21 January 2015

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Chernobyl - The Worst Nuclear Power Plant Disaster

The discovery of nuclear power brought about an age of cleaner energy. Nuclear power plants create more energy and release less pollution into the air than the previously used coal plants. While nuclear power seems like the perfect answer to keeping our air clean it is not without dangers. The radioactive materials used in a nuclear power plant are highly volatile and must be closely monitored in a tightly control environment. If even one small detail fails the consequences can be unimaginably disastrous. 

The events that occurred on April 26th 1986 in the Ukraine at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are a testament and reminder of what can happen if the safety nets put in place fail. This tragedy is considered the worst nuclear power disaster in history.

During an experiment at the plant an interruption to the cooling system designed to stabilize and cool the fuel cells caused the core of reactor 4 to melt down and explode. The explosion released a large amount of radioactive materials that spread over much of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. This disaster is one of only 2 events to reach a level 7 on the international Nuclear Event Scale and claimed more lives than any other nuclear power failure in history.

The explosion caused a contamination that required the relocation or more than 350,000 people from 1986 to 2000. All were forced to find homes in areas outside the contaminated area. The events occurrence in the former USSR makes it hard to determine the exact impact the explosion had on people in the area because so much of the data is conflicting. An undisputable 31 plant workers and emergency responders were killed during the meltdown. The reports of death from radiation in surrounding areas range with numbers from 64 people to a much higher 4,000 people.

The danger of a nuclear disaster extends far beyond the initial contamination. One of the biggest risks of radiation is the likely hood of developing cancer caused by exposure. Here again reports vary as to the number of cancer victims who died as a result of cancer related to the Chernobyl disaster ranging from the Greenpeace report of around 200,000 cases to a Russian publication sighting around 985,000 deaths between 1986 and 2004.

Perhaps the most tragic part of the event is that many might have avoided exposure if the government had responded more quickly and informed the people in surrounding communities. The Soviet Union waited two days before telling anyone about the accident. During the two days all state radio broadcasts were preempted and stations were only permitted to play classical music. When the government finally did make an announcement it came in the form of a quick 20 second commercial during a news program. It is suspected that no announcement would have been made except that dangerous levels of radiation set off warning alarms at a nuclear power plant in Sweden more than one thousand kilometers from the Chernobyl plant. An investigation into the cause of the alarms prompted the Soviet Union to admit something was wrong.

The Chernobyl disaster is said to have crippled the economic standing of the Soviet Union and was a major factor in its eventual downfall. This accident also brought about reform in the transparency of world nuclear power and encouraged many counties to establish new nuclear regulations.

 Submitted by: Lawrence Reaves

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