Chernobyl - the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster

12th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

It was shortly after one a.m on April 26, 1986 when the number-four reactor at the Chernobyl complex was shattered by massive blasts, releasing radiation and causing the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster.

The explosion at the power station in Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, was to make the name of Chernobyl practically synonymous with the dangers of atomic energy.

UKraine has been hit like neighbouring Russia by an unprecedented heatwave and a Ukrainian official said on Thursday a two hectare peat bog fire is burning 60 kilometres south of Chernobyl, but the situation poses no danger.

Although only two people were killed in the actual 1986 explosions, which occurred during a badly-supervised test operation, the UN atomic agency says that 28 of the rescue workers who were rushed in afterwards, often without adequate protection, died of radiation sickness in the first three months.

According to Ukrainian official figures, more than 25,000 people known as "liquidators" from then-Soviet Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have died since taking part in the bid to limit radioactive fallout after the catastrophe.

Officially, in Ukraine alone, 2.3 million people are considered to have suffered following the disaster.

The disaster had far wider repercussions, however, as the radioactive cloud projected into the atmosphere was carried by winds across large swathes of Europe to the north and west, notably affecting Belarus, western Russia, Scandinavia and much of central and western Europe.

In the immediate vicinity of the plant, the slowness of the Soviet authorities to acknowledge the importance of the accident, and to begin evacuating residents, made the situation worse.

It was only two days after the blast, when Sweden reported abnormally high levels of radiation in its atmosphere, that the story became front-page news in the West.

While the Chernobyl power plant was finally closed in 2000, the dead reactor is still a threat because the concrete cover hastily laid over some 200 tonnes of spilled radioactive material is cracking and will not be replaced until 2012.

© 2010 AFP

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