Chernobyl Then And Now: 28 Haunting Images From Nuclear Disaster

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On April 26, 1986, the entire world was horrified by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. This catastrophic event occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine, and it has since been a topic of both odd fascination and somber reflection. An explosion starting a fire released radioactive matter, spreading across a very large radius. A count of 31 people lost their lives immediately, countless were injured, and numerous others may eventually show signs over time that they were affected. This tragedy has been captured through photographs immediately following the accident and even three decades later.

Its Mission

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Chernobyl was the very first nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, which at the time was under the Soviet regimen. It was a source of great pride for the atomic energy program in the region, and it was designed to make military-grade plutonium, which would then generate electricity from the plutonium’s steam. The plant utilized the latest cutting-edge technology and had never had any notable incidents in connection with accident prevention. It contained a total of four Russian-made reactors, and the nuclear fuel was encased by graphite, which was a main safety feature, as that it should ideally absorb heat from the four reactors and keep them consistently at a safe temperature.

Its Workers

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As you might imagine, Chernobyl required a round-the-clock team of scientists, nuclear experts, technicians and maintenance workers to sustain such a project. Those placed at this plant were highly skilled and among the most well-educated Soviets. There was also a large number of security required to ensure that the nuclear plant’s boundaries were never breached, or to discourage spies who might attempt to gain entrance and observe the inner workings of the nuclear plant. Anyone who entered Chernobyl went through several checkpoints, providing identification and proper paperwork.

Its Model City

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Pripyat was a city just three kilometers from Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It was a working city of approximately 50,000 people, and it housed the scientists and other works at Chernobyl, so that they would always be located close by whenever needed. It was to be a modern Soviet city, filled with symmetrical architecture, landscaping and designated green spaces. Pripyat Fun Fair, an amusement park was set to open in May, and preparations were already underway, with the construction of rides and other amusements.

What Went Wrong

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On the morning of April 26, a systems test was run on the number four reactor. Suddenly, an unexpected and rather large power surge occurred. The workers immediately attempted to begin the process of an emergency shutdown. However, during this process, another much larger power surge shook the power plant, ultimately leading to a rupture in the fourth reactor, culminating in sprays of steam. The moderator was then exposed to air, and it simultaneously erupted in fire. This spewed radioactive substances into the air, drifting over the western section of the Soviet Union and many areas of Europe.

The Death Toll

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There were 31 deaths that occurred at the exact time or soon after the explosion at Chernobyl, all plant staff or the emergency crew. Around 65 more deaths were confirmed years later, due to the effects of the radiation, as well as that of another 50 emergency workers. However, with radiation fallout, the effects are not always immediate, and may even appear after long periods of time. Scientists believe that there will likely be yet another 4,000 deaths that may be attributed to the radiation fallout from the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

First Responders

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Firefighters stormed the power plant, utilizing method known to put out the fires. Led by Lieutenant Volodymyr Pravik, they moved into the area, completely unaware of what type of fire it was, or if there were any dangerous chemicals or radioactive particles from the fallout in the air. They came in to find pieces of graphite scattered across the ground, but having no training on how to deal with radiation or this type of a fire, fighters climbed onto the roof to attempt to put out the blaze and were never seen again. The outer fires were finally put out by helicopters dropping tons of boron, sand, lead and clay, but the fire that raged within Reactor Four burned until May 10. Lieutenant Volodymyr Pravik, who bravely led the team in, died on May 9 from sickness due to prolonged exposure to the radiation.

Disaster is Announced in the Ukraine

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In nearby Pripyat, announcements were not immediate. In fact, the residents went about their days with no knowledge of what had occurred just three kilometers away at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. However, the effects soon began to take hold. People began to fall violently ill, with symptoms like coughing, vomiting, severe headaches and strange tastes of metallic. The plant was run by officials in Moscow, so proper communication was not immediately put through to the Ukraine authorities who piece together any type of announcement for its people. Finally, when an announcement was made, it was read on a TV news program as follows: “There has been an accident at 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.” This was the only information provided at the time to the people in nearby areas.

Initial Investigation

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The initial investigation was begun by Valery Legasov, the First Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. The team also included Evegeny Velikhov, a well-known nuclear specialist, and Yuri Izrael, a hydro-meteorologist, and Leonid Ilyin, a radiologist. They were immediately flown into Boryspil International Airport on the same day of the accident, and they arrived at the plant later that evening. Within hours, they had undeniable evidence that the reactor had been completely destroyed and that people had been exposed to extremely high levels of radiation in the neighboring areas, and even across a wider geographical range.

Evacuations

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Evacuations finally began the following day after the explosion, but not until two people had died and over 50 had been hospitalized. People were told that the evacuation would last approximately three days, so residents only brought necessities, leaving personal possessions behind for their return to their homes… items that still remain to this very day. Over 53,000 people were taken to nearby cities. The following day, more evacuees were taken from a much wider zone. Over a week later, the evacuation zone expanded to over 30 kilometers, much like the size of the area today.

Cleanup Begins

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Most of the radioactive materials and debris were shoveled and thrown into the remaining husk of the reactor, which was covered with materials that had been dropped by the helicopters in the previous days of putting out the fires. These workers had to wear protective gear at all times, bringing forth their nickname, “bio-robots”. Even when wearing this heavy gear, they could only work on the roof for an absolute maximum of 40 seconds at any given time, and most rapidly exceeded radiation safety limits. They were obviously dealing with highly radioactive materials and could not risk the chance of additional exposure by even driving their vehicles home. In fact, they still remain, along with many other personal items. The cleanup lasted over seven months.

Sarcophagus Construction

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After the initial cleanup and several additional inspections, there was still a huge fear that rain entering the reactor could start off a chain reaction. The largest civil engineering project in history began, employing over a million workers and engineers. The sarcophagus was erected to cover the reactor and prevent any future escape of radioactive chemicals or particles. After more inspections, it was deemed that there was no longer a risk of another explosion or the release of radioactive matter.

Water Supply Effected

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As that the power plant is so close to the Pripyat River, which flows into other bodies of water, contamination was a major issue. Water supplies were switched to alternate reservoirs in areas as far away as Kiev. A giant barrier was constructed to keep any additional water from the reactor from flowing into the Pripyat River.

Effects on Wildlife

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After the explosion at Chernobyl, a neighboring pine forest, dubbed the Red Forest, turned a reddish, burnt brown color and began to die. Animals were also killed by the radiation, and many mutated.

Continuing Effect on Humans

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While many of the death counts attributed to causes directly connected to the explosion at Chernobyl have always been debated, it is undeniable that the radioactive matter at the site has led to health issues including multiple forms of cancer, reproductive problems, and other radioactive damage. Psychiatric issues have also been of major concern, as well.

Economic Impact

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After his visit in 1989, Mikhail S. Gorbachev claimed that the Soviet Union spent the equivalent of 18 billion U.S. dollars in containment efforts at Chernobyl. There are also, of course, payments and annuities that are made to affected survivors of the Chernobyl accident.

Photographing a Wasteland

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Now, 30 years later, Chernobyl is known as one of the most widely photographed disaster sites of all times. Photographers and those with a pressing interest travel from all across the globe in hopes to witness the haunting imagery that is now Chernobyl.

Visiting Chernobyl

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Many tour groups offer daily visits into the Chernobyl zone, including the abandoned city of Pripyat. While there are still moderate levels of radiation, it is safe for short visits, and all tourists are tested for radiation before leaving the grounds.

Automobile Graveyard

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Many vehicles were left at the Chernobyl site, including those of workers who could not drive them home due to fear of additional contamination. There are also large trucks and even airplanes nestled in the tall weeds surrounding what was once the power plant.

Pripyat Fun Fair

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This amusement park was set to open in May, until the Chernobyl explosion completely derailed the project. However, evidence still remains of its intended sense of pleasure, including a ferris wheel and multiple other thrill rides.

Interrupted Adventures

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The amusement park was basically ready for opening day, and the bumper cars were no exception. However, it is difficult to imagine the sound of children’s laughter in what remains today.

Personal Possessions

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As that the residents of neighboring areas were not completely or accurately informed of the dire situation, many thought that they would be returning to their homes within days. The Chernobyl site is scattered with sad reminders of those who had built their lives there.

Reminders of a Vibrant Community

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The residents of Pripyat and surrounding areas were part of an exciting community, full of bright minds in a modern, thriving environment. Chilling reminders of the neighborhood’s participation in the performing arts and community gatherings dot the grounds.

No Help to be Found

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Remnants of this abandoned hospital still remain, not able to assist the affected residents of Pripyat due to its own contamination. Today, the empty beds are a reminder to the survivors of this terrible tragedy.

Wolves of Chernobyl

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Wolves have seemed to lay claim to the “Dead Zone” at Chernobyl, apparently thriving in this desolate area. Other animals that have made this apocalyptic land their home are elk, wild boar and deer.

Spirits of Chernobyl

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While there are technically no inhabitants at the former power plant and surrounding abandoned villages, it has long been the topic of various paranormal television series. While investigators believe that victims often return to the place where they suddenly lost their lives, it is not too far-stretched to think that spirits still walk the streets of this isolated, barren community.

Chernobyl Foundation

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The Chernobyl Foundation was established in 2010, with a mission to provide necessary assistance and to restore the contaminated area. Their efforts, both economic and humanitarian, have helped thousands.

New Safe Confinement Project

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Now, 30 years later, the original sarcophagus is showing signs of major deterioration, and this new project’s goal is to provide a new steel structure, mostly resembling something similar to a 30-story, arched hut. This new structure will cover the reactor and sarcophagus, where robotic machinery will dismantle its contents for final removal sometime in 2017.

Not to be Forgotten

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While the new project may remove the infamous Reactor Four that thrust Chernobyl and the city of Pripyat into a downward spiral, the memories and lasting effects will remain. Not often do we witness such a horrific experience that continues to haunt the world three decades later, yet Chernobyl persists in evoking fascination, curiosity and the most passionate of human emotions.

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