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[RU: Авария на Чернобыльской АЭС], [DE: Der Unfall im Kernkraftwerk Tschernobyl]

The Chernobyl accident was a catastrophe in northern Ukraine that occurred April 26, 1986.


The area where the Chernobyl atomic power station was built was a location 160 miles north of Kiev called the Pripyat marshes. It wasn't really marshes, though, because since the 1930's the USSR had been tearing it apart to build more and bigger collectivised farms for the peasants of the area to work on. In 1970 the first reactor's construction was underway and the newborn city of Pripyat was complete, already being filled with workers to staff the power plant. The first reactor was supposed to be completed by 1975, but accidents during construction among other things prevented this, and its completion was two years behind schedule.


Before 3

The overstaffed reactor #3. The rest of the workers are not in the control room.

Aside from being late, a number of other things were very wrong at the power station. The first reactor, as well as suceeding reactors, were all built with sub-grade materials (as these were cheaper) and also often in haste to prevent being even further behind schedule. Secondly, the reactor design for all of them was flawed, an RBMK-1000 model breeder reactor that enabled all of the safety features to be simply switched off manually from the control room. Aside from these lethal mistakes, the Soviets had also massively overstaffed the station, with over 70 workers being on shift there at once. The ones who were at work but did not have anything to do would sit around, smoke, play cards and drink. Even worse was the fact that the ones who were working were completely  incompetent, and most did not even know the basics of nuclear physics.

The Last Straw[]

On April 25 a test was scheduled to run that would determine how long the turbine of the reactor would spin in the event of a power failure at the station. This was an unnecessary and dangerous test, as it required the manual shutdown of all the safety features. However the test was postponed until midnight of April 26, which meant that not only were these incompetant workers already drunk, they were also exhausted. The test proceeded as normal, and all the safety features were switched off.

What Went Wrong[]

A massive rise in reactivity followed, causing a dangerous power-surge throughout the reactor. At this point, the reaction went completely out of control and the core heated to a temperature far beyond the accepted limit, which ruptured one of the steam pipes. Air rushed into the reactor, which caused it to explode. At this point the reactor team panicked and tried to lower the boron control rods, but it was far too late to do anything to prevent what followed.

The Beginning Of The End[]

Explosion 1

The newly-destroyed reactor, as seen from above.

Following the steam explosion the roof was thrown from the reactor building and all power failed. Exposed to air and still at a lethally hot temperature, the core of the #4 reactor burst into a radioactive inferno. Any plant workers who were not injured escaped the station, except for one who had been killed in the explosion: Valery Khodomchuk. Pripyat's fire brigade was called, and when they arrived they attempted to spray water on the fire, but this simply evaporated and carried even more radiation into the air. They did not know what they were dealing with, and, thinking it was an ordinary fire, they continued to spray water uselessly. Some kicked at and stomped on burning chunks of graphite with their feet to put it out, which would give them even higher doses of radiation than they were already receiving.

The End Of The Initial Disaster[]

Chernobyl reactor 4 1

The encased reactor, as seen today.

After three days a large detachment of the Soviet Army arrived, and while they were evacuating Pripyat they were also smothering the reactor fire. Men in special suits and masks climbed onto the roofs of the #3 and #4 reactors to shovel and haul chunks of the nuclear core back into the crater that had once been a reactor while helicopter pilots flew above, directly in the path of escaping radionuclides, and dumped tons upon tons of dolomite, sand, concrete and lead onto the smouldering core. After nine days of this, the fire had at last been put out and construction was started on a concrete structure to contain the wreck.