Twenty Years Ago Today

Chernobyl-4 after the explosion.

Twenty years ago today at 1:23:44, the Chernobyl NPP reactor number four exploded. Five thousand tons of lead, sand, and other materials were dropped on the resulting fire in an attempt to stop the spread of the radioactive cloud. The world learned of the accident when Western European nuclear facilities identified radiation anomalies and traced them to the Chernobyl plant, forcing the USSR to make its first public announcement on the matter.

By November, the ruined reactor was entombed in a sarcophagus, and the irradiated equipment abandoned nearby, but the human scale of the disaster remains enormous to this day.

Despite this, a thread of fascination with the abandoned cities, especially near-by Pripyat, pervades much of the peer-produced work related to Chernobyl (David McMillan’s photos are an outstanding example). Day tours of the area are available from SAM Travel Company Ukraine (and maybe here too, but where are the booking details?).

Because of the need for power, the remaining reactors of Chernobyl NPP were kept in operation until 2000, and and even now there are 12 RBMK reactors like those at Chernobyl in operation in Russia and Lithuania. Safety (and training, I hope) is said to have improved. Westron, a joint venture between Westinghouse and Hartron, is bringing Western-style safety systems to Eastern European power plants, even though they often get paid in IOUs. (Sadly, “Western-style safety” may not mean what it used to. Practice here.)

Search MaisonBisson for more nuclear related stories.