Saturday, April 26, 1986. The number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded during a safety test. The test was a simulation of an electrical power outage to help create a safety procedure for maintaining reactor cooling water circulation until the back-up generators could provide power.
During the planned decrease of reactor power, the power dropped to a near zero level, operators were able to only partially restore the specified test power, which put the reactor in an unstable condition. The risk wasn’t clear in the operating instructions, and upon test completion the operators triggered a reaction shutdown; but a combination of unstable conditions and reactor design flaws caused and uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction instead.
Two explosions ruptured the reactor core and destroyed the building. One explosion was a highly destructive steam explosion from the vaporizing superheated cooling water, the other explosion could have been another steam explosion or a small nuclear explosion. This was immediately followed by and open-air reactor core fire that released considerable airborne radioactive contamination for about nine days.
The town of Pripyat, Ukraine, population approximately 49,000 people, was evacuated and then another 68,000 were further evacuated as the “exclusion zone” was increased. Two of the operating staff were killed with the initial explosion, another 28 staff and firemen later died due to acute radiation syndrome. Approximately 14 suspected radiation induced cancer deaths followed within the next 10 years.
To reduce the spread of radioactive contamination, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sarcophagus was built in December 1986. It provided protection for the crews of the undamaged reactors at the site, which continued operating. Due to is deterioration, it was further enclosed in 2017, allowing the removal of the sarcophagus and the reactor debris. Nuclear clean up is scheduled to complete in 2065.
Approximately 2 miles north of Chernobyl was the town of Pripyat. It was created in 1970, to provide housing for the workers at the Chernobyl plant. In April of 1986 the town had a population of 49,360.
After the explosion at Chernobyl, Pripyat was evacuated and is now in the Exclusion Zone, and primarily a ghost town. The city has been opened up for group tours, but only if you have the proper permits, and a tour guide.
This event is something that the entire world was affected by, and I’m grateful that it wasn’t worse than it was. The memory of those who helped on the day of the disaster and lost their lives and everyone who has lost the battles they experienced are never forgotten. I would love to visit the Pripyat ghost town, if only to experience the history of it.
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