Chernobyl Disaster

The worst nuclear accident in history occurred on 26 April 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. As a result of an internal system test, a severe explosion destroyed Chernobyl’s Reactor 4, dispersing fifty tons of radioactive dust. Thirty-one people died as a direct result of the explosion, and up to five million people are estimated to have been exposed to radiation, which had a significant and wide-ranging impact on health, including radiation sickness and higher rates of disease and birth defects. The Soviet government immediately sent hundreds of thousands of so-called “liquidators” and emergency helpers into the disaster area. In order to contain the radiation, a sarcophagus made of steel and concrete was placed over the reactor complex, yet many of the helpers have died from the aftereffects of radiation.

In the days following the accident, wind and rain carried radioactive isotopes over much of Europe. Even in faraway Western Europe, forest regions were contaminated by fallout from Chernobyl. Since the disaster, Chernobyl has become an international symbol for the anti-nuclear movement, and still serves as a cautionary tale for the potential dangers of nuclear energy.

Further Readings: 
  • Mycio, Mary. Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl. Washington: Joseph Henry Press, 2005.
  • Yablokov, Alexey V., Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko. Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1181. Boston: Blackwell, 2009.