Eerie, scary, agony. Words that come into your mind when you see the place and learn what happened there. Chernobyl is a city in Ukraine, home to around tens of thousands of people prior to the catastrophe. It was the home to the first-ever nuclear power station to be built in Ukraine.
Thirty-four years later, Chernobyl still remains lifeless, a disaster that changed many people’s lives, and also, changed the face of the nuclear power industry. Tourists flock to the area, which is now nothing less of a ghost town, and people living away from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, also known as the “Zone of Alienation.” This zone was initially set at a radius of 30 km centered on the power plant. It was later extended to contain other heavily radiated zones as well.
The HBO series “Chernobyl” brings us the plight of the sufferers and what went down. How hard it must be not to be informed about a disaster, and many more impending complications, how people went about their normal lives even though they knew something was off when the skies were grey, and there was radioactive water all over, we will never know.
So much happened on April 26th, when the world saw the worst nuclear accident till date, and here we have a top 10 facts about Chernobyl rounded up.
The Soviet Authorities Never Revealed the Crisis
The day after the accident, life went on as usual for everyone, even though people felt that something was odd, just being aware that an accident had occurred at the plant. The authorities never revealed the full details of the explosion or the risks, keeping its own citizens as well as neighboring countries in the dark.
The events came to light two days later, when the radiation spread to as far as Sweden, where a radiation detector picked up unusually high radiation levels. This led to satellite tracking and finally pinpointing the source of radiation to Chernobyl, with Sweden notifying the world about the incident. The people in Pripyat were only evacuated two days after the explosion, exposing people to radiation-induced.
The Red Forest
The Chernobyl disaster contaminated the soil, water, and the plants, due to the extremely high levels of radioactivity.
The radiation leakage from Reactor 4 killed all the trees in the nearby woodlands of Chernobyl and Pripyat (the neighboring city), the dead trees exhibiting a bright red color. This came to be known as the Red Forest and was eventually trenched and buried. However, these trees have still not decayed.
Chernobyl – A Tourism Spot
Today, tourists are ever more interested in visiting the ghost town. An amusement park was built in Pripyat and set to inaugurate on May 1st, now gives off the air of a haunted land and spooky vibes that seem to attract more tourists. Tourism is a big trade for the very few inhabitants in the area.
The tour guides are equipped with radiation detectors, and the level of radiation is monitored for each person leaving Chernobyl. It is forbidden to take anything out of Chernobyl. During high levels of radioactivity, clothes and shoes are either washed or abandoned.
To know more about the real-life tour experience to Chernobyl, click here.
Thriving Wildlife, Animals Outnumbering Humans
Experts say that Chernobyl and areas nearby will be uninhabitable for humans for the next few decades. However, the animal population has thrived, with large communities of bears and wolves roaming the streets. Another interesting fact is the return of an endangered wild species of horse, the Przewalski’s horse. While there has been a growth in the number of individual species, most invertebrates such as butterflies and insect populations were adversely affected, and many of the bird species suffered deformities.
Lack of Adherence to Safety Measures
The accident happened during a maintenance test, as a part of which the emergency safety systems were deactivated. Before this, the plant had faced many minor safety issues as well.
Apart from that, one major fault was the lack of a containment building. The primary purpose of a containment building is to house the reactor, its pumps, and generators. In the event of an explosion or accident, this airtight chamber performs the function of confining fission products. It is believed that in the absence of this significant defect, the impact would not have been this harsh on the lives of citizens and the environment.
The Crumbling Sarcophagus
Reactor 4, which exploded, continued to burn until May 10th, 1986, after the initial explosion on April 25th. The remnants of the reactor, weighing up to 200 tons, remain in a steel and concrete containment structure. The remains include corium, uranium, and plutonium.
The Sarcophagus was deemed irreparable by 1996, due to the existing damages. However, despite the dangers involved, the remaining three reactors continued operations, one of them working until the year 2000.
The Effects of Radiation Are Said to Last for Generations.
The radioactive element Plutonium has a half-life of more than 24,000 years, meaning it will take over 24,000 years to reduce its intensity by half. The radioactive iodine isotope is easily absorbed into the human body, and it is one of the major causes of thyroid cancer. This lead to a massive rise in operations for removal of thyroid glands and the scar that followed came to be known as the “Chernobyl Necklace.”
It is said that the radiation caused the eyes of a firefighter to change from brown to blue. Other radioactive materials, such as those of cesium, have long term effects on people’s lives.
This means the cities of Chernobyl and Pripyat will remain as such for times yet to come.
The heat released by the radiating material after the explosion, melted the concrete floor and oozed through pipes and fissures into the basement. Thus, it was called as the elephant’s foot due to its wrinkly texture. It is 2 meters in diameter and weighs hundreds of tons. It consists of corium, and other elements such as silicon dioxide, uranium, and graphite.
The Elephant’s foot was discovered in December 1986, and exposure to it for a time of 300 seconds could prove lethal. Today, decades later, it has grown less radiating, but can still be deadly if someone faces this radiation exposure for an hour.
The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad, that’s what they called the three brave men who played the role of emergency workers and sacrificed their lives to prevent yet another explosion that would have been deadlier than what had already happened.
The initial Chernobyl accident triggered many parts of the nuclear reactor, leading to the verge of a steam explosion. Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov, the three valiant engineers who prevented what could have led to the whole of Europe being uninhabitable for centuries.
Worst Nuclear Accident Ever Witnessed
The RBMK- 1000 nuclear Chernobyl reactors are now considered as defective designs. These faulty RBMK reactors, along with violations of safety regulations and several previous issues, led to an accident, releasing an amount of radiation that was deemed to be 200- 400 times greater than the level of emissions from atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is one of the two worst nuclear disasters classified as a 7/7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
The Chernobyl disaster was one of the most heart-wrenching catastrophes that humanity has witnessed. Countless lives lost, many lives still affected be it with solid cancers or any other health effects. Pripyat, the city, built for the workers of the plant just 3 km away from Chernobyl, once considered to be one of the best places to live in the Soviet Union, now rests as a ghost town.
The explosion that the UN called “the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of humanity,” took the lives of 49 people, but left behind many people with radiation-related ailments, whose number still remains unknown. The death toll due to the incident also remains unidentified. Millions of people who lived in other parts of the Soviet Union were also exposed to low radiation levels, leaving them at the risk of cancerous diseases. The radiation is said to have traveled to as far as Northern Ireland.
Today, the radiation has become a part of people’s lives in the Chernobyl region, it is present all around them, in their food and drinks, and in the wood, they use to keep themselves warm. Many rebels, mainly old souls, have come to live in the exclusion zone, defying government orders.
The video below shows the current situation at the site, abandoned and forgotten, many lives and secrets buried under a pile of rubble.
It is upsetting to see how the ignorance and lack of action from those concerned, ruined the lives of so many for generations to come. It is also startling to see how so many people, such as brave firefighters, put their own lives at risk to rescue those in peril.
As the world remembered 30 years of the Chernobyl explosion, the plights of those in hazard, those who still continue to live in the exclusion zone came to light, as a reminder of our actions on Earth and subsequent effects. On a lighter note, let’s think how the Chernobyl would be after a span of 100 years?