by Plutonium Page
On 26 April, 1986, the worst commercial nuclear accident in history occurred during a test at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which lies near the Belarus-Ukraine border, 100 km north of Kiev, Ukraine. At 1:23:58 am local time, the plant's Unit 4 reactor was rocked by a steam explosion, followed by a hydrogen explosion and a fire resulting in temperatures over 2,000°C. The 1,000 ton reactor lid was blown off the core, the nuclear fuel rods melted, and more than 100 times the radiation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined was released into the atmosphere over the 10 days that the fire burned.
Many of the small towns and villages close to Chernobyl were rendered uninhabitable, and radioactive fallout from the accident was detected all over Europe. On that day, the lives of over 130,000 people evacuees from the 30 km radius "exclusion zone" (left, click to enlarge) were changed in a way that is difficult, if not impossible, for most of us to imagine.
Most of the recent media discussion of the Chernobyl catastrophe has
focused on the controversy about the number of people who have died - and will die - as a result of the accident. In other words, the media has largely failed to see the people behind the statistics. The purpose of this post is not to discuss the numbers, but to put a human face on the legacy of that day in April 1986.
This post is dedicated to those who died, and those who are still with us today.
(A note to the nerds out there: for brevity, I am not going into extreme technical detail about the disaster. However, if you're interested, this article [pdf] is excellent.)