April 26, 1986: The nuclear reactor #4 at Chernobyl suffers a steam explosion. Chernobyl is in the Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered the only level 7 instance on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This scale was inspired by the Richter Scale and has seven different levels of “events.” Level 0 is a deviation without any safety issues involved. Levels 1-3 are minor “incidents” and from 4-7, the consequences of what is now termed an “accident” reach to the local community or farther. Level 7 is classified as a Major Accident.
As with most disasters, there was not just one simple cause. There were many and they were interrelated. 1) There was a lack of a “Safety Culture” that allowed for design weaknesses. 2) There were overall faults with high-powered channel reactor type – the RBMK or reactor bolshoy mashchnosty kanalny. 3) There was a violation of procedure. Only 6-8 control rods were used when there should have been a minimum of 30 rods and the emergency cooling system was disabled. And 4) There was a communication breakdown with critical information not being passed on correctly.
The fallout from the accident has been long-term and expensive. Thyroid cancers have the greatest increase with a pre-accident rate in 1981-1985 of 5 cases per million people raised to 45 per million during the years 1986-1997. Other cancers have gained prominence as well. At the time of the disaster, 116,000 people were evacuated with 210,000 more relocated during the years 1990-1995. An estimated cost of $12.8 billion due to the disruption of the Soviet Economy is cited.
Power shortages remained throughout the area. So while new construction of reactors #5 and #6 were eventually halted, reactor #1-3 continued to be used. There was a fire in reactor #2 in 1991 which resulted in its shutdown. Reactor #1 was decommissioned in 1996 and on December 15, 2000, Reactor #3 was turned off. The site today hold memorials to the people who were killed or affected by the disaster. There is a “Sarcophagus” over the damaged reactor, but there continues to be issues due to possible further collapse of the protective barrier.
“We are the authors of our own disasters.” – Latin Proverb
“And Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream.” – Homer Simpson
“The discovery of nuclear reactions need not bring about the destruction of mankind any more than the discovery of matches.” – Albert Einstein
“What might be considered one of the few positive aspects of ‘Chernobyl’s legacy’ is today’s global safety regime.” – Mohamed ElBaradei
Also on this day, in 1865 John Wilkes Booth was killed in Virginia.