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The children of Chernobyl

By Mariana Calha

It is at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, Pripyat, Oblast of Kiev, Ukraine, in the early hours of April 26th, 1986, more specifically, at one twenty-three in the morning, that Chernobyl is the stage of what is considered the biggest nuclear accident in history.

Rated, in the International Scale of Nuclear Accidents, a grade 7 disaster, a tragic number never reached before.

What would be a harmless experiment, turned out to be one of the darkest days in world history, becoming the stage of hundreds of deaths, short and long-term. 

It is in reactor four that, during the performance of a security test in the plant, there is a failure which ends up causing the disaster. The explosion triggers a fire that spreads for days, contributing to the expansion of all the radioactive materials into the atmosphere.

Pripyat, the city where the nuclear base was located, in the north of Ukraine, hosted fifty thousand residents, who only evacuated the city thirty-six hours after the explosion. 

Even though it was the city that suffered major damages, it was not, however, the only one affected. The wind spread the radiation into the world and nearby locations with high levels of radiation were rapidly identified, such as Poland, Austria, Sweden, and Belarus. 

The United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada were the places that, after being tested, confirmed radioactive frequency levels way too high for the distance that separates those countries from Pripyat. 

The accident was caused not only by the lack of compliance with many security procedures, but also due to errors in the production of the reactors, its major cause being human error. 

Still, the incident was hidden for as long as possible by the soviet government, which feared the impact that the incident would have on the country’s reputation. 

The consequences that Chernobyl brought with it were profound, especially to Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, three of the former republics that constituted the Soviet Union.

The accident contributed to the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, triggering severe economic impacts, hard to support due to the economic crisis that plagued the union of republics since mid-1970.

The excess amount of radioactivity that remains present in the proximity of the reactor nucleus number four has been covered like a sarcophagus and it is feared that the territory’s resumption will show too high a risk to human life as it would lead to the spread of highly radioactive dusts.

The consequences are not only economical, but also health-related. 

The number of oncology patients suffered a huge increase between the Ukrainian and Belarusian populations, and this increase was a direct consequence of radiation exposure.

At a psychological level, the tragedy also brought devastating sequelae. The survivors showed a significant increase in anxiety levels, both due to the traumatic event they were exposed to and to the losses caused by it.

Until today, the effective number of deaths caused by the accident is not of public knowledge, there are only mere assumptions – and that is one of the most controversial points involving this topic.

It was more than thirty-five years ago that Pripyat became a ghost town, and the scientific community estimates that the city of Chernobyl will be uninhabitable for another 20,000 years until it becomes safe.

However, the curious do not get swept away by the existing adversities and continue to visit the plant in a safe and easy way: Google Maps.

Translated by Bruna Bastos

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