You’ve probably heard of the infamous Chernobyl disaster but if you aren’t sure exactly what happened, here is a quick summary of the awful details. At around 1:23 in the afternoon of April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the nuclear power plant of Pripyat, Chernobyl in the Soviet Union suffered a massive power increase large enough that it lead to a core explosion, one that the Soviet Union and certain surrounding areas are still dealing with to this day. The exact determination of the cause of the explosion is still unknown to this day though many speculations exist. What is known are the identities of the two engineers who were present that day overseeing the fourth reactor, Alexander Akimov and Leonid Toptunov. Toptunov was a young man, early into his career and only had about three months worth of experience working in the nuclear industry.
Sadly, people who lived in Chernobyl and in the surrounding areas were evacuated the day after the explosion and as you can imagine, having to quickly uproot one’s entire life in one day is very upsetting. In total, over 300,000 people were moved from the explosion site. Even more disheartening is that it has been over thirty years since this devastating accident and there are still several people who live in contaminated areas without knowing what the long term effect of prolonged radiation exposure is. These people are without proper care due to the Soviet Union having lack of funds or as some might speculate, not dispersing the funds properly. One thing that everyone can agree on is that this was a terribly tragic event that we all wished never would have taken place. Here are fifteen things you didn’t know about the Chernobyl disaster.
15. Worst Public Radiation Contamination Ever
The people and animals that were exposed to the massive amounts of far-spreading radiation suffered great health risks because the levels of radiation that were released (and are still being released) are approximately two hundred times higher than the devastating radiation of the atom bombs that fell upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki – COMBINED! The damage of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th in 1945 killed 129,000 people and are widely known to be two of the most disastrous nuclear catastrophes in world history but knowing that Chernobyl’s nuclear damage is two hundred times worse that both of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s damage is very disheartening and absolutely terrifying.
14. There Are Radiation Hot Spots That Are Deadly
While Chernobyl is not now and never will be what it once was (at least until around 48,000 years from now) people still go to Chernobyl. There was even a documentary released about the people who have never left and “unofficially” live there. For the most part, scientists say that the radiation levels there are not as bad as one might think. But there are hot spots found in Pripyat where toxic radiation accumulates.
Toxic chemical compounds called cesium-137 and strontium-90 and can infiltrate into bones, teeth and tissues of humans and animals. These two compounds are the deadliest of the radiation contamination. So while it is possible to live in and visit Chernobyl, if you don’t know your way around and don’t have an experienced and knowledgeable guide to keep you away from the deadly hot spots, it’s best to stay out.
13. One Firefighter’s Eye Color Changed After Exposure To Radiation
One brave firefighter who showed up to help contain the radiation soon after the explosion was named Vladimir Pravik. As Pravik helped to fight back against the overwhelming contamination, he was infected. The effects were so strong that the radiation actually changed his eye color from brown to blue. That’s a pretty disturbing side effect for a hero to have to take on. Knowing that the nuclear contamination was so strong that it had the power to permanently change Pravik’s eye color makes us wonder what other side effects the radiation had on the ones that were so close to the site, side effects that can’t be seen on the outside. If Pravik ever wanted blue eyes, he definitely never wanted to have his wish granted in this terrible and alarming way.
12. The Soviet Union Kept Quiet About The Disaster Until Sweden Noticed Something Strange…
It wasn’t as if the whole world shook on April 26, 1986 and every country received an immediate alert about the explosion in Chernobyl. In fact, life for people in other countries went on as usual for a few days after the accidental blast. It was a nuclear power plant in Sweden whose workers noticed a high reading on a sensor. They sent out a worldwide alert that something terrible had happened although they weren’t sure what at that point. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was keeping a tight lid on the blast as far as other countries were concerned. They even waited two days to evacuate people who were in the direct area. Finally, sophisticated satellites across the world told us that northern Ukraine was experiencing the highest levels of radiation and then we all learned the horrible truth.
11. Turning Their Backs On What Matters
It seems that the government of the Soviet Union and surrounding governments are turning their backs to what really matters, the victims from 1986 and the ones that continue to be impacted to this day. In fact, governments in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (where the people in these countries suffered the biggest impact, estimated at around 63% of the radiation) are interested in spending billions of dollars to fund various nuclear projects rather than funding ongoing care for Chernobyl victims and putting money into seeing what, if anything else, can be done in an effort to further cover the radiation contamination. Like all illnesses and conditions, radiation victims suffer to various degrees. Some are disfigured while others are internally ill.
10. Immediate Evacuations
Imagine going about your daily life, minding your own business and suddenly you feel, hear and see a gigantic explosion at the nearby nuclear plant. In one horrific moment, your life has just changed forever. You, your loved ones and your neighbors are all being exposed to high levels of radiation contamination and you need to pack up your life and leave immediately, without any plans. This is the horrifying reality that the victims of Chernobyl experienced. Pripyat, the nearest town in Chernobyl, was rocked by the nuclear explosion. Some people began fleeing immediately but two days after, most everyone in the town was evacuated under emergency circumstances. Sadly, though it was only two days later, it was enough that the townspeople were exposed to mass amounts of radiation.
9. Super Animals Created By Genetic Radiation Mutation?
Humans were not the only victims of Chernobyl. In fact, since humans were evacuated, animals were left behind to suffer the radiation alone. When Pripyat was left virtually human-less, animals such as wolves, wild horses, beavers, boars and other (now wild) animals have taken up residence in the abandoned location. An interesting yet sad fact that has been documented is that animals living within about twenty miles of the exclusion zone of Chernobyl have seemed to experience higher mortality rates and of course, genetic mutations as seen above. Many have two heads or multiple limbs while some have an extra deformed body to carry around. It’s probably no wonder that even though some animals have a higher than normal mortality rate that those same animals have a decreased birth rate. We can only imagine what that kind of damage radiation exposure does to reproductive organs. Strangely enough, animals continue to thrive in Chernobyl. Many speculate that largely has something to do with the lack of human presence as humans are usually the biggest threat to animals.
8. Thousands Of Years Still Needed To Reduce Radiation Levels
This sad and disturbing photo shows a classroom in Chernobyl covered with gas masks on the floor with one mask eerily placed on a plastic doll. While it’s been documented that some areas in Chernobyl have relatively low radiation levels, it’s not safe to throw away safety equipment for venturing into the area… not just yet. And not just because of the current hot spots found in Chernobyl. In fact, it will still take more than 24,000 years of time ticking by to reduce half of the existing plutonium’s intensity. With that number in mind, it should take over an estimated 48,000 years for our planet to have a chance to eliminate all of the radiation… an astronomical amount of time to wait out such a costly and devastating mistake.
7. The Other Reactors Were Started Back Up Even After The Explosion
Sadly, the incredible explosion that ruined so many lives was not enough to teach us (specifically, those responsible for the disaster) a lesson about the dangers of nuclear power. Instead of shutting down the other three reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, they were restarted after the explosion and remained operating for thirteen years. It is heart-breaking enough to think of the people who lost their lives as well as the lives that were forever damaged and changed for the worse by the disaster. Not only was there a lack of responsibility for it but the plant went back to working full-force (minus the fourth reactor) soon after. The level of disrespect and dishonor by the actions of the nuclear power plant to those whose lives will never be the same is unimaginable.
6. Post-Explosion, Radioactive Rain Was Spread As Far As Ireland
The most affected countries besides the Ukraine were Russia and Belarus, receiving an unfortunate 63% of the radioactive contamination. But other parts of Europe experienced radioactive suffering as well, which just goes to prove how immensely powerful and scary nuclear materials are. Toxic radioactive particles fell in different parts of Europe and as far away as Ireland. This serves as a terrifying reminder of the immense and massive power that nuclear plants have and that unfortunately, as long as they exist, we are not truly safe as there is always a chance of this tragedy happening again. When Chernobyl was built, there was a promise made that the nuclear power plant would always be carefully maintained so no one expected the explosion to ever happen in the first place.
5. The Wormwood Star Prophecy Theory
The theory is based on a specific prophecy in the Book of Revelations that says an angel once predicted that a gigantic star (called a “wormwood star”) would one day bring doom and unimaginable amounts of tragedy to earth. Interestingly enough, the name for the wormwood plant in the Soviet Union translates to “chernobyl.” In a huge coincidence (or not, as some believe) the nuclear power plant that exploded into everlasting grief just happened to be located in Chernobyl. Some people think that this was meant to happen for whatever reason based on the angel’s premonition. Tourists who book Chernobyl trips desire to find wormwood plants growing locally in Chernobyl and its surrounding areas to fully round out their trip and complete their authentic Chernobyl experience.
4. Profiting From A Tragedy? Tourists Can Book Expeditions Throughout Pripyat
Curious minds out there seek to see the sights of Chernobyl first hand with their own eyes and some people even have it as a “must see” on their bucket list. To accommodate these people, there are several agencies that exist to help book, plan and organize Chernobyl tourist trips with guided tours around the exclusion zone and the now abandoned town of once-bustling and lively Pripyat. Specially guided tours will even allow the morbidly curious tourists to get alarmingly close to the now-defunct nuclear power plant and even reactor 4, the very one that caused so much trouble. Tourists are provided with special meters to read radiation levels of where they are standing. Call us cowards but we would much rather book a regular boring vacation instead. This kind of trip is for true risk takers! There is a bit of controversy over whether this tourist service should even be provided for a variety of concerns.
3. The Red Forest Of Chernobyl
As if life in the contaminated areas in Chernobyl is not a daily reminder that is painful enough, there’s the red forest to make sure no one ever forgets what happened in 1986. The red forest is not a planned memorial but an accidental coincidence. The forest just happens to be near the disaster site of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl and the trees that make up the forest absorbed high levels of radiation which killed them. This left huge areas of bright red dead pine in the forest. Although it is unique and visually stunning in the sense that there’s nothing else like it, it is a heartbreaking reminder of all of the tragedy for those that come across the red forest in Chernobyl.
2. Constant Need To Build Sarcophaguses To Minimize The Ongoing Damage
The ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome and Egypt are the first known inventors of giant stone tombs or coffin-like structures that we call sarcophaguses. After the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet Union had to take a page from these ancient civilizations because they felt it was the best way to contain the plutonium exposure.
Currently, the original sarcophagus that was placed in 1986 is still in place, doing its job of covering radioactive material. But it has taken a beating over time and is now crumbling. A new sarcophagus is in the works now but even with the strongest material, it will only last for 100 years so continued maintenance and sarcophagus-making is in order unless a new generation comes up with a better plan.
1. Chernobyl Is Not History, It is Ever-Present For Many People
Today, children in America and other countries learn about the Chernobyl disaster in history class as a part of our world’s past but for the people who are living in contaminated areas, Chernobyl is not history; it is an ever-present day-to-day reality. The radiation from Chernobyl is in their work environments, public transportation, the playgrounds, public parks, the food they eat and the water they drink as well as the water they use for hygiene. It’s also in the wood they burn to keep themselves warm. There is no escaping the devastating and long-lasting effects of 1986’s nuclear disaster for the people who have lived in contaminated areas since the explosion and those born after the tragedy. Their environment is a constant reminder of the loss of quality of life as well as those who have lost their lives to Chernobyl in various ways.