The Chernobyl catastrophic nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 remains the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.
The town of Pripyat, Ukraine, was built for the employees (and their families) of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Before the disaster, there were nearly 50,000 inhabitants and over 20 schools, and the city boasted plenty of culture and amenities: sports, parks, recreation and access to transportation. It was also considered a railroad and river cargo port.
The disaster began during an experiment that was meant to test a potential safety emergency core cooling feature, during which a power surge occurred. Attempts at an emergency shutdown triggered an even larger power surge, which led to a cascading series of events that caused one of the reactors to fail and send massive amounts of radiation out into the air.
A radioactive sign hangs on barbed wire outside a café in Pripyat.
There have only been two nuclear accidents that were rated a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The other, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, happened in 2011.
Pripyat is now an uninhabited ghost town — with no zip code — under administration of the State Agency of Ukraine on the Exclusion Zone Management. Unfortunately, the townspeople were not evacuated right away. It wasn’t until people started getting ill that the order went through, and even then, they were told they were only going to be gone a few days. As such, they left most of their belongings behind, which remain there today.
Zone of Exclusion
The Zone of Exclusion covers an area of approximately 1,000 square miles in Ukraine. This is the area that immediately surrounds the power plant where radioactive contamination from fallout is highest. You can visit, but it has to be approved and you can’t stay long. And you can’t legally live there, but nearly 200 people remain in the area despite the dangers.
Despite laws saying that you definitely can’t, people have entered the Zone of Exclusion to drag out potentially radioactive materials, items and even game. Recently, the government has adopted more severe penalties for these illegal activities.
Over 300,000 people were forced to evacuate not only the town of Pripyat, but a large area surrounding the power plant. There has also been a sharp uptick in thyroid cancer reported in children in the parts of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia that were affected by the disaster. Even now, a few decades later, livestock and vegetation in parts of Europe may need to be tested for high levels of radiation.