Chernobyl and its Aftermath

Abandoned bumper cars in Pripyat, Ukraine, part of a traveling fair in town to celebrate May Day. Photo courtesy of C Colourin on PublicDomainPictures.

On April 29, 1986, one of four reactors at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded. Authorities evacuated the nearby cities of Pripyat and Chernobyl the next day and the two have sat mostly vacant ever since.

A view of barren Pripyat with the Chernobyl power plant on the horizon. Photo courtesy of Jason Minshull on Wiki Commons.
The destroyed reactor, Number 4, which authorities subsequently encased in a containment structure called the “Sarcophagus.” Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Plant operators triggered the explosion on April 26, 1986, when they mishandled a routine safety test. Responding to an unexpected plunge in power, they ignored signs and alarms indicating the reactor core had become unstable. As they continued the test, the power spiked 10 times above normal and caused the reactor core to overheat. A steam explosion followed that blew the lid off the reactor and vented the coolant. The situation decayed rapidly from there. A second explosion rocked the structure and what was left of the reactor burned uncontrollably as its contents reached the air. Because the reactor lacked a fortified containment structure, radioactive soot spewed a half-mile into the sky and over the surrounding area, including the cities of Chernobyl and Pripyat.

The Polissya Hotel on the main square in Pripyat. Photo courtesy Amort1939 on Pixabay.

An exclusion zone now encircles the area some 19 miles out from the focus. Where 115,000 people once thrived, fewer than 200 elderly stalwarts remain–citizens who returned after the evacuations and refuse to leave. A work force of 3,000 comes and goes.

As of 2018, the United Nations attributed 20,000 cases of thyroid cancer in residents of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia who were under the age of 18 at the time of the explosion. The organization traced the cancer back to fallout of radioactive iodine in pastures used by cows, which then entered the children through their consumption of milk. As for wildlife in the area, the United States Geological Survey reports that numbers are up in the exclusion zone with no people there to hunt them.

Ukraine allows tourism into the area and even permits visitors to overnight in Chernobyl city. For those who aren’t ready to visit, I’ve posted a few more images I found in the public domain.

Palace of Culture on the main square in Pripyat. Photo by Ilja Nedilko on Unsplash.
The supermarket, with signs for fresh fruit (top left) and vegetables. Photo from Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash.
Photo by Yves Alarie on Unsplash.
Photo by Silver Ringvee on Unsplash.
The basketball court next to the pool. Thanks Yves Alarie at Unsplash for the photo.
A classroom. Photo courtesy Peter Lam CH on Unsplash.
Pripyat’s abandoned fair. Photo by Sophie Keen on Unsplash.
Photo from Yves Alarie on Unsplash.

Work Cited

“Chernobyl Accident and Its Consequences.” Nuclear Energy Institute. May 2019.

“Chernobyl Disaster.” Wikipedia.

“Chernobyl Disaster: An Inside Tour.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” Wikipedia.

“Chernobyl Liquidators.” Wikipedia.

“Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change.” Chernobyl. United States Geological Survey.

“Pripyat: Main Square.” Nomadic Niko. 9 May 2013.

Unwin, Jack. “Chernobyl – separating fact from fiction in the hit HBO TV show.” Power Technology. 18 June 2020.

Categories: places, things

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