From Nuclear Reaction
It is April 25th 1986
Technicians at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine are ordered to test the safety emergency reactor core cooling system on the Number 4 reactor. The test is delayed during the day. The night shift operators arrive at midnight but are unprepared to carry out the test.
It is April 26th 1986
The reactor is inadvertently powered down to just one per cent of its capacity. To counter this and increase power in order to conduct the test, the operators remove the control rods, the system that regulates the fission of the nuclear fuel, destabilising the reactor. The reactor has a design flaw that means it is unstable at low power.
Not knowing the reactor is now unstable, the operators commence their safety test at 1.23am. The operators turn off the reactor’s turbine and wait for the safety system to start. The turbine drives the reactor cooling system’s water pumps and so the flow of water drops. With less water to cool it, the reactor gets hotter and hotter and more steam is generated increasing the pressure inside to a huge degree. The operators try to reduce the power inside the reactor by reinserting the control rods. Instead, this has the effect of massively increasing the power inside the reactor beyond its capacity. The pressure cannot be contained. The nuclear reaction cannot be stopped.
The reactor goes critical.
The worst nuclear accident in history is seconds away.
At 1:24am the first explosion blows the lid off the reactor. The lid weighs 2,000 tons. A second, more powerful explosion follows seconds later. Burning debris is thrown high into the air and onto the reactor’s roof starting fires. Air is now entering the open reactor and it ignites.
‘The roof was open like a book and there was a magnificent light; a beautiful blue fire,’ says Vasily Tikhomirov, a soldier at the scene, later. The beautiful blue fire will spread radiation across Europe. Fifty tonnes of nuclear fuel is thrown into the atmosphere, the equivalent of ten Hiroshimas. The radioactive cloud created covers over 30 countries.
Two people are killed in the explosion. Thirty-seven die of acute radiation sickness soon afterwards. Dozens are killed while building reactor 4’s concrete sarcophagus according to engineers who are there. More than 2,000 villages around Chernobyl are contaminated by radioactivity. More than 330,000 people are evacuated and relocated. Statistics predict approximately 270,000 cancers and 93,000 fatal cancer cases will be caused by Chernobyl. At least three million children will require medical treatment. The number who will fall ill and die is rising. The effect on the health of the survivors and their children is devastating: accelerated ageing, cardiovascular and blood illnesses, psychological illnesses, chromosomal aberrations and an increase in foetal deformations.
It is April 26th 2009
World leaders look to a nuclear ‘renaissance’. They forget the children of Chernobyl.
- When I think of Chernobyl...
- The Chernobyl Catastrophe - Consequences on Human Health
- Greenpeace video: 20 years ago: Chernobyl
- Nuclear Winter in Chernobyl