35 year anniversary of Chernobyl disaster, world's worst nuclear accident
In 2016, the UN General Assembly designated April 26 as International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day, recalling the long-term consequences of the disaster that continue to this day.
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Monday, April 26 marks the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the worst nuclear disaster in history, which saw a massive radioactive cloud spread throughout parts of the Soviet Union.
Centered near the city of Pripyat in what is now Ukraine, the disaster occurred after a safety test went wrong, making it unstable and leading to a chain reaction, exploding the reactor core. The nuclear cloud spread for around nine days throughout the region. To this day, only one other nuclear disaster in history – the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan – is comparable, both being the only incidents to be rated the highest number, seven, on the International Nuclear Event Scale, though Japan's then-prime minister Naoto Kan noted the disaster was different as it did not release as large of an amount of radiation, according to Reuters.
The exact death toll of the disaster is unknown, as while two people were killed in the original explosion itself, many more died throughout the following months from radiation poisoning and many more throughout the following years of cancer. According to a 2006 article published in the academic journal Nature, the death toll in the USSR alone was estimated to reach around 4,000, while extending into Western Europe, that number could be even higher, with some studies ranging from 16,000 to even 60,000.
This disputed death toll is due to how widespread the radiation's effect was, as well as how long it will last.
The incident has had a significant impact on the world, creating debate on the use of nuclear power and safety management. It has also become a major part of global cooperation, and since 1986, the United Nations and major NGOs have launched over 230 different research and assistance projects in the fields of health, nuclear safety, rehabilitation, environment, production of clean foods and information, according to the UN's website.
The disaster also underlined lack of faith in the Soviet Union, and according to some scholars, such as Harvard's Ukrainian history Prof. Serhii Plokhy, had set in motion the collapse of the Soviet Union as a whole.
It has also become an icon of popular culture, with the site becoming the set pieces of many works of fiction and entertainment. In fact, in 2019, the BBC reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had plans to turn the area into a tourist attraction.
But while the disaster itself is long gone, the damage continues to this day. As noted by Nature, many areas around the reactor and beyond are still affected by the radiation. The most prevalent type of radioactive isotope in the disaster, caesium-137, has a half-life of around 30 years, so much of the areas left abandoned by the blast could get better in the coming years, but many areas could be radioactive for centuries to come, like the 30 kilometer exclusion zone around the reactor itself.
Other problems persist as well, such as wildfires, as the forests contaminated by the radiation are prone to catching fire during dry seasons. As a result of this and winds, these fires can spread the radiation further. In 2020, these fires spread to the point that some radiation actually reached Kiev, but not to the extent that it would threaten human life, according to the UN's nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In 2016, the UN General Assembly designated April 26 as International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day, recalling the long-term consequences of the disaster that continue to this day, 35 years later.