Today is the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

On April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine,a system test was being run wen there was an unexpected surge of power. An emergency shutdown was attempted and a rector vessel rupture, leading to a series of steam explosions. This  exposed the graphite moderator of the reactor to air, causing it to ignite. The resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. The radioactive ash drifted over large parts of the Western Soviet Union and Europe.

Many of the immediate individual responders were unaware of the radiation, and wore no protective gear. Many died within weeks due to the radiation exposure. People were not told the cause of the explosion and fire, and many didn’t know it had come from the nuclear plant.  The amount of radiation in the air was so extreme, one firefighter described the sensation as being similar to needles all over his face.

The nearby city of Pripyat was not immediately evacuated after the incident. The townspeople went about their usual business, completely oblivious to what had just happened. However, within a few hours of the explosion, dozens of people fell ill. The rest of the Soviet Union was not informed of the explosion until April 28th, two days after it occurred.

Only after radiation levels set off alarms at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden, over one thousand kilometers from the Chernobyl Plant, did the Soviet Union admit that an accident had occurred. Nevertheless, authorities attempted to conceal the scale of the disaster.

The evacuation of Pripyat began at 2 pm April 27, after being exposed to radiation for almost 36 hours. Authorities told citizens to only bring what was necessary, as it would only last three days. As such, many left their personal belongings, where they remain to this day.

The nuclear explosion released over 400 times the amount of radiation caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In the aftermath of the accident, 237 people suffered from acute radiation sickness (ARS), of whom 31 died within the first three months. There is some debate as to the numbers of related deaths, with some estimates being anywhere from 4000 to 27,000 for cancer victims. The book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, presented by the New York Academy of Sciences, concludes that the disaster will contribute to 985,000 premature deaths. The natural environment immediately surrounding the plant was devastated.

The Soviet Union government was strongly condemned for its handling of the disaster, in particular it’s response to the people and its attempts to hide the scope of the accident.

The town of Pripyat, which was evacuated after the accident, is now an abandoned wasteland. the people were told the evacuation would be for three days; but the radiation was so bad the people never went back. The link below shows the eerie images of the abandoned town, taken only a few years ago.