The accident that occurred at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 was the most disastrous reactor malfunction in the history of nuclear power. Fifty-six people died immediately following the accident and substantial amounts of radioactive material were released into the atmosphere. This contaminated not only the surrounding area but spread across western Europe and eventually around the globe. Hundreds of thousands of people had to be evacuated from the region around the power plant and to date approximately 4,000 have died from the long-term effects of radiation poisoning.
Thursday 26 April 1986 became a momentous date in modern history, when one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine exploded. It was the most significant reactor failure in the history of nuclear power, a Maximum Credible Accident (MCA).
The plant, just 20km away from the town centre, was made up of four reactor units each generating an output of 1,000 megawatts. The reactor in question exploded due to operational errors and inadequate safety measures and the meltdown was directly linked to routine testing on the reactor unit’s turbine generators.
The test required reactor activity and the thermal reactor output to be run down to a lower level. During the procedure, however, the reactor plummeted to an unexpectedly low and unstable level of activity. At this point, it should have been shut down, but as the operators chose to continue with the test, events subsequently proved to be catastrophic.
More than 200 people died or were seriously injured by radiation exposure immediately after the explosion. 161,000 people had to be evacuated from a 30km radius of the reactor and 25,000 sq km of land was contaminated. As time went on millions of people suffered radiation-related health problems such as leukaemia and thyroid cancer and around 4,000 people have died as a result of the long-term effects of the accident.
The Chernobyl disaster brought the ongoing discussion of the pros and cons of nuclear power to the forefront of public attention. Critics saw the reactor failure as dramatic and alarming evidence to support their anti-nuclear stance. Advocates of nuclear power insisted that the fragile Chernobyl reactor was an outdated model, and that the plants of western Europe and the US demonstrated a vastly improved safety culture thanks to their more advanced technology. These conflicting assessments of the accident have led to extensive research into nuclear safety standards and the disposal of radioactive fuel elements.
Today, the fundamental issues surrounding the benefits and risks of nuclear energy and its future role in power generation continue to be hotly debated.
Source: Discovery Channel