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Radiation Emergencies
Emergency Response:

EPA's Response to the Chernobyl Incident

Ready to Respond
 A composite Satellite Image of Chernobyl Taken on April 29, 1986, After the Reactor's Graphite Core had Been Burning for Three Days

A composite satellite
image of Chernobyl
taken on April 29, 1986,
after the reactor's
graphite core had been
burning for three days

On Saturday, April 26, 1986, the world experienced its worst civil radiological accident ever when unauthorized testing of procedures on reactor number four at the Soviet Union's Chernobyl nuclear power station caused it to explode and burn, emitting large quantities of radioactive material. In the days following the accident, the Soviets released sparse data on the severity of the accident and almost no data on the extent of radioactive fallout in Europe and the rest of the world.

The White House designated EPA as the leader in coordinating the U.S. response to this global emergency. EPA began monitoring and assessing radioactivity in the United States, based in part on daily samples from its Environmental Radiation Ambient Monitoring System (ERAMS), the predecessor of EPA's current system, RadNet.

The system first detected radiation from the accident at ground level on the West Coast one week after the accident.

The radioactivity concentrations were well below levels requiring protective action. In addition, EPA dispatched response personnel to Europe to monitor and assess levels of radioactivity in the Black Sea and Kiev Reservoir under a cooperative agreement with the Soviets.

Because Soviet-released information was limited and unsubstantiated, Americans remained concerned about the possibility of adverse health effects in the United States. EPA established a group, chaired by the Department of Health and Human Services, to provide advice on preventing contamination of the food supply and protecting public health. EPA also established an Information Center to assemble, coordinate, and disseminate information to the public. Through the Information Center, EPA organized daily press conferences to keep the public up-to-date and to address their concerns.

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