The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant located in Ukraine was the location of the worst ever nuclear disaster. The power station is now being decommissioned.
This report is part of a series from the ghost town of Pripyat and Chernobyl exclusion zone. Check out the Chernobyl and Pripyat main page for more reports.
Today marks the 28th anniversary of the disaster at Chernobyl, so it seems a fitting day to publish my first report from a recent visit to the power plant and the ghost town of Pripyat. I’ll be publishing a lot more reports from my trip to Ukraine over the next few months. There is plenty of history about the power plant and the disaster available on the internet, so I’ll only provide a brief history here…
History of the Chernobyl Power Plant
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is a decommissioned power station in Ukraine. The power station takes its name from the nearby town of Chernobyl, approximately 70 miles north of Kiev.
The plant consisted of four reactors, each of the RBMK-1000 type, capable of producing 1000 megawatts of power each. Reactors three and four were of the second generation design, which employed vastly improved accident containment systems.
A further two reactors were under construction at the time of the disaster. Construction was halted and later abandoned. Reactors one to three continued to operate until their planned shutdown in 1990’s.
On 26th April 1986 the worst ever accident in the history of nuclear power occurred at reactor number four. An experiment was taking place to test new safety features, to ensure the cooling pumps could be powered by the residual momentum of the turbines in the event of a complete power loss until the diesel generators powered up about a minute later. Due to delays in starting the test, it was being run by the night-time staff, who had only limited knowledge of the procedures. A number of safety measures had been bypassed, rendering them inoperative.
A sudden power surge occurred and operators performed an emergency shutdown of the reactor. These actions created another, much larger power surge which lead to explosions in the reactor core. The explosions released large quantities of radioactive fuel into the atmosphere, as the core had not been encased by a containment vessel. Additionally the explosion exposed the graphite control rods to air, allowing them to ignite. This increased the emission of radioactive particles carried by the smoke.
Day one of our trip to Ukraine started with the local’s attempt at a Full English, including kidney beans and warm streaky ham. Once we’d fuelled up we boarded the workers train and headed deep into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Pulling into the station at the power plant, we could see the iconic Reactor Number 4 looking dilapidated and derelict. A quick bus ride later and we were a less than a couple of hundred meters away from the wrecked nuclear reactor and it’s leaking sarcophagus. A quick check of the dosimeter showed the radiation was much higher than the usual background level – we won’t be staying long!
We hadn’t expected to get so close. This was a real treat, and we spent a few moments looking at the memorial built in front of the reactor to commemorate those who lost their lives.
After visiting the plant we visited a few of the monuments and the surrounding area, and looked around the town of Chernobyl after which the power plant takes its name.
During the final day of our trip we visited the monument in the centre of Slavutich, the new town built to house the evacuated workers. Pictures on the memorial show the faces of the 30 workers who lost their lives on the day of the disaster. Sergey, our guide pointed out the colleagues he was working with on the day, including his best friend. He lost only his home, his friends and colleagues we not so lucky. This was a truly moving experience that really brought home the real reason behind our visit.