Chernobyl Disaster


An article praising the Chernobyl plant was published in February 1986 stating that “the odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years.” 2 months later, one of the world’s largest nuclear disasters occurred in that very same plant. The Chernobyl Disaster was a classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the highest level possible. The Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster are the only two nuclear disasters in history to receive the highest level of classification.


At 1:23 a.m. on 26 April 1986, two power surges occurred in reactor four, leading to steam explosions, subsequently causing the graphite in the moderator to ignite when exposed to air. The wind carried the radioactive fallout throughout western Russia and Europe with Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus being the most contaminated. Volodymyr Pravik and his crew of firefighters were one of the first to arrive at the plant to fight the fires. By 6:35 a.m. the firefighters extinguished all the fires except for those in reactor 4 which continued for several days. Pravik died on May 9, 1986, due to severe radiation sickness; the firefighters were not told that this was a nuclear explosion with dangerous levels of radiation in the air.

Abandoned City of Pripyat

In Pripyat, a nearby city, neither explosion nor evacuation were announced, but just mere hours after the explosion people were reported having severe headaches, fits of coughing and vomiting, and of having metallic tastes in their mouths. The order to evacuate Pripyat was not given until noon the next day, April 27. On April 28 at 9:00 in the evening, the Russian population was informed of the nuclear disaster with a short 20 second announcement that underplayed the severity of the situation. The supposed 3-day evacuation ended up being permanent; Pripyat is now an abandoned city and many of the articles left behind from the evacuation are still there.


“An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl Atomic Power Station; one of the nuclear reactors has been damaged. Measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. Aid is being given to the victims. A government commission has been established.” [1]


In the few months after the explosion, Russian citizens were critical of how the government was dealing with the situation. Some were frustrated with how little information was given to them: “We have many evacuees here in town. Perhaps some individuals have helped them out privately. But you only hear about these things from acquaintances or neighbors-you can’t find out anything at all from our newspapers or local radio reports.” [2] Though special focus was given to evacuating children, some expressed difficulty in evacuating their children. [2] A newspaper article written one month before the explosion stated that “construction technology was not being adhered to, almost all orders were being underfulfilled, and equipment was arriving in an incomplete or, worse yet, clearly defective condition.”[3] Such reports damage the reputation of the USSR as the plant was under their direct jurisdiction.

Red Forest

The Red Forest

The after-effects of the disaster are as wide-spread as they are well-known. The trees of a nearby pine forest soon died and the forest was named the Red Forest after that. Though many domestic animals were evacuated, horses that were left on a nearby island soon died due to the radiation destroying their thyroid glands. As someone with hyperthyroidism, that was particularly interesting to read. In 2005 it was reported that the main health impact was thyroid cancer, reported to affect over 6000 children and adolescents who were exposed to the fallout. In 1991, the first radiotrophic fungus, which use melanin to convert gamma radiation into energy, was discovered growing on the walls of the Chernobyl plant. It is estimated that the exclusion zone, an area extending 30 kilometers in all directions from the plant, will not be safe for human inhabitation for 20,000 years.





3: (source of pic one and three)

pic 2:

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5 Responses to Chernobyl Disaster

  1. rkw15 says:

    Great post on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It really is amazing how much of a ghost town Chernobyl looks like even today. There are some very interesting photos online where photographers have gone in recent years and photographed the abandoned city. Interestingly, at the time of the incident, a traveling theme park (Carnival) was in town, so all of the carnival rides are just sitting there, completely empty. On another note, since you find it interesting that the horses died from health complications, my church back home participates in a program that brings teenagers from cities near Chernobyl to the United States for the summer. If I remember correctly, for every month they spend in the U.S. it is believed to add at least a year to their lives. It’s amazing how almost 30 years later, Chernobyl still has such a major impact.

  2. zmartin says:

    Chernobyl today is still very interesting. You can go visit it if you get permission from the government. There are still animals there now that look ad behave normal, but have abnormalities at the biological/DNA level. When you walk around the premises(you have a high tech radiation detector on you) there are random spots of super high radiation and other spots that barely have any. Inside the sarcophagus(the cement enclosure of the reactor) the levels of radiation are so high that even robots designed to go in and collect data only have a limited amount of time.

  3. A. Nelson says:

    Good research in this post! Zach, have you been to the area? There are people who have made lives for themselves in the zone despite all of the danger and warnings. Many of them are older women (babushki) — there’s even a documentary in the works about them:

  4. ryandellinger says:

    I find it especially interesting to find pictures of what life used to be prior to the accident, especially the image of the abandoned amusement park in Pripyiat. Unrelated but amazing to me nonetheless is the fact that the reactor was only just recently resealed. Why had it taken so long to get people in to build a new housing over it? How weren’t there people outraged at the further contamination that was just allowed to spread? Personally, I understand that the area is already highly contaminated, so a bit more won’t make much difference, but still. How long was this extra radiation allowed to leak?

  5. Alex Apollonio says:

    I like how you focused on the public response to the Chernobyl disaster, as that’s usually overlooked next to things like economic and health effects, which you also touched on. Chernobyl was extremely damaging to the Soviet Union’s reputation at home and abroad.

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