At 01:23 on 26th April 1986 an experiment was started at reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) in northern Ukraine (then part of the USSR). The purpose of the experiment was to investigate reactor safety in the event of failure of the main electricity supply to the plant. Less than a minute after the start of the experiment there was a steam explosion which blew the lid off the reactor and resulted in the largest accidental release of radioactivity into the environment in the history of nuclear power production. The exposed reactor core continued to burn for approximately 10 days with continued releases of radioactivity to the atmosphere over this period. The Chernobyl accident led to a large resurgence in radioecological studies both to aid remediation and to be able to make future predictions on the post-accident situation, but, also in recognition that more knowledge was required for future accidents. In this on-line virtual special issue we have selected 30 (in our opinion) key papers published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity. Whilst necessarily excluding many important papers, in our view, the papers selected cover a number of key radioecological questions with a focus on advances made by research conducted following the Chernobyl accident. The areas we identified as being significantly advanced following Chernobyl were: the importance of semi-natural ecosystems in dose formation; the characterisation and environmental behaviour of hot particles; the development and application of countermeasures; the “fixation” and long term bioavailability of radiocaesium and; the effects of radiation on plants and animals.
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