Deep Dive into History: Chernobyl Explosion

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Wednesday, Apr 26 2023 by

On April 26, 1986, the worst thing imaginable happened when a reactor at the Chernobyl power plant failed. Due to human error and a desire to cover up the accident, the meltdown quickly spiraled out of control, causing the worst nuclear disaster ever.

Remarkably, only 31 people died directly from the accident, but hundreds of thousands of lives were impacted from direct and indirect exposure, forced relocation, and fear of radiation exposure.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, let’s look back on what happened, and what things look like today.

Chernobyl Power Plant, Pripyat, Ukraine

During the Soviet era, nuclear power was a preferred source of energy for the Soviet Union, and the Chernoybl Power Plant was built to provide power for the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and the surrounding area.

By 1986, there were four reactors at the plant, with plans to build more in coming years. Interestingly, after Reactor Four suffered the catastrophic meltdown, the other reactors were not immediately decommissioned. In fact, it wasn’t until 2000 that the site was completely taken offline.

Chernobyl Power Plant (Google Maps)
Chernobyl Power Plant

City of Chernobyl, Ukraine

At the time, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and Chernobyl was a small city of 14,000. Many residents worked at or supported the power station just down the road. The city was founded nearly a thousand years ago, and has a rich and varied history. In particular, it was a major center of Judaism in the region, until the community was wiped out during World War II.

Despite being exposed to significant levels of nuclear contamination, the city was not evacuated until six days after the accident. Technically, the city has been abandoned since that time, but about 500 people still live there, with tacit permission from the government. In fact, some of the apartment buildings have been refitted to house the staff who are still working to this day to decommission and decontaminate the area.

During the initial invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a battle was fought in the area, on ground still emits dangerous levels of radiation, putting the soldiers at risk.

City of Chernobyl (Google Maps)
City of Chernobyl

City of Pripyat, Ukraine

Like Chernobyl, the city of Pripyat was abandoned right after the meltdown. The city was home to many employees at the power plant, as well as their families. These people were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, but over the years, it is unclear how many people died as a result of their exposure.

Also, like Chernobyl, around 500 people still live in the area, in spite of official policies prohibiting anyone remaining in the area. They prefer for personal reasons not to abandon their homes and lifestyles, in spite of the danger, and sometimes lack of privacy as tourists and visitors walk through the areas.

Abandoned city (Google Maps)
Abandoned city

Abandoned Ferris Wheel, Pripyat

One of the most haunting symbols of the disaster is an abandoned Ferris wheel, which was days away from opening at the local amusement park before the meltdown. Now, nearly 40 years later, it remains untouched but slowly decaying, having never carried the children and happy families of Pripyat.

This is one of so many tragically abandoned sites, from hospitals to schools to homes to hotels. The city, along with dozens and dozens of villages, were forced to evacuate in the days after the meltdown.

Pripyat Ferris Wheel - Near Chernobyl (StreetView)
Pripyat Ferris Wheel - Near Chernobyl

Monument to the Chernobyl Liquidators, Chernobyl

Surprisingly, the only people who died immediately after the explosion were workers inside the reactor, and the firefighters who responded to the disaster. These men reported to the reactors, which was on fire, without appropriate clothes to protect them from radiation. Those with the greatest exposure, from where they fought the fires, or for how long, died within days. Others died within three months.

On the tenth anniversary, a memorial to these heroes was unveiled, depicting the firefighters running toward the blaze. The inscription says “To those who saved the world” demonstrating the importance and appreciation of the sacrifices they made.

Chernobyl - Firefighters monument (StreetView)
Chernobyl - Firefighters monument

Third Angel Statue or Trumpeting Angel Monument, Chernobyl

One of the most moving memorials to the tragedy is the Wormwood Memorial, which includes the metal statue of the Third Angel. In the book of Revelation, a verse says in the last days, a star named Wormwood falls from the sky and makes the water bitter, which many felt represented the radioactive waste falling from the sky. Because “Chernobyl” means wormwood or mugwort in Ukrainian, many felt that the prophesy had been fulfilled in the disaster.

The memorial also includes signs of the names of the nearly 200 villages that have been abandoned. All told, more than 120,000 people were evacuated.

Trumpeting Angel of Chernobyl (StreetView)
Trumpeting Angel of Chernobyl

There are so many monuments, intentional and natural, that remind us of the tragedy of that man-made disaster, and the lives that were impacted that day. The entire region stands as a stark reminder of the power we wield, and the great responsibility we have to use that power carefully. We should never forget.