Chernobyl is the name of a nuclear power plant in the Soviet republic of Ukraine. In April of 1986, a series of operator errors caused the #4 reactor to explode under extreme pressures estimated at between ten and fifty atmospheres of pressure, from steam generated by a reactor in meltdown. The resulting explosions spewed particles of highly radioactive fuel material and reaction products for nearly a hundred kilometers in all directions, and released a plume of smoke and radioactive particulate matter which reached around the globe.

Not all the fuel escaped. This is a photograph of one of the "formations" which resulted from molten uranium fuel and other metals which melted through the floor of the reactor into lower levels of the plant structure, creating formations which resemble pahoehoe, or pillow lava.

The results of the accident were devastating. Countries downwind, such as Sweden and Finland, had to completely destroy their herds of reindeer for the year due to radioactive contamination, and dairy farmers throughout Europe had to monitor the radioactivity in their milk cows to ensure that the milk was safe to put on the market. Special measures had to be implemented, since the Ukraine has always been known as the "Breadbasket of the Soviet Union," so farm productions from the area had to continue to feed the millions of people dependent on its output. Testing centers were opened to locate and treat those who had been exposed to the cloud of radioactive dust, and the town of Pripyat, which housed the Chernobyl workers and their families, was completely evacuated. Though officially no one is allowed to go back to Pripyat, a group of elderly women have returned to their places of residence, since these were their ancestral homes and the women do not wish to live anywhere else -- the government simply figures the women will all die soon, regardless, so there is no harm in making them happy for the moment.

As a protective measure, a building was erected over the ruins of reactor #4, and was named the sarcophagus. This is it:

More Information on Chernobyl
Back to the list of talk subjects!!

Return the Science Outreach Home Page!!