Radioactivity is something that science doesn’t understand quite completely. It is a complex topic in which some aspects are being studied every day. When scientists are working with nuclear science they have to be very careful, but accidents are always possible, and sometimes it can get out of hand, just like it happened in Chernobyl.
Chernobyl is a city in the North of Ukrainian and it is the place where the worst nuclear and environmental disaster in history happened. Back when this territory was part of the Soviet Union, it was the main place of research regarding the nuclear activity. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant started its work in 1977 and from that moment the studies began.
The plant was created as a futuristic way of providing electricity for the cities in the area and someday the whole country. Four reactors were built in the plant, but they were made so quickly that they didn’t obey many security rules and had a few faults like that the first and second reactors weren’t contained properly, which along with other factors led to a series of accidents.
Since this was a new type of energy, they were constantly making tests to see the behavior of the components of the reactors in different situations. In 1986 they decided to run some tests to see how much time the reactor could work when its source of power wasn’t working. To understand this, they had to put the reactors to their lowest potential, however, they didn’t work well when they were in this situation.
Everyone in the plant was aware of these trials so they were very prepared for what they were going to do since these types of tests weren’t unusual, but some unexpected delays made it impossible to run them as they were first planned. The fourth reactor was the one used for the experiment, they had to lower the potential, but it went down faster than they expected because the xenon that was around the reactor caused it to go this way.
So, What Happened?
The aggressive drop of the potential created a temperature instability in the center of the reactor, so essentially the whole reactor wasn’t anywhere near to being in the condition for an experiment of this magnitude. Once the test was running, the overheating produced an accumulation of hydrogen inside the reactor, and that caused a humongous explosion that killed two of the members of the staff, and later another 29 people.
After the first explosion, another one came and a big inside fire began. Of course, this blew up the top of the reactor, and an intensive amount of radioactive material was released into the atmosphere in the form of a big nuclear cloud that covered not only all Europe but North America as well.
It was necessary to evacuate the plant and the whole city. This affected more than 350.000 people across Central and Western Europe that were in an emergency state. Then it started a series of emergency cleaning and decontamination actions to try to contend with all the toxic fumes that were in the environment.
Anyone that was on a 20 miles ratio was almost directly hit by the radioactivity and this created a lot of health issues, like cancer and other diseases related to radioactivity exposure, that people still live with or ended up dying years later. The radioactive rain made it impossible to save the affected area, and they had to exclude it permanently.
This also affected the environment, everything around the place of the accident was highly vulnerable to die faster, from trees to animals, but it wasn’t until the year 2,000 that the government decided to close the plant and build a sarcophagus to keep and hold the reactor to try to maintain the activity inside of it.
Other sarcophagi were built after this, but there are still some radioactive particles remaining in the wind and the water, and they may never be gone.
After the accident, the countries in Europe that were affected had to take many measures like controlling the consumption of animal-derived products to make sure they weren’t radioactive and retaining the hunt in forest areas.
As of today, there have been a lot of studies about the effect of the accident but it was so big that it is hard to maintain control over all the people that were affected. Though the area was evacuated when the disaster happened 35 years ago, people still live there.
Nowadays, Chernobyl has a population of about 7,000 people, and they live a normal life despite the damage the area suffered, but they can not be near the exclusion zone. Many of the locals returned to their homes years after the disaster, even though it wasn’t completely safe for them to live in the most contaminated and polluted area on the planet. Every year they gathered together the night of April 25th to remember the deaths.