A Look Back: Chernobyl

Thirty years later, Chernobyl’s disastrous nuclear reactor is still not sealed and the cancer toll is just beginning.

By Peter Bjel.

Thirty years after the Chernobyl meltdown, it remains the worst civilian nuclear disaster the world has ever known, the incident that turned humanity’s energy dreams upside down. Its anniversary comes in April; the reactor is not yet sealed; and its ripples continue to affect the region and beyond.

On 28 April, 1986, Soviet authorities reported that something had happened in a delayed and deliberately underplayed radio broadcast from Moscow. “An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant – one of the atomic reactors has been damaged,” it began. “Measures are being undertaken to liquidate the consequences of the accident.” In the days and weeks that followed, the full extent of the disaster became clear. With the radioactive fallout drifting well beyond Soviet borders, the Chernobyl accident was impossible to keep secret.

So began an odyssey that was to have wide social, environmental, political, and economic consequences for the Soviet Union and its successor states. Chernobyl was one of the geopolitical lynchpins that led to the undoing of the Soviet Union itself. Thirty years later, the event is synonymous with the dangers and inherent risks of using nuclear technology of any kind, as Eastern European societies and governments continue to deal with the disaster’s demographic, environmental, and health legacies. Though an ongoing project to seal off the remains of the destroyed reactor is underway, Ukraine’s geopolitical woes with Russia threaten to …

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