Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chernobyl: A 25-Year Anniversary

On April 26, 1986, the Number Four reactor at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine, went out of control during a test at low power. This lead to an explosion and fire that demolished the reactor building and released large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. Safety measures were ignored. The uranium fuel in the reactor overheated and melted through the protective barriers. Radioactive elements including plutonium, iodine, strontium, and cesium were scattered over a wide area.

The accident was approximately 400 times more potent than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Some 150,000 square kilometers in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were contaminated. Also Scandinavian countries were affected by the radioactive releases from Chernobyl. Radioactive isotopes were blown by wind northward into Sweden and Finland and over other parts of the northern hemisphere.

The initial explosion resulted in the death of two workers. The death toll among the firemen and emergency clean-up workers in the first three months was 29 (one of cardiac arrest and the rest from radiation sickness). In total some 200,000 people are believed to have been relocated as a result of the accident. In addition, there have been at least 1,800 documented cases of thyroid cancer children who were between 0 and 14 years of age when the accident occurred.

Nowadays it is possible to visit the Chernobyl area, even including the exclusion zone (a 30 kilometer radius surrounding the plant). Read more on the IAEA Chernobyl FAQ and the United Nations Chernobyl sites, or explore 25 years of satellite imagery over Chernobyl. Wikipedia offers links to some image collections (at the bottom of the page), or you can search Flickr for photos.

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