Discovery Channel – Chernobyl Life in Dead Zone
The Chernobyl disaster (locally Ukrainian: Чорнобильська катастрофа, Chornobylska Katastrofa – Chornobyl Catastrophe) was a nuclear accident of catastrophic degree that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (officially Ukrainian SSR), which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities in Moscow. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. It is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster). The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy.
The disaster began during a systems test on Saturday, 26 April 1986 at reactor number four of the Chernobyl plant, which is near the city of Prypiat and within a close proximity to the administrative border with Belarus and Dnieper river. There was a sudden power output surge, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted, a more extreme spike in power output occurred, which led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of explosions. These events exposed the graphite moderator of the reactor to air, causing it to ignite. The resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive smoke fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area, including Pripyat. The plume drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe. From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. According to official post-Soviet data, about 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus.
The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, as well as nuclear power in general, slowing its expansion for a number of years and forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive about its procedures. The government coverup of the Chernobyl disaster was a “catalyst” for glasnost, which “paved the way for reforms leading to the Soviet collapse.”
Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been burdened with the continuing and substantial decontamination and health care costs of the Chernobyl accident. A report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, examines the environmental consequences of the accident. Estimates of the number of deaths potentially resulting from the accident vary enormously: Thirty one deaths are directly attributed to the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers. An UNSCEAR report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the death toll could reach 4,000 civilian deaths, a figure which does not include military clean-up worker casualties. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimate that for the broader population there will be 50,000 excess cancer cases resulting in 25,000 excess cancer deaths. The 2006 TORCH report predicted 30,000 to 60,000 cancer deaths as a result of Chernobyl fallout. A Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more. A Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 premature cancer deaths occurred worldwide between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl.
On 26 April 1986, at 01:23 (UTC+3), reactor four suffered a catastrophic power increase, leading to explosions in its core. This dispersed large quantities of radioactive fuel and core materials into the atmosphere:73 and ignited the combustible graphite moderator. The burning graphite moderator increased the emission of radioactive particles, carried by the smoke, as the reactor had not been encased by any kind of hard containment vessel. The accident occurred during an experiment scheduled to test a potential safety emergency core cooling feature, which took place during the normal shutdown procedure.
Childrens toys and gas masks litter a kindergarten classroom in Pripyat, Ukraine. The abandoned town sits just two miles (three kilometers) from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which exploded in the predawn hours of April 26, 1986. All 50,000 Pripyat residents were evacuated after the accident, and the town, which was created for Chernobyl employees, has not been repopulated.
A plant reactor exploded during a failed cooling system test, igniting a massive fire that burned for ten days. The accident, which was blamed on design deficiencies and lax operating procedures, released radioactivity equivalent to 400 times that of the Hiroshima bomb.
More than 350,000 people were displaced in the weeks after the explosion, and scientists estimate up to 90,000 square miles (233,000 square kilometers) of land in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia (all part of the Soviet Union at the time) were contaminated with unhealthy levels of radioactive elements.
Source: National Geographic