Date and Time of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
Location of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station:
Background on the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
Construction of the Chernobyl power station began in the 1970s. The first of the four reactors was commissioned in 1977, and Reactor No. 4 began producing power in 1983. When the accident occurred in 1986, two other nuclear reactors were under construction.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
Causes of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
Loss of Life from the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
Estimates of the eventual death toll from Chernobyl vary widely. A 2005 report by the Chernobyl Forum—eight U.N. organizations—estimated the accident eventually would cause about 4,000 deaths. Greenpeace places the figure at 93,000 deaths, based on information from the Belarus National Academy of Sciences.
Physical Health Effects Linked to the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
Another report by the Center for Independent Environmental Assessment of the Russian Academy of Sciences found a dramatic increase in mortality since 1990—60,000 deaths in Russia and an estimated 140,000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus—probably due to Chernobyl radiation.
Psychological Effects of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
"The psychological impact is now considered to be Chernobyl's biggest health consequence," said Louisa Vinton, of the UNDP. "People have been led to think of themselves as victims over the years, and are therefore more apt to take a passive approach toward their future rather than developing a system of self-sufficiency.”
Countries and Communities Affected by the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident:
Radioactive fallout carried by the wind was later found in sheep in the UK, on clothing worn by people throughout Europe, and in rain in the United States.
Chernobyl Status and Outlook:
After the accident, Soviet authorities resettled more than 350,000 people outside the worst areas, including all 50,000 people from nearby Pripyat, but millions of people continue to live in contaminated areas.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, many projects intended to improve life in the region were abandoned, and young people began to move away to pursue careers and build new lives in other places.
"In many villages, up to 60 percent of the population is made up of pensioners," said Vasily Nesterenko, director of the Belrad Radiation Safety and Protection Institute in Minsk. "In most of these villages, the number of people able to work is two or three times lower than normal."
After the accident, Reactor No. 4 was sealed, but the Ukranian government allowed the other three reactors to keep operating because the country needed the power they provided. Reactor No. 2 was shut down after a fire damaged it in 1991, and Reactor No. 1 was decommissioned in 1996. In November 2000, the Ukranian president shut down Reactor No. 3 in an official ceremony that finally closed the Chernobyl facility.
But Reactor No. 4, which was damaged in the 1986 explosion and fire, is still full of radioactive material encased inside a concrete barrier, called a sarcophagus, that is aging badly and needs to be replaced. Water leaking into the reactor carries radioactive material throughout the facility and threatens to seep into the groundwater.
The sarcophagus was designed to last about 30 years, and current designs would create a new shelter with a lifetime of 100 years. But radioactivity in the damaged reactor would need to be contained for 100,000 years to ensure safety. That is a challenge not only for today, but for many generations to come.