On the 26th day of April 1986, a catastrophic accident shook the world when a nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. The plant was located in Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. Considered as the world’s worst nuclear accident, 31 people died at the time of explosion. But its consequences didn’t end there. Cleaning up and containing the aftermath required around 500,000 workers. And according to a United Nations report, up to 4,000 people could still eventually die because of the radiation exposure they experienced from the accident almost 20 years ago.
For the accident to reach such a catastrophic scale, it was not just the explosion per se but a series of unfortunate events that followed. In the wee hours of dawn, engineers had to deal with an unexpected power surge. They attempted an emergency shutdown but this only made things worse, as the power surged to roughly 100 times more than the normal level. Due to this exponential increase in power output, the fuel pellets found in the core began exploding, and this led to the rupture of fuel channels.
It was around 1:24 in the morning when two explosions blew off the reactor’s roof or upper radiation shield. Not only did this release dangerous radioactive content to the atmosphere, it also sucked air into the reactor and ignited carbon monoxide gas, which is highly flammable. This led to a 9-day fire that released significant amounts of radioactive debris to the atmosphere, affecting even neighboring countries.
After the accident, they found traces of radioactive deposits in almost every country located in the northern hemisphere. But neighboring areas were the ones who were most affected, and contamination was brought by the wind, rainfall, and even the soil where food is planted. According to this report, the accident caused more than 350,000 people to relocate from Chernobyl, Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. But 5.5 million people remain, and 20 years later the health effects are still expected to manifest.
As a result of the accident, 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have already been reported, and the victims are those who were adolescents or children at the time of the accident. Though there is a 99% survival rate and only 15 people have been recorded as casualties of Chernobyl-related thyroid cancer, Greenpeace estimates that up to 60,000 more cases of the disease could be reported, among 270,000 cases of all other cancers.