On Saturday 26 April 1986 the citizens of Pripyat were outside enjoying the hot weather – in the school playground, planting out the garden, fishing in the river, sunbathing in
On Saturday 26 April 1986 the citizens of Pripyat were outside enjoying the hot weather – in the school playground, planting out the garden, fishing in the river, sunbathing in the park, completely oblivious to the plume of radioisotopes drifting towards them from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
After Saturday lessons finished, a few enterprising children cycled up to the overpass to get a better look at all the excitement a mile away. Across the lake – an artificially created cooling pond for the power plant – they watched fire engines, planes, helicopters, and truckloads of soldiers. In the evening people came out onto their balconies to marvel.
“I can still see the bright crimson glow … We didn’t know that death could be so beautiful”.
At 01.23, earlier the same day, No 4 reactor had exploded during a safety test that went horribly wrong. A series of explosions led to the rupture of the containment and fifty tonnes of nuclear fuel were ejected from the core of the reactor, hurling uranium dioxide, iodine, caesium, strontium, plutonium and neptunium radioisotopes into the air – orders of magnitude greater than the radioactive release after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. And the fires were still burning, yet no one had alerted the population or evacuated the town that lay only one mile away.
Before his suicide on the second anniversary of the accident, one of the expert investigators, Valery Legasov, wrote:
” … the (Chernobyl) accident was the inevitable apotheosis of the economic system … in the USSR … Neglect by the scientific management and the designers … When one considers the chain of events … it is impossible to find a single culprit, a single initiator of events, because it was like a closed circle.”
So was this accident unique to the nuclear industry of former Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War? Or are there wider lessons to be learned?