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
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid