A small place in Ukraine
'Peaceful Atom'
Pripyat
A routine maintenance test
Shutting down the cooling system
Design flaw
Night shift
Unprepared
An unexpected power spike
It's in the air for you and me
Apparatchik
Optics
Taking their time
Official statement
Victims
The Exclusion Zone
The Sarcophagus
Nuclear tourism
Chernobyl, a Ukrainian tragedy
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A small place in Ukraine

On April 25, 1986, a small place in Ukraine became synonymous with nuclear disaster. The incident was a turning point for the Cold War and nuclear energy with radioactive consequences that, according to National Geographic, will remain for over 30,000 years.

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'Peaceful Atom'

Chernobyl is located 100 kilometers north of Kiev, near the border with Belarus. A four-reactor RBMK-type nuclear plant was built in the 1970s. Nuclear energy was seen as an achievement of Soviet engineering, under the slogan “Peaceful Atom”.

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Pripyat

Pripyat was also built and developed to house the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant and their families. The town had a population of over 50,000 by the time of the disaster.

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A routine maintenance test

It all started out during a scheduled routine maintenance test in the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant’s fourth reactor. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.

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Shutting down the cooling system

The plan was to use the downtime to test whether the reactor could be cooled if the plant lost power. The test required, among other things, shutting down the emergency core cooling system.

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Design flaw

The team was also unaware the reactor had a design flaw where low power operation made the reactor highly unstable.

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Night shift

The test was meant to be carried out during the morning shift with a group of prepared engineers and experts. However, problems with the Kyiv electric grid pushed the trial to the night shift under the supervision of Deputy Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov.

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Unprepared

The night shift team, which was unprepared to carry out the test, followed the instructions left by the previous shift.

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An unexpected power spike

The experiment resulted in an unexpected power spike in the power plant, causing a chain reaction of explosions which led to the core being exposed to the atmosphere.

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It's in the air for you and me

A study by the World Nuclear Association declares that the Chernobyl Disaster was the largest uncontrolled radioactive release into the environment ever recorded for any civilian operation. For 10 days, large quantities of radioactive substances were released into the air.

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Apparatchik

Due to the slow, bureaucratic government apparatus, Soviet authorities under the government of Mikhail Gorbachev took some time to properly respond to the nuclear disaster.

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Optics

The Soviet authorities, at first more concerned about the international reaction amid the Cold War, denied the incident at first.

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Taking their time

Despite firefighters and workers getting hospitalized due to the radiation and the danger that fire and fallout represented, it was only after 36 hours of the meltdown that the nearby city of Pripyat was evacuated.

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Official statement

The government didn’t make an official statement until April 28, three days after the accident, when the unusually high radiation levels were first detected in Sweden.

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Victims

The Lancet reports that, although fewer than 100 people died from acute radiation exposure, there’s still no consensus on the true number of long-term victims in the area. What is true is that over 4,000 people have developed thyroid cancer, mainly children.

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The Exclusion Zone

Ultimately, according to data from the National Energy Institute of the United States, over 335,000 people were evacuated and an exclusion zone of 2,600 square kilometers was set around the nuclear plant.

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The Sarcophagus

Today, reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is encased by a steel and concrete structure known as a “sarcophagus” to contain the radiation.

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Nuclear tourism

Nature has grown in an area now inaccessible to humans. A small tourist industry also has grown, visiting certain areas of the abandoned town of Pripyat and the forest that surrounds Chernobyl.

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