'More than seven million of our fellow human beings are still suffering, every day, as a result of what happened ...years ago. The legacy of Chernobyl will be with us, and our descendants, for generations to come.
- Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General - April 2000.
On 26 April 1986, engineers at the number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant deliberately switched off safety systems in order to carry out planned testing on the plant’s cooling pumps and turbines. During the testing an unexpected power surge occurred and the emergency shutdown failed, leading to an unprecedented nuclear explosion – the worst the world has ever seen, according to the United Nations.
Reactor 4 went into meltdown and released 190 tons of highly radioactive uranium and graphite a kilometre high into the atmosphere. The radioactive cloud passed over the Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and much of Western Europe, even reaching parts of Asia.
Initially the Soviet government attempted to cover up the disaster, but following international pressure, the full horror of the incident was eventually revealed. The fallout had devastated thousands of acres of land around the nuclear plant and the resulting radioactive contamination spread throughout Europe. Up to 70% of this toxic poison fell over nearby Belarus, just 10km to the north of the plant. Estimates indicate that the total amount of radioactivity released was over 90 times greater than that of the explosion of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
At the United Nations conference, Belarusian scientists declared the Chernobyl explosion to be 'the greatest international ecological disaster in the history of humanity'. 30 people died instantly from burns and exposure to radiation, and many others died over the weeks, months and years following the explosion from radiation related illnesses.
Whole swathes of land were deemed unsafe to live or farm upon. These Restricted Zones are part of the countryside in today’s Belarus, and are often bordered by villages and active farms.
Some have been re-opened to allow settlement and farming while others remain strictly controlled, often requiring permission even to be allowed to travel through them. Once known as the breadbasket of Europe, these contaminated lands are no longer commercially viable, and what little agriculture remains is used to feed the local population.
In places cattle still graze the land providing milk and meat, and poverty ensures that the local people continue to be exposed to the radiation through the local food chain.
Small monuments stand as reminders of villages that were evacuated and bulldozed. This village had 137 families & 323 inhabitants
A ceremony in Chernobyl today (29 November 2016) marked the successful conclusion of the sliding operation, a key milestone before the finalization of the international program to transform Chernobyl into an environmentally safe and secure state by November 2017. Thirty years after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the radioactive remains of the power plant’s destroyed reactor 4 have been safely enclosed following one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects.
Chernobyl’s giant New Safe Confinement (NSC) was moved over a distance of 327 metres from its assembly point to its final resting place, completely enclosing a previous makeshift shelter that was hastily assembled immediately after the 1986 accident. The structure was built by Novarka, a consortium of the French construction firms VINCI Construction and Bouygues Construction. Works started in 2010.