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A town called Pripyat, in modern-day Ukraine, saw one of the worst nuclear disasters, 35 years ago today. The Chernobyl disaster, as it is known, occurred on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear power station, as technicians at a Soviet nuclear reactor attempted to execute an experiment that did not go as planned. Now, three and a half decades later, the horrors of the disaster continue to haunt the now abandoned Pripyat and surrounding areas.
What happened at Chernobyl?
The disaster took place at Unit 4 of the reactor while an experiment was being conducted. During the experiment, technicians are said to have shut the power regulating system of the reactor along with other emergency safety measures. Further, the control rods were pulled out from the core and the reactor was kept running at 7% power.
These actions of the technicians along with other failures led the core to go out of control of those running the experiment. Resultantly, large explosions in the reactor caused the heavy material lid of the reactor to blow. Followed by a fire in the graphite reactor, the explosion allowed radioactive material to flow into the air which spread fast across the surrounding areas.
The Soviet Union started evacuating thousands of residents from Pripyat and nearby places. Some reports suggested that the number of people that were evacuated was close to 30,000. Many remained in the contaminated area. Although the Soviet Union is said to have attempted to cover up the blunder, international organisations and neighbouring countries demanded an explanation as radiation was detected in the air.
The death toll from the initial explosion is believed to be between 2 to 50. In the days and weeks following the disaster, dozens reported radiation sickness and many were left deft due to the severe radiation.
Radiation from the Chernobyl disaster was higher than that created by the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
Following the disaster, Pripyat was abandoned by civilians and then by those who closed the reactor. In 1991 the Unit 2 of Chernobyl was closed after a fire and Unit 1 was shut down after 1996. Unit 3 of Chernobyl remained operational till 2000 when the power station was decommissioned.
The Soviet Union created an exclusion zone after the disaster that stretched 4,143 square kilometres. Acres of forests were left out of human reach due to radiation. Many had to abandon everything they had but moved on with radiation poisoning which led to deformities in livestock, cancer and other illness in human beings. However, Edinburgh Evening News reported that the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded that, apart from some 6500 thyroid cancers, “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident.”
To date, there remains an exclusion zone where no one is allowed to live. The Ukrainian government does, however, allow tourists and scientists to enter nearby areas and even the town of Pripyat for a limited period of time.