Chernobyl (Ukrainian: "Chornobyl") is located in Central Ukraine; the location is infamous because of the nuclear meltdown.
On April 26, 1986, the No. 4 nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant near the city of Prypiat suffered from a catastrophic nuclear accident during a systems test. The resultant explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which then spread over large areas in Europe. It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Radioactive iodine and other dangerous radioactive elements released from the explosion and subsequent venting from the damaged containment structure rose into the air and spread across millions of square miles, polluting many European nations. Potassium iodide was distributed in the immediate areas surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, including the Pripyat region where most of the workers lived. The distribution of the contamination was determined by the weather conditions at the time. The radioactive plume touched down many times in numerous populated areas as far out as 500 km (over 300 miles) from the plant site.
The analysis of the precipitating events remains controversial, but it seems the cause of the incident was essentially one of flawed reactor and operational systems design, flawed control rod tip design, defective operational training and an organisational culture that allowed breaking safety instructions for the experiment and rushing the test after last-minute problems.
Pripyat, the town closest to the reactor is only 3 km away and was home to 49,000 residents before the disaster, mostly the families of the plant workers. The city of Chernobyl is only 4 km to the south of the reactor. High radiation levels forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from the region surrounding Chernobyl, but although about 700 residents have since returned to live in the region, none have reoccupied the actual town of Pripyat.
Pripyat is a freeze-frame of 1980s Soviet life. Propaganda slogans still hang on walls, and children's toys and other items remain as they were. But buildings are rotting, paint is peeling and looters have taken away anything that might have been of value. Trees and grass are eerily reclaiming the land. Today, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a tourist destination. In 2002, it opened for tourism, and in 2004 there were 870 visitors.The accident that destroyed the Chernobyl 4 reactor is understood to have directly led to the death of 31 reactor operating staff, emergency responders and firemen within three months of the incident.
An undetermined number of further deaths arose from exposure to radiation during the initial crisis and the ongoing contamination of the plant and environs. Over twenty years after the accident, debate still rages about the number of directly related deaths. Fearing bad PR, the U.S.S.R. for several years forbade medical examiners from listing radiation as a cause of death. Estimates of deaths related to the accident range from 56 to thousands. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests the final figure could reach 4,000 civilian deaths, a figure not including casualties amongst clean-up workers drawn from the Soviet military forces. The numbers presented for consequential death from radiation exposure induced illness and cancer vary considerably and range upward toward just short of 1,000,000 potential casualties. A Russian publication concluded that between 1986-2004 there were 985,000 premature cancer deaths worldwide as a result of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl.