The Chernobyl disaster happened on this day in 1986 when the Number Four nuclear reactor of the power plant in the now abandoned town of Pripyat in northern Soviet Ukraine blew up.
It happened during a late-night safety test, which simulated a station blackout power-failure, during which both emergency safety and power-regulating systems were intentionally turned off.
Due to a combination of inherent reactor design flaws and the reactor operators arranging the core differently to the checklist for the test, there was a destructive steam explosion.
This turned into an open-air graphite fire which produced updrafts for about nine days afterwards and nuclear clouds spewed into the air blew, into eastern Europe and parts of the Western USSR.
People in the surrounding areas became sick from radiation poisoning with estimates of death ranging from 4,000 to 200,000 and around 100,000 people were evacuated – the quarantined area became The Exclusion Zone.
The disaster took place at the height of the Cold War and the world was terrified of a nuclear apocalypse.
But, according to a UN study, the Exclusion Zone has paradoxically become a unique sanctuary for biodiversity.
In the UN Chernobyl Forum’s paper, Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Impacts, it reads: “The recovery of affected biota in the exclusion zone has been facilitated by the removal of human activities, e.g., termination of agricultural and industrial activities.
“The Exclusion Zone has paradoxically become a unique sanctuary for biodiversity.”
“As a result, populations of many plants and animals have eventually expanded, and the present environmental conditions have had a positive impact on the biota in the Exclusion Zone.
“Indeed, the Exclusion Zone has paradoxically become a unique sanctuary for biodiversity.”
It is true that the radioactive materials released by the accident had many immediate harmful effects on plants and animals living within 20 to 30 km of the Chernobyl power plant at the time of the accident.
But there are no reports of any such radiation-induced effects in plants and animals outside this area, referred to as the Exclusion Zone.
In plants and animals that were close to the reactor and got a high dose of radiation, there was an increase in mortality and a decrease in population.
During the first few years after the accident, plants and animals of the Exclusion Zone had genetic defects and there are still reports today of anomalies in plants and animals.
But over the years as the radioactivity levels decreased, biological populations have been recovering.
As well as wildlife flourishing in the now abandoned area, the disaster also triggered a worldwide change in attitude to nuclear power.
Italy held a 1987 referendum in the wake of the disaster and as a result, began phasing out its nuclear power plants in 1988.
Though the decision was effectively reversed in 2008 by the government, a referendum in 2011 reiterated the Italians’ strong dislike to nuclear power.
The Chernobyl accident led to the creation of a federal environment ministry in Germany.
It is also credited with the strengthening of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany, which culminated in the decision to end the use of nuclear power that was made by the Schröder government.