#On this day – Chernobyl

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

The worst nuclear event in history

On this day in 1986, the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, modern day Ukraine, took place, when design flaws in one of the reactors led to what has been dubbed the worst nuclear event in history. Although nearby cities were evacuated soon after the disaster, it is agreed that around 40 deaths occurred due to acute radiation related illness in the days and weeks that followed; whilst it is thought that the radiation led to possibly several thousand long term deaths due to cancer. The disaster came as a great shock to the Soviet Union, and put great pressure onto those at the top of its political operations. Eventually, the clean up operation cost around 18 billion Soviet Rubles or 70 billion US Dollars, and many argue that the economic and political implications of the event were partly responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union 5 years later. Following on from the disaster, a 30 kilometre exclusion zone was set up around the city of Pripyat, still affecting people today in modern day Ukraine and Belarus. Today, the disaster is used by some to argue against the use of nuclear power, citing its potentially devastating consequences.

A view of the city of Pripyat today

Liquidators

The Chernobyl Liquidators are the 600,000 Soviet citizens and military personnel who are recognised as having helped to combat the negative effects of the Chernobyl disaster. Those considered liquidators include people playing may different roles at the time; including firefighters, civil defence troops and civilian scientists and engineers. Many liquidators were given the award of Hero of the Soviet Union; one of the most famous was Mykola Melnyk, a helicopter pilot who made a risky flight to place radiation sensors on the reactor. Today, liquidators living across old Soviet states are often awarded generous rewards in recognition of the danger into which they put themselves after the disaster. Several organisations and charities, including the Chernobyl Union and Children of Chernobyl have since been set up to further the causes of living liquidators, their families and those who remain at risk following on from the disaster.

Disasters Since

Although Chernobyl is generally considered the worst, and has been responsible for most deaths, other nuclear disasters have occurred since 1986. The most famous of these was the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown following on from a tsunami. Despite being responsible for far fewer deaths, it is the only disaster since Chernobyl to have been ranked a level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, meaning it was a major disaster with international consequences.

Written by Harry Cornford

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