News / Europe

Chernobyl Accident Anniversary Recalled

Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant stands encased in lead and concrete following the Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant stands encased in lead and concrete following the April 1986 accident, which released a cloud of radiat
Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant stands encased in lead and concrete following the Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant stands encased in lead and concrete following the April 1986 accident, which released a cloud of radiat

Pripyat, Ukraine. A dead city. Homes, schoolrooms, playgrounds, and other places are crumbling as wild nature reclaims the land.

Pripyat once had some 50,000 residents. Now they are gone, perhaps forever. Only the artifacts of their lives remain behind, rotting to dust.

Pripyat died because of the deadliest nuclear power accident in world history. Chernobyl.

Early on April 26, 1986, reactor Unit Four at Chernobyl was put through an experimental test of its cooling system.  The reactor overheated and exploded from steam pressure, ripping the roof off the power plant.  Nuclear radiation spewed into the night sky. And, as people slept, it spread throughout Pripyat, just north of Chernobyl.

A nuclear accident with no end

In reactor four, the nuclear fuel and the graphite surrounding it were on fire. Authorities sent helicopters to fly over the reactor to dump sand and other materials to try to stop the fire. But, it burned for days.

The wind carried radioactive particles from the fire over a wide area. Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. Then, Scandanavia, Britain, and other parts of Europe. As the wind shifted direction, so did the radiation.

Finally, a day and a half after the explosion, an evacuation of Pripyat was ordered. People were told they would only be gone for several days, so they left nearly everything behind. They never returned.

Despite the wide spread of radiation, Soviet officials at first said very little publicly about what happened at Chernobyl. Many people believed their leaders rather than outside reports about the disaster.

"No. No. Everything is good. We do not tell lies on our radio and television," said a Russian woman.

It was radiation detectors in other countries, many hundreds of kilometers away, that forced the Soviets to admit to Chernobyl's accident.

Thousands of people were sent to Chernobyl to clean up debris from the blast. They also built a structure, called a sarcophagus, to cover the shattered reactor and its radioactive fuel. The workers' equipment became so contaminated that it had to be abandoned. The workers became contaminated as well. Many became ill.

The Soviet government said at least 31 fatalities at the Chernobyl plant were directly linked to the reactor explosion. The World Health Organization says another 22-hundred deaths can be expected among those who took part in the cleanup. The WHO report added that, in all, Chernobyl could result in 4,000 fatalities from cancer and other radiation-linked causes.

A 1986 file photo shows firefighters in protective gear washing a West German car near Herleshausen at the East German border after it arrived from Poland bearing radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster
A 1986 file photo shows firefighters in protective gear washing a West German car near Herleshausen at the East German border after it arrived from Poland bearing radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster

Radioactivity forced officials to create a 30-kilometer-wide no-habitation zone around Chernobyl, sealing off Pripyat. Still, the power plant continued to generate electricity until it was finally shut down in December, 2000.

The Chernobyl nuclear plant's Soviet RBMK [type design] reactors were not encased in thick concrete structures called containment vessels that are now standard in the industry. Philippe Jamet, the former Nuclear Installation Safety Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stresses their importance.

"The containment vessels are very, are one of the barriers. We have to protect the environment and people against radioactivity in case of an accident," said Jamet.

Russia, incidentally, still operates 11 RBMK-type reactors. The worst nuclear power accident in U.S. history, at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979, caused no fatalities and much lower impact to the surrounding area. A reactor containment vessel here remained intact despite a nuclear fuel partial meltdown.

You May Like

Video Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid