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.