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Not-so Great Moments in History – Chernobyl

Chernobyl 1986

Today marks the somber 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, that on 26 April 1986 turned the small sleepy Ukrainian town of Pripyat into one of the most infamous and feared locations on earth.

The disaster sent a plume of radioactive contamination over much of Europe and Eastern Russia, crippled the economy of the former superpower USSR, and remains the single worst nuclear disaster the world has had to face.

While the current Fukushima disaster resulting from last month’s 9.0 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan ranks a similarly classified Level Seven on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), it is considered much less serious than the event in Chernobyl due to factors including containment, deaths and contamination.

In the early days of the 1986 accident, the seriousness of the unfolding disaster wasn’t fully understood even by officials within the USSR who were alerted to high radiation levels by neighboring countries. And it wasn’t until recent years that the full extent of the danger has been fully revealed.

The following two documentaries full of historical video and interviews are are both fascinating and terrifying in the information they share. According to the second of the two video series, it is only through sheer plain luck that “critical-mass” has not occurred, setting off a massive nuclear blast 10x bigger than Hiroshima and rendering most of Europe uninhabitable. And to this day there is danger of the white-hot fuel hitting water and creating smaller yet still deadly radioactive explosions.

But no less fascinating is how, in spite of the deserted ghost town images reported by the media, life went on at the power-plant.  The facility continued to operate for decades and was only decommissioned in late 2000. Thousands of workers went to work every day with a sleeping monster next door. A few people returned to the forbidden countryside to live, and nature flourished in his overall absence. It’s a peek into both the resilience of nature, and man’s simultaneous ability to destroy it.

We may never fully account for all the injuries and damage that resulted from this disaster, but we should never forget just how close we came to loosing it all in a hell on Earth. These videos show the aftermath with actual video from inside the disaster, and described in the words of the scientists and military personnel who were there. It’s worth the watch.

Far from being a position on the future of nuclear power, the author hopes this article serves as a lesson in due-diligence and a reminder of the importance of “doing things right”. And most importantly, the value of asking the those two words that can save the world;

“What if”

Be sure to click through all parts for the full stories.

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Nova – Inside Chernobyl’s Sarcophagus Part 1 /5

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The Battle of Chernobyl, Part 1/11

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  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    I've not seen that first video, will have to watch it all someday. My father's family in Poland are farmers. They told me that after the disaster it was like fall came with leaves falling from trees and many crops died. They showed me pictures of these tiny misshapen apples. A lot of my family there got cancer in the years after. The cases of kids were the saddest.

    One thing I learned about earlier are ADSR (accelerator driven sub-critical reactors). The idea is to use a proton beam to increase neutron flux through spallation. An early plan was the Rubiatron. But AKER in India has been working on such projects, in fact on such thorium reactors. There has been work to bring cooperation between India and US closer, Monday the former 'People's President' of India visited with the director of Fermilab for example, I'm excited about it.

    Thorium is a lot more prevalent, almost all of the waste is safe after 300 years, does not have to be enriched (this also helps curtail proliferation), and harder to weaponize. In fact the waste from current reactors can be reprocessed in an ADSR. Anyway I hope that in the next 20-30 years we will have this technology. I worry about events like Chernobyl and Fukashima will sour public opinion so much that projects like that will never get the funding that they will need.

  • CaptianNemo2001

    Only 1 comment in 58 weeks? Ouch.

    “doing things right” is something people are still trying to learn and when they fail, usually fail big, they justify it with Risk vs Reward or some sort of Cost Analysis crap where they state its just "too expensive to over engineer it to prevent utter disaster based on current data" when 20 years down the road they usually find out that "Oh hey this isnt safe enough based on this new data…" which means its not got to be fixed and will cost 10x more then it would have to do it "right" the first time… =/.

    I could list examples but then I would run out of text space. But its safe to say history is full of them and sometimes its the human element thats the issue and sometimes the engineering. More often then not its both…

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