On April 26, 1986, shortly after 1am in the morning, the reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the city of Pripyat blew up. This occurred during a systems test when a power surge happened, and an attempted shutdown caused another surge. The reactor ruptured, and the graphite moderator ignited on exposure to air. The radioactive cloud spread over all over Pripyat and the western Soviet Union. In Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, with the majority of the fallout landing in Belarus. According to the IAEA, this was a level 7 event, with the only other incident in human history being the Fukushima disaster five years ago. (7, incidentally, is the highest on the scale.)
Over the years, many documentaries have explained the situation that took place at the time of the incident, the most significant being the denial and refusal to believe the severity of the incident. 30 years on, Pripyat and Chernobyl remains uninhabited, and its surroundings will be unsafe for human habitation for centuries, if not millennia.
Nuclear power has, over the years, been debated fiercely as a source of power that produces no greenhouse gases, is clean and efficient. But because the safeguards that are needed to ensure that nuclear power remains secure are reliant on humans, incidents such as Chernobyl have taken place to immense sorrow. The impact on 500,000 persons evacuated from the area will be permanent. The estimated effect so far include 64 persons who died, 1,000 cases of thyroid cancer and over 4,000 cases of other cancers in the rest of Europe. Up to 16,000 and 25,000 cases of each respectively are expected by 2065.
Around 10% of the world’s energy comes from nuclear power. The true dangers of its impact will be felt only generations later. Should we pursue a more secure setup for nuclear power and free ourselves from fossil fuels, or abandon it entirely? That’s a question we have to answer. For today, we can only mourn those who perished in Chernobyl, those who continue to suffer its effects, and those who fought to save those around them.