Chernobyl Story

The Chernobyl Catastrophe

 by Vessela Daskalova
May 5, 1996

On April 26, 1986 the worst catastrophe in nuclear history occurred in the station at Chernobyl, Ukraine. The failure of the system was caused by the attempt of technicians to install a security system (two years after the plant started working). Technically, the failure of reactor No. 4 was described as follows:

"The technicians shut down the reactor's emergency water-cooling system, its emergency shut-down system, its power regulating system, and they withdrew almost all of the control rods from its core, while allowing the reactor to run at seven percent power. These mistakes were compounded by some others, and at 1:23 a.m. on April 26 the chain reaction in the core went out of control. Several  explosions and a large fireball that followed blew off the heavy steel and concrete lid of the reactor. This and an ensuing fire in the graphite reactor core released large amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere where it was carried great distances by air currents."

Briefly the direct cause of the accident was that the technicians let the reactor run on very low power which was dangerous.

Two people died immediately from the explosion and 29 from radiation. About 200 others became seriously ill from the radiation; some of them later died. It was estimated that eight years after the  accident 8,000 people had died from diseases due to radiation (about 7,000 of them from the Chernobyl cleanup crew). Doctors think that about 10,000 others will die from cancer. the most  frightening fact is that children who were not born when the catastrophe occurred inherited diseases from their parents.

The radioactive energy released at Chernobyl was two times bigger than that created by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Second. The radioactivity was spread by the wind mostly over Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia but there are traces of it as far as Italy and France.

At first the Soviet government tried to conceal the accident at Chernobyl from the world but radiation was detected at Swedish monitoring stations. the Soviet government was forced to admit that there had been an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. But this was acknowledged two days after the catastrophe and only then did the evacuation of people, living in the Chernobyl area begin.  If the Soviet government hadn't tried to conceal the radiation, probably some of those who died could have been saved.

Even if the people are aware of the danger many have returned to live in their old homes. Statistics show that more than half of the returnees died but we can't be sure if the cause is radioactivity or age, because most of those who returned were old people.

After the accident a sarcophagus was built over reactor No. 4 to stop emitting radiation. However, severe cracks have formed in the shell and there is a danger that it wouldn't resist an earthquake or very strong winds. Many western countries insist upon the closing of the Chernobyl station. However, four billion dollars are needed to build a new sarcophagus over reactor No. 4 and to shut  down the station. Since the accident in 1986, many countries tried to stop the building of nuclear plants and to close those already existing. But while safety measures were taken in Western nuclear  plants, nuclear plants are still operating like before in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Thus, there is still danger of another catastrophe.


1. Andrew Nagorski, The zone of alienation, in: Newsweek, April 22, 1996, page 57
2. Inherited damage is found in Chernobyl area children - The New York Times, No. 50,407, Thursday, April 25, 1996, Page A-8
3. Judith Perera, Chernobyl workers face an uncertain future, in: World of work, 1996, No. 15, page 4-5
4. Chernobyl, in: Scholastic Update (Teacher's edition), Vol. 126, No. 13,  April 15, 1994, Page 8,11
5. Chernobyl's lingering legacy, in: US. News and World Report, April 25, 1994, Page 20-21
6. Chernobyl, in: National Geographic, Vol. 186. No. 2, 1994, page 100-116
7. Chernobyl accident, art. in: Encyclopedia Britanica, Micropaedia, 15th edition, 1994, Vol. 3, page 171

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