The Chernobyl Disaster

26th April 1986 - a day never forgotten

The Explosion

On 26 April 1986, engineers at the number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant deliberately switched off safety systems in order to carry out planned testing on the plant’s cooling pumps and turbines. During the testing an unexpected power surge occurred and the emergency shutdown failed, leading to an unprecedented nuclear explosion – the worst the world has ever seen, according to the United Nations.

Reactor 4 went into meltdown and released 190 tons of highly radioactive uranium and graphite a kilometre high into the atmosphere. The radioactive cloud passed over the Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and much of Western Europe, even reaching parts of Asia.

Initially the Soviet government attempted to cover up the disaster, but following international pressure, the full horror of the incident was eventually revealed. The fallout had devastated thousands of acres of land around the nuclear plant and the resulting radioactive contamination spread throughout Europe. Up to 70% of this toxic poison fell over nearby Belarus, just 10km to the north of the plant. Estimates indicate that the total amount of radioactivity released was over 90 times greater than that of the explosion of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
The Aftermath

At the United Nations conference, Belarusian scientists declared the Chernobyl explosion to be 'the greatest international ecological disaster in the history of humanity'. 30 people died instantly from burns and exposure to radiation, and many others died over the weeks, months and years following the explosion from radiation related illnesses.

Whole swathes of land were deemed unsafe to live or farm upon. These Restricted Zones are part of the countryside in today’s Belarus, and are often bordered by villages and active farms. Some have been re-opened to allow settlement and farming while others remain strictly controlled, often requiring permission to even be allowed to travel through them. Once known as the breadbasket of Europe, these contaminated lands are no longer commercially viable, and what little agriculture remains is used to feed the local population.
In places cattle still graze the land providing milk and meat, and poverty ensures that the local people continue to be exposed to the radiation through the local food chain.