The Chernobyl Disaster: What Happened?
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in present-day Pripyat, Ukraine (previously part of the Soviet Union), was set to be turned off for a routine, 20-second safety test. The unknown consequences would prove to be disastrous. As the team of operators was shutting down the system, the reactor power output fell to nearly zero only moments before the scheduled test. The team was unable to restore the program back to its required power level, resulting in the reactors being left in an unstable state. Unaware of the risk, they continued on with the safety test.
Seconds later, rather than shutting down, a surge of chemicals exploded, releasing approximately 520 dangerous radionuclides into the atmosphere – one of the largest recorded nuclear explosions in history.
The Lasting Effects
Following the event, many details were contained or hidden. The details that were released were vague and unclear, both to local residents around the plant and neighboring countries and officials. It wasn’t until 1990 that the size of the blast and its repercussions were accurately reported, leading to international assistance from the United Nations.
It is known that the disaster at Chernobyl affected nearly 8.4 million people spread across three countries, presently known as Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. On the day of the incident, 31 people are reported to have died immediately whereas over 600,000 individuals, known as liquidators, were exposed to detrimental levels of radiation in their assistance to help clean up the disaster. Roughly 60,000 square miles of land were contaminated across the three countries, while over 20,000 square miles of agricultural areas were contaminated with cesium-137 and strontium-90. As a result of the disaster, nearly 404,000 people were resettled. While millions continue to live near the plant, continued effects of the exposure come with a host of problems, some of which are still unknown today.
The long-term consequences of the event are estimated to last for over 150 years, affecting the environment, food, air quality, and the health of many people – as seen by the numerous cases of thyroid cancer across all three nations.
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International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day
April 26 is known as International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day to raise awareness and educate people on the catastrophic event that took place over 35 years ago. Since its involvement in the event’s clean-up in 1990, the United Nations has been playing an active role in the aftermath of Chernobyl. Firstly with the initial clean-up efforts, followed by the 1991 trust fund to help establish research and aid programs. Later the 2002 long-term development strategy was created followed by the establishment of the 2009 International Chernobyl Research and Information Network. The latter helps support the international, national, and public programs aimed for long-term relief in these areas.
In 2016, the United Nations coined April 26 as International Chernobyl Disaster Remember Day because of the ongoing needs and long-term implications surrounding that day and the direct community that is impacted – even more than three decades later.
The Chernobyl Disaster and the War in Ukraine – The Importance of Building Awareness in 2022
April 26, 2022, is of significant importance this year because of the current unrest between Ukraine and Russia. The history between the two nations is deeply rooted and the tension continues to impact daily life for Ukrainians. Recently, Ukrainian officials believe that Russia is attempting surveillance of Ukraine’s largest power plants – which is both threatening security and safety in these specific towns. However, if any further actions are taken by Russia, Chernobyl may not be the only nuclear disaster Ukraine will have faced.
Plants are overworked and Russia has recently taken hold of some of the facilities by force. It is crucial to bring awareness to the history of Chernobyl and the seismic impact it continues to play upon the local people and environment. Only with awareness can we hope to prevent the current holdings of the nuclear plants in Ukraine today.
Ways to Get Involved
The most impactful way to get involved in International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day is by researching and understanding the events of the Chernobyl disaster and discussing them with friends and family. Building awareness is key to prevention. If possible, show your support by lighting a candle for all those harmed and affected by the event on April 26. You can further share what you learn and how you observe this day by using #ChernobylDisasterDay across all social media platforms – a great way to involve others and let everyone know why it’s a crucial day to remember.
Furthermore, it is possible to tune into a live broadcast hosted by the UN Inter-Agency Task Force. The broadcast will include speeches from various representatives who are aiming to reduce the impact and results of the disaster.