986, p. 76)

"The Chernobyl accident illustrated the critical contribution of the human factor in the nuclear safety."

IAEA's Nuclear Safety Review for 1987 (p. 43)

"I advocate the respect for human engineering and sound man-machine interaction. This is a lesson that the Chernobyl taught us."

Valeriy A. Legasov, the head of the Soviet delegation to the Post-Accident Review Meeting [organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in August, 1986]

Quoted in Munipov, V.M. (1990). Human Engineering Analysis of the Chernobyl Accident. Unpublished manuscript. Moscow: The USSR Scientific and Research Institute of Industrial Design (VNIITE) (p. 10).

Human Factors Causes of the Chernobyl Accident:

Safety Culture

"The accident can be said to have flowed from deficient safety culture, not only at the Chernobyl plant, but throughout the Soviet design, operating and regulatory organizations for nuclear power that existed at the time."

"Safety culture ... requires total dedication, which at nuclear power plants is primarily generated by the attitudes of managers of organizations involved in their development and operation."

IAEA's International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group (INSAG), The Chernobyl Accident: Updating of INSAG-1 (INSAG-7, 1992, p.24)

"An assessment of the Chernobyl accident in this respect demonstrates that a deficit in safety culture was inherent not only to the state of operation, but also and to no lesser extent to activities at other stages in the lifetime of nuclear power plants (including design, engineering, construction, manufacture and regulation)."

IAEA's International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group (INSAG), The Chernobyl Accident: Updating of INSAG-1 (INSAG-7, 1992, p.24)

Human Factors Causes of the Chernobyl Accident:

The Origin of the Safety Culture

"The term 'safety culture' came into use after the Chernobyl accident."

IAEA's Nuclear Safety Review 1992 (p. D24)

Definition of the Safety Culture

(in nuclear power plants)

"Safety culture is that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance."

International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (1991), Safety Culture (p. 4)

Human Factors Causes of the Chernobyl Accident


"Defects of the system was that the designers did not foresee the awkward and silly actions by the operators"

"Human error and problems with the man-machine interface"

"The planning of tests (at Chernobyl) seems to have been in tune with the general sloppiness of the operation of the control room"

"There were important admissions of management errors, as distinct from operator error"

"Neither the station's managers nor the Ministry of Power and Electrification's leadership had any concept of the necessary actions...There was a noticeable confusion even on minor matters"

"The staff was insufficiently familiar with the special features of the technological processes in a nuclear reactor... They had also lost any feeling for the hazards involved"

"The root causes of most safety significant events were found to be deficiencies in:

plant organization and management,

the feedback of operational experience,

training and qualification,

quality assurance in the maintenance and procedures, and the scope of the corrective actions"

Effects of the Chernobyl Accident

The accident released the lethal contents of 80 percent of the reactor core rather than the 3 percent figure announced to the world.

Chernousenko (1992)

The released radiation, which killed between 7,000 and 10,000 volunteers, was roughly equivalent to the explosion of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.

(Gould, 1993)

Effects of the Chernobyl Accident:

Human Losses

"An estimated 20 million (former) Soviets were exposed to radioactivity released at Chernobyl."

(Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1992)

The number of deaths has been as high as 5,000

(New York Times, April 23, 1991)

The accident may yet cause up to 300,000 deaths.

(The Economist, April 27, 1991)

Chernobyl accident may ultimately claim more victims than did World War II.

Read (1993)

Effects of the Chernobyl Accident:

Human Losses

In the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia:

Twice the normal rate of birth defects among those living in the vicinity of the plant.

Thyroid glands of more than 150,000 people were "seriously affected" by doses of radioactive iodine,

(Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1989)

800,000 children are at risk of contracting leukemia.

(Geenpeace Magazine, January/February 1991)

Effects of the Chernobyl Accident:

Human Losses

The United States has not been immune from Chernobyl's fallout:

"Effects of the Chernobyl accident were even apparent in the small but statistically significant excess mortality in the U.S. in May 1986."

(Gould, 1993, p. 322).

Effects of the Chernobyl Accident:

Environmental Damages

The radioactive fallout resulting from Chernobyl was detected all over the world, from Finland to South Africa.

Two million acres of land in Belarus and Ukraine that cannot be exploited normally which comprise 20 percent of Belarus' farmland.

(Insight, January 15, 1990)

One-fifth (1/5) of the republic of Belarus' more than 10 million people have to be moved from areas contaminated by radiation, including 27 cities and more than 2,600 villages.

(Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1990)

Effects of the Chernobyl Accident:


$26 billion is allotted for the resettlement of the 200,000 people still living in the irradiated areas.

(New York Times, April 26, 1990)

It may end up costing $400 billion and it will take up to 200 years to "totally wipe out" the effects of the accident in the affected areas.

(Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1990)