Monday, April 7, 2008


Figure 1: An aerial view of the Chornobyl Power Plant after the meltdown.

In April 26, 1986 there was a massive explosion in one of the reactors at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This explosion caused several more to follow, which set in to motion the largest nuclear meltdown in history. Massive clouds of smoke carrying radioactive fallout carried dangerous debris all over Europe, and even as far as North America. As a result, almost 400,000 thousands residents were forced to relocate. 56 individuals were killed directly by the accident, but today World Health Organization estimates that nearly 4,000 people have died as a result of cancer brought on by exposure to radiation, and that 600,000 individuals have experienced high exposure to radiation.

Most experts blame the meltdown on a poorly designed reactor and personnel who were not properly trained. As a result of Cold War isolation there was little regard for safety, so workers did not receive sufficient education and preparation. The accident itself occurred during a test to see how long turbines would spin after loosing the loss of main electrical power supply. It was known that the reactors were unstable at a low power setting, but the personnel at the plant chose to run the test regardless. During the test, when they attempted to shut down one the reactors there was an enormous power surge, because the reactor was in such a volatile state, and this led to the initial explosion which initiated the meltdown.

When the meltdown first occurred officials failed to warn residents that a meltdown occurred, it was not until radiation levels increased dramatically in Sweden that anyone was notified. When the government finally issued a warning, they gave the impression that the damage was minimal and localized. It was not until almost two days later that the entire surrounding area was evacuated when citizens were notified about the severity of the accident. Originally citizens were told to expect to their homes in three days, as a result many of the still abandoned homes still contain many of the personal items of their former occupants.


S Gliske said...

Note some very interesting photos (and philosophy) at

I wonder if any exact count of related deaths will ever be available.

Evan Goldman said...

I really enjoyed this posting. I did a posting on Chernobyl earlier and found this very helpful in filling in the holes I missed. In my reading I haven't seen anything about a public apology or a real reason for not telling the citizens. Have you found anything in your research that gives you an answer to either of those questions?


Jessica said...

I do have questions about the impact on North America. As you state, and as mentioned in class, I would like to know more on what areas in the U.S. were affected and exactly to what extent. I imagine that the East Coast in particular would have seen effects of the disaster. Was anybody from the U.S. significantly harmed? Were there any agriculture problems involved? It is also interesting to note that although the U.S. was apparently affected by the disaster, people still moved here anyways.

Mitchel Kay said...

This was a great post. I hadn't realized that the actual meltdown occurred during a drill. It seems that it possibly could have been avoided all together. I have seen a documentary in which they showed some of the effects of the babies that are being born to women who were directly effected by Chornobyl. It was one of the most depressing documentaries I have ever seen, depicting deformed newborns. One was even born with his brain outside of his skull, protected only by a thin sack of some sort.

John Danna said...

Great post. A young lady from the Kiev rode her motorcycle to the city and did a photo-documentary of all the places she visited. She described it as a ghost town which seemed surreal. The city was "eerily silent" as she put it. Her pictures are amazing and really tell the story of the aftermath of the tragedy.

Here's the link:

Charles Andrew Walgreen said...

Something also worth to consider are the people that are illegally residing in the Zone of Alienation, people who had lived there all their lives and wanted to return to their home before they die. Also worth further consideration is an article that is probably the most authoritative and has been instrumental in the various papers I have written on the topic, including a one-on-one interview I had with a Belarussian living near the Ukrainain border in the 1980's:

Also, in response to Mitchell's post, there is a controversy regarding the exact statistics regarding long-term health effects of the disaster, which is why I had partially avoided discussing them in my post. The World Health Organization is probably the most authoritative source drawing upon the most scientific research. One of their claims is that the disaster does not cause birth defects in children, despite what the documentary you saw said. The NIH further claims in their study that, "No significant changes in the incidence of birth defects, abortion rate, or counseling rate at pregnancy termination clinics were observed."