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35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster: effects of radioactive fallout are still around us

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Kuldeep Singh
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On the night of April 26, 1986, an explosion thundered the fourth power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine (then the USSR), resulting in hundreds of dangerous radionuclides (radiation emissions amounted to 50 million curies) got into the atmosphere – ten times more than during the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

To eliminate the consequences of the terrible nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union announced mobilization. Hundreds of thousands of people, including civilians who did not have the slightest idea about the risks and threats of radioactive exposure, were sent to the accident zone.

About ChNPP and Pripyat

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Kiev region was built in 1970 to compensate for the electricity shortage in the Southern Soviet Union’s United Power System.

As RBC-Ukraine writes, the pace of construction was rapid. The first unit was commissioned in 1975, the second in 1979, the third in 1981, and the fourth unit was commissioned in 1983.

By 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant generated 4,000 MW and became one of the most powerful stations in the Soviet Union. The project generation of the Chernobyl plant was 6000 MW. To achieve this figure, construction of the 5th and 6th power units was started, but construction was halted due to an accident in April 1986.

A new city was built for the workers of the nuclear power plant – Pripyat. It attracted young energy engineers with families from all over the USSR. The average age of pripyat residents was 27 years. The city had a swimming pool, a palace of culture, a large hotel and other infrastructure for a comfortable life. On the May holidays of 1986 in Pripyat were to open an amusement park, but it was not destined to come true.

According to the declassified documents of the KGB for the period from 1973 to 1984, included in the UNESCO list, during construction, workers violated technical standards, and outsiders could get into the site, writes NV.

In particular, the Ukrainian department of the KGB was dissatisfied with the work of the fitting shop, as well as the quality of the materials used in the construction. “In the blocks being prepared for concrete, reinforcing frames made of low-grade steel and poor quality of electric welding were often installed,” Major Tyutyunnik, head of the Kiev-Svyatoshinsky regional department of the Ukrainian KGB under the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR in the Kiev region, wrote in a report in 1973.

Serious concerns in the leadership of the Soviet special services for the Chernobyl nuclear power plant began in December 1978 – then the head of the district department of the KGB, Klochko, drew up a memorandum “On violations in the construction of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.”

“During the construction of ChNPP Unit II, there are facts of violations of technological standards for construction and installation work in certain areas, which lead to accidents, and in the future, during operation of the reactor, they can lead to emergency events,” he wrote in a secret report.

The managers were in a hurry to put the facility into operation, which violated the technological norms of construction.

“The poor quality of construction, the lack of proper control by the Construction Directorate may lead in the future to the destruction of construction sites, radioactive contamination of the environment and other emergency events,” said Klochko, head of the Chernobyl Regional Department of the Ukrainian SSR UKGB in Kiev and the Kiev region.


The explosion at the 4th power unit of the nuclear power plant occurred on April 26. At night, the reactor was shut down for scheduled work and testing at the turbine generator. At 01:23, the power readings increased sharply, followed by an explosion.

The blast wave completely destroyed the reactor, and a strong fire started in the premises of the unit and on the roof. Due to the fire, the remnants of the reactor core, where the nuclear fuel was located, melted. Mixing with concrete and sand, they spread into the sub-reactor rooms.

A fire brigade from Pripyat and employees of the military security unit arrived at the scene a few minutes later. Thanks to their prompt actions, it was possible to prevent further spread of fire to other units.

Radiation contaminated 200,000 square meters. 70% of it are territories of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. The release of radioactive substances – up to 50 million curies. This is 400 times more than after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


During the explosion at the 4th power unit, one person died – the operator of the circulation pumps Valery Khodemchuk. The next morning, Vladimir Shashenok, an employee of the commissioning enterprise, died from injuries.

The firefighters who arrived at the scene of the accident had no idea about the real danger of what had happened, therefore they worked without protective equipment and received doses of radiation incompatible with life.

31 people died from radiation sickness within three months. Over the next 15 years, the consequences of radioactive exposure caused the death of 60 to 80 people. 134 people suffered from radiation sickness. According to medical research, after the Chernobyl accident, there was a jump in the detection of cancer among the population of Europe.

The number of victims is still not known for certain. In 2005, WHO published data, according to which as a result of the tragedy, up to 4,000 people could have died.


Many residents of Pripyat saw the fire at the nuclear power plant, but people were informed about the accident only a day later. On a day off, April 26, they walked around the city, not suspecting that they were breathing polluted air. The evacuation was announced on April 27, while it was forbidden to take pets and toys with them. People were told that they would be able to return home in 3 days to avoid panic. In three days, the population of Pripyat and villages was taken out of the 10-kilometer zone, and later residents were evacuated from 30 kilometers from the accident site.

On April 28, only a brief message appeared on television and radio that an accident had occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. On May 1, a massive demonstration took place in Kiev, towards which a radioactive cloud was moving.

Mikhail Gorbachev spoke in detail about the incident in his address only on May 14, 1986.


In the first days after the disaster, rescuers put out fires. A special mixture was dropped from helicopters onto the destroyed reactor in order to prevent its further heating and reduce radioactive emissions into the air.

Elimination work in the Chernobyl zone continued until 1987.

In 1986, a protective “sarcophagus” was erected over the building of the 4th block of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and in 2015 the power unit was covered with a new protective arch “Shelter-2” with a height of 110 meters. According to the State Program for the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant, by 2065 it will become an environmentally safe facility.

Classification of information

On July 8, 1986, the fifth department of the Sixth Directorate (responsible for economic counterintelligence and industrial security) of the KGB of the USSR issued a secret document entitled “List of information to be classified on issues related to the accident at Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (ChNPP)”.

The first item was taken to classify “information disclosing the true causes of the accident at Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.”

In addition, they concealed from people: summary information about the radiation situation, in particular in the exclusion zone (then called the 30-kilometer zone), complete information about the nature of destruction and the extent of damage to equipment and systems of the NPP power unit; information about the mixture emitted during the accident; information on the scale of elimination of the consequences of the accident; information about new effective means and methods of decontamination.

Also classified information about the incidence of radiation sickness; about radioactive contamination of natural environments, food products and feed; about mass poisoning and epidemic diseases associated with the disaster, and other information.


According to various sources, from 600,000 to 800,000 people from all over the USSR took part in the elimination of the consequences at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. About 4,000 people died from the consequences of the explosion. More than 70,000 of the liquidators became disabled.

The explosion in Chernobyl affected 1.9 million people in Ukraine. In general, there are 8.4 million people in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and other countries, in particular, Europe.

Radiation does not spread evenly around the Chernobyl NPP. Some areas in a 10-kilometer zone are ten times more dangerous than the area adjacent to a nuclear power plant.

In particular, one of these zones is the stele “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant” – here the radiation background can reach as much as 1,200 micro-enstagen/h when near the station the background does not exceed 300 micrograms per hour.

For comparison, the radiation background of Kiev as of now is about 11 micrograms per hour.

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