Built by the Soviet Union, the world’s worst nuclear incident to date occurred 31 years ago in Pripyat, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded, and although the full toll is still being calculated, thousands of people were killed and close to 70,000 were injured.
Chernobyl was located in and around land that expanded to about 18 miles, according to history.com, and contained the homes of 150,000 people. After the explosion, these people and families were permanently relocated and the land may not be livable for hundreds of years.
At the time of the explosion, Chernobyl was one of the oldest and most immense power plants in the world, containing four 1,000-watt reactors, according to history.com. To this day, the Soviet government prefers to keep information related to the incident a “secret.”
Initially, after the explosion, the Soviet government reported two deaths and began asking for advice on how to distinguish graphite fires. Soon thereafter, many people started to realize the intensity of this catastrophic incident, but the Soviet government hadn’t told their own people or those living in surrounding towns. Two days following the explosion, Swedish authorities measured concerningly high levels of radioactivity in the air.
Many years later, the full story surfaced, revealing a system test had gone wrong, very wrong. While tests were being performed on the system, emergency safety systems and cooling systems were shut off, which was against the rules and regulations put in place.
Dangerous overheating became present, but workers refused to stop any tests. At 1:23 a.m., the first explosion sent the 1,000-ton steel top into the air, causing fireballs to fly and shoot 1,000-foot flames into the air for two days straight. The entire plant began to melt down and Pripyat’s residents were not evacuated until 36 hours after the explosion.
If the Soviet government were to have told it’s residents of the incident much earlier, a state of emergency could have been issued and more preventative measures could have been taken, as reported by ready.com. People could have educated themselves on proper measures, taken cover, prepared for the worst or planned out a more effective evacuation system. Because the Soviet government was keeping their people in the dark, the events didn’t quite play out as they should have. Quite honestly, the explosion shouldn’t have even occurred in the first place.
Hans Blix from the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that 200 people were directly affected by the explosion and 31 died immediately on contact. Four-thousand clean-up workers have died from radiation poisoning thus far and clean-up of the area is still incomplete.
In terms of the surrounding area, birth defects have drastically increased and thyroid cancer has become a common disease in the country since the explosion.
Right here at Keene State College, the Safety and Occupational Health Applied Science program “prepares students to protect the health and safety of workers in all kinds of situations,” per the KSC website. In our own backyard, we have students studying to prevent situations like Chernobyl from occurring again in the future.
This week in history, we can remember those who lost their lives or encountered injury from this catastrophic accident and hope similar situations never see the light of day.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org