The Lady Speaks

Chernobyl Remembered

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union. The death toll stands at 30 – those killed immediately – but doesn't include those who've died as a result of radiation exposure.

The radiation release from the explosion was 100 times that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. One of the results of the high radiation levels was the relocation of nearly 135,000 people from villages in the area.

From the Associated Press:

Bells tolled across Ukraine and mourners carried red carnations and flickering candles to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion Wednesday, an event that continues to scar the psyche of the ex-Soviet republic.

The April 26, 1986, pre-dawn explosion, to be marked in Ukraine with daylong events, became the world’s worst ever nuclear accident, spewing radiation across vast stretches of Europe. It cast a radioactive shadow over the health of millions of people; many believe it contributed to the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse.


In Kiev, bells tolled 20 times starting at 1:23 a.m., marking the exact time of the explosion at Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

Closer to Chernobyl in Slavutych — the town built to house the Chernobyl workers displaced by the accident — the commemorations began an hour earlier to coincide with Moscow time, which was used in the then-Soviet Republic of Ukraine at the time of the accident. Residents laid flowers and placed candles at a monument dedicated to Chernobyl as sirens blared.


Mykola Malyshev, 66, was working in the control room of Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 1 at the time of the explosion. He said the lights flickered and the room shook. The workers were ordered to the destroyed reactor, but when they got there, their co-workers ordered them to flee and save themselves. “They told us, ‘We are already dead. Go away,”’ Malyshev recalled at the Kiev ceremony.


The accident in reactor no. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power station took place in the night of 25 to 26 April 1986, during a test. The operating crew planned to test whether the turbines could produce sufficient energy to keep the coolant pumps running in the event of a loss of power until the emergency diesel generator was activated.

In order to prevent the test run of the reactor being interrupted, the safety systems were deliberately switched off. For the test, the reactor had to be powered down to 25 per cent of its capacity. This procedure did not go according to plan: for unknown reasons, the reactor power level fell to less than 1 per cent. The power therefore had to be slowly increased. But 30 seconds after the start of the test, there was a sudden and unexpected power surge. The reactor's emergency shutdown (which should have halted the chain reaction) failed.

Within fractions of a second, the power level and temperature rose many times over. The reactor went out of control. There was a violent explosion. The 1000-tonne sealing cap on the reactor building was blown off. At temperatures of over 2000°C, the fuel rods melted. The graphite covering of the reactor then ignited. In the ensuing inferno, the radioactive fission products released during the core meltdown were sucked up into the atmosphere. [emphasis mine]

One of the after-effects of Chernobyl is the huge increase in thyroid cancer in the Ukraine.


Between 1981 – 1985, the five years preceding the accident, the average thyroid cancer rate was 4-6 incidents per million Ukrainian young children (birth to 15 years). However between 1986 – 1997 this rose to 45 incidents per million.

64% of all Ukrainian thyroid cancer patients age 15 of younger lived in the most contaminated regions (the provinces of Kiev, Chernigov, Zhitomir, Cherkassy, and Rovno and the city of Kiev)


April 26, 2006 - Posted by | former Soviet Union, Health, Nuclear Power, Radiation, Science

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