Recent incidents at nuclear facilities in Ukraine related to the attacks from Russian forces highlight the fragility of nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities in war and the very real potential for another environmental nuclear disaster and associated health risks in Europe. Nuclear catastrophes from war can occur from radioactive materials released from war threatened nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities in war zones, in addition to the direct threat from the deployment of nuclear weaponry and can result in immediate and long-term health impacts. Despite historical nuclear catastrophic events, including the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident and atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that for more than a century epidemiologists have studied the consequences of radiation exposures, there are still major unanswered questions regarding radiation risks and human health. Epidemiologists will need to continue to quantify the health effects from exposure to environmental radiation, including background radiation, and are able to contribute to conversations about reliance on nuclear energy and alternative energy futures. As a society we are compelled to rethink our ties to nuclear energy, especially with the potential of increasing reliance on nuclear power amid oil and gas crisis and considering climate change, nuclear warfare, including nuclear weapon testing, and the fragility of humanity and health to even low doses of radiation from these and other natural and unnatural sources.
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Jessica E. Laine is supported by the European Union-funded RadoNorm project, Grant agreement ID: 900009.
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Laine, J.E. War in Europe: health implications of environmental nuclear disaster amidst war. Eur J Epidemiol 37, 221–225 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-022-00862-9