On April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine experienced a catastrophic failure and resulted in the worst nuclear power disaster in history. The disaster was due to a flawed reactor design and poorly trained plant personnel. The amount of radiation released was at least 100 times that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined, and an area nearly half the size of Colorado was contaminated by the accident.
Over 600,000 emergency workers (referred to as “liquidators”) were drafted to clean up the disaster site and build a sarcophagus over the failed reactor. Robots that were brought in to remove the chunks of highly radioactive reactor fuel broke down, and Soviet military conscripts eventually did the job themselves by collecting the radioactive fuel by hand.
Although Western scientists detected high levels or radiation spreading across Northern and Western Europe, the Soviets continued to deny that an accident had occured at Chernobyl. It wasn’t until April 28 – two days after the disaster – that the Soviet government ackowledged an accident had taken place.
Evacuations of the affected areas were slow to occur, and the Soviet government continued to treat the disaster as if it were a relatively minor accident. The Soviet press focused mainly on the upcoming May Day celebrations, and when they actually reported on the Chernobyl accident, they were more concerned with the “lies” and “propaganda” that the West was using to describe the accident.
In the end, over 300,000 residents were evacuated from their homes in the contaminated zone and moved to safer ground. An estimated 25,000 people have died since the incident, and tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Belorussians suffer from radiation related sicknesses.
In December 2000, Chernobyl’s last remaining reactor was finally switched off.
This website has some amazing pictures of what the area surrounding Chernobyl looks like today. Seriously, check it out…very interesting…the photos of the abandoned houses and school in Pripyat are particularly haunting. (Update: I took a trip to Chernobyl in July 2007)
Oddly enough, the most popular keyword that brings people to my site is “chernobyl.” I was kind of perplexed because I had never posted anything about Chernobyl before, but then it occured to me that visitors were doing a Google image search for “chernobyl” and were coming across a picture of the cafeteria food at SPbSPU, which we fondly referred to as “Chernobyl Chicken.”