Chernobyl: 30 Years Later

By Carl Montgomery - Flickr, CC BY 2.0,
Chernobyl reactor 4 with containment sarcophagus. (Photo by Carl Montgomery via Wikimedia Commons)

Thirty years ago today, a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union exploded, causing the worst nuclear accident in history.

Here are some things you may not have known about it.

The disaster happened during a safety test on reactor number four. During the test, there was an unexpected power surge, followed by a system failure during an emergency shutdown. Eventually, the reactor ruptured causing steam explosions and finally a graphite fire, which sent radioactive fallout in to the atmosphere, where it spread over a large portions of Europe.

The test started at about 1:23 a.m., the first fire alarm was activated three minutes later and firefighters arrived two minutes after that. The firefighters were able to put out all the fires within five hours. The city of Pripyat, which is nearby, was not immediately evacuated. A few hours after the exlopsion, dozens of people fell ill, some reporting severe headaches, metallic tastes in their mounts and uncontrollable coughing and vomiting. Soviet leaders kept the disaster quiet for more than 24 hours before ordering an evacuation. 53,000 people were evacuated in one hour, later the evacuation area would be expanded to a 19-mile radius.

The government, however, didn’t tell inform the rest of the world. The first inkling that something had happened came when meters at a nuclear plant in Sweden detected high levels of radiation. Only then, did the Soviet Union admit what had happened. It did so with the following television announcement.

“There has been an accident the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One of the nuclear reactors was damaged. The effects of the accident are being remedied. Assistance has been provided for any affected people. An investigative commission has been set up.”

Thirty-one people died as a direct result of the accident, all of them were plant workers and emergency responders. Estimates of the total number of people who have or will contract cancer as a result of the disaster range from as few as 4,000 up to more than 200,000.

It has been estimated that the Chernobyl accident released 400 times the radioactive material than was released during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The area that was hardest hit by radiation is Belarus, which is north of the plant’s site in Ukraine. The only part of Europe that didn’t see fallout was Spain and Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula.

The debris from the accident was collected inside the remains of the reactor by workers who could only work 40 seconds at a time because of the radiation. The reactor was then covered with sand, lead and boric acid. In December 1986 a large sarcophagus was constructed to seal off the reactor. The sarcophagus had an estimated lifespan of about 30 years.

The other three reactors continued producing electricity after the disaster. Reactor 2 was shut down after a fire in 1991. Reactor 1 was decommissioned in 1996 and Reactor 3 went offline in 2000.

A new containment structure is being built to replace the sarcophagus. The new measures are estimated to cost more than $3 billion and are expected to last for 100 years.

Our question: What is the capital city of Ukraine?

Today is World Intellectual Property Day and Union Day in Tanzania, marking the country’s formation from the merger of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964.

It’s School Bus Drivers’ Day, National Pretzel Day and Hug an Australian Day.

It’s the birthday of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who was born in 1822 and designed New York’s Central Park; architect I.M. Pei, who is 99 years old today, and actress Carol Burnett, who is 83.

This week in 1986, the top song in the U.S. was “Kiss” by Prince and the Revolution.

The No. 1 movie was “Legend,” while “The Bourne Supremacy” by Robert Ludlum topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or our website.

Also, if you’re enjoying the show, please consider supporting it through

Please rate the show on iTunes by clicking here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.