Tuesday, April 26, 2011

25 Years Since Chernobyl

It's been 25 years since the worst nuclear disaster in history occurred at Chernobyl's Reactor 4 in the Ukraine took the lives of more than 40 who worked at the plant and emergency responders and affected the lives of millions living downwind and in the zone of exclusion set up around the stricken plant.

The explosion, caused by human error combined with poor design, killed several workers instantly. The RBMK reactor design had a fatal flaw when operating at low power, and when workers were conducting a test, they entered that low power state without necessary backups in place and output spikes became uncontrollable and ultimately led to the destructive explosion of the core. Without the kind of containment in place for reactors common around the rest of the world, the core ruptured the reactor building and exposed the surrounding region to heavy doses of radiation and radioactive debris was flung into the air.

It further killed several dozen of the firefighters and liquidators who came in to put out the fire and to seal up the exposed reactor with a concrete sarcophagus:

The health consequences for those liquidators is still up in the air, and health experts debate just how many more deaths can be linked to the disaster in the affected population downwind of the reactor.

Efforts to build a new containment structure have been hamstrung by a lack of funds, and the most recent effort came up nearly $200 short for the expected $1 billion project.

Ultimately, the disaster may have helped spark the breakup of the Soviet Union and exposed just how bad the country's infrastructure and technological prowess truly was.

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