April 26 1986: many of you will surely remember this date, sadly remained in the annals for the Chernobyl disaster, a Ukrainian citizen affected by the most serious nuclear accident in history.
The Chernobyl disaster caused 31 confirmed deaths, that according to UN estimates they rise to at least 4 thousand; the extent of the disaster was such that not only Chernobyl and the surrounding areas were affected, but toxic clouds even reached Scandinavia and parts of North America.
But that wasn't all: the aftermath of this disaster continues today, and there have been countless cases of malformation, tumors and other deadly diseases due to radiation.
Over 30 years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster: but what exactly had happened? And are those areas still inhabited today?
- Causes and consequences of the Disaster: deaths and mutations
- Pripyat and the other ghost towns: yesterday and today
- Is Chernobyl inhabited today?
- Chernobyl and Pripyat tour: costs, risks and safety regulations
- July 2019: inauguration of the new containment "Sarcophagus"
- User questions and comments
Causes and consequences of the Disaster: deaths and mutations
Over the years, different versions have been released regarding what happened on April 26, 1986, at 01:23 local time. The truth is that it was a human error, the fault of which must be attributed to both the designers and the maintainers of the nuclear plant. During a test at reactor 4, some operators violated various protocols and safety regulations, aggravating a pre-existing design flaw in the control rods, which are intended to control the multiplication factor k of the reactor. This led to a drastic increase in core power and subsequently to the reactor explosion.
This was followed by a violent fire of the graphite contained in the core of the radiator: in a few hours enormous quantities of radioactive isotopes were dispersed in the atmosphere.
The accident was classified, according to the INES scale of nuclear accidents, with a severity level of 7, the highest possible.
Radiation soon spread not only in Russia and Belarus causing deaths, diseases such as cancer and leukemia, disabilities, birth defects, but as we have also seen in Europe and even in North America: it is estimated that up to 5 million people were affected by the radiation, and among these 240 people were considered to be at very high risk. Also the impact on the environment was devastating: in many areas plants and trees died, and the same fate befell various animals.
Below is a video showing some of them pretty strong historical photos, which may hurt the sensitivity of some users.
Map of the Alienation Zones
Chernobyl is located in the north of Ukraine near the border with Belarus, which was still part of the USSR at the time of the disaster.
Not everyone knows that actually the nuclear power plant where the explosion of the historic reactor 4 took place was not located in Chernobyl. This in fact was located in the nearby town of Pripyat, just 14,5 km away.
The Zone of Alienation or Chernobyl Zone is that area that extends with a radius of about 30 km from the old nuclear power plant, established immediately after the 1986 accident to evacuate the local population and prevent entry into the territory at higher concentration of contamination.
The area was then divided into four concentric rings: the smallest and closest to the power plant is known as the "Quarta Zona".
Map of cesium contamination in Europe
As already mentioned, radiation contamination has reached much of Europe, with the cloud moving decisively towards Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden), Finland, but also central-eastern countries such as Austria, Slovenia, Romania, Switzerland. Italy was involved to a small extent especially in the Alpine areas.
Pripyat and the other ghost towns: yesterday and today
Before the disaster, about 50.000 people lived in Pripyat: today there are 0. The city is totally abandoned: a few hours after the disaster all the people were evacuated, as far as possible. Buildings such as schools, houses, public buildings lie unused and at the mercy of time; the roads were no longer used, e to access it it is essential to have a special permit and to undergo a special radiation shower when exiting.
The severity of the disaster triggered a real run-up to the identification of diseases and genetic mutations due to the accident: it is difficult to talk about official figures, but there were many cases of thyroid tumors and leukemias that mainly affected children and the very young, but also of disabilities occurred in mature age and malformations on gestating children. There are many
And the animals? Here too there are many legends: we talk about wolves who started eating dogs, of swallows become albino, of cats that are no longer able to give birth to male kittens. Truth or myth?
Scientists claim that in addition to this, many large animals that did not previously inhabit those areas have lived genetic mutations that have made them more resistant, and have changed their eating habits: wolves have reappeared, but smaller than they were then, and the European bison has returned, absent since the early 900s. In short, here it is no longer the man who commands.
Is Chernobyl inhabited today?
What we are about to say may surprise many people, but the answer is yes: Chernobyl is inhabited today. It is estimated that around 500 people currently live there, with a very high average age: young people have preferred to change cities and build a future elsewhere. The inhabitants live in specific areas and cannot access high risk areas.
Below is an interesting survey on the city and its current inhabitants:
Chernobyl and Pripyat tour: costs, risks and safety regulations
Visiting Chernobyl is possible and safe. The only risk concerns access to highly contaminated areas, which are obviously forbidden to tourists. Given the great attraction that this city represents, a hotel has also been built: it is the Pripyat Hotel, the only one within 30 km and a reference point for tourists and tour operators.
However, we do not feel like recommending do-it-yourself tourism in these areas. To avoid any risk, the best way to visit the places affected by the disaster is to join a 1-day group tour departing from Kiev.
It costs between € 60,00 and € 80,00 per person and includes:
- transport from Kiev
- private guide in English and Russian
- documentation for accessing the disaster areas (exclusion zones, Pripyat city, Soviet radio station)
- allowed to take pictures
July 2019: inauguration of the new containment "Sarcophagus"
1,5 billion euros to build a new steel sarcophagus that, a matryoshka, will be placed above the current one, exactly to protect reactor 4 and the radioactive materials inside it.
The current sarcophagus, built in concrete and hastily a few months after the explosion, is unable (also due to deterioration) to manage and control the danger of radioactive contamination of nuclear fuel: we are talking about 192 tons of uranium mixed with lead, molten cement and molten reactor components.
The task of the "New Safe Confinement" (NSC) is to limit the diffusion of radioactive substances that escape from the old sarcophagus.
Characteristics of the new sarcophagus
- Length: 162 meters;
- Height: 108 meters;
- Base of the arch: 257 meters;
- Width of the base: 39.000 square meters;
- Weight: 36.000 tons;
- Cost: € 1,5 billion
Watch the video of the construction of the new sarcophagus:
Problem solved? Not even for an idea
The new sarcophagus will "block" the release of radiation for about 100 years. Meanwhile, the most difficult task will be to dismantle the inner sarcophagus and treat the radioactive material for decontamination.
But how and where will this material be treated? Will it be left here? Will it be removed? To take him where? And how long will it take? To these questions no one has yet given an answer.