On Saturday, April 26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m., a test at the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in what we now know as Ukraine went terribly awry. A power surge caused the nuclear reactor’s cores to explode. A steam cloud and subsequent plume of fire blew the roof off of the facility. To the town right next door, Chernobyl just looked like it was glowing. Pripyat had been specifically constructed to house the nuclear power plant’s employees and their families. At the time of the disaster, roughly 50,000 people called Pripyat home.
There was no immediate alarm. There were no desperately hurried attempts to evacuate the city. The residents of Pripyat arose in the morning and continued as if it were any other day. It wasn’t until later that anyone began to suspect there was something wrong as plant workers were sent home with no details. Accounts from survivors tell of how everyone seemed entranced by the glow emanating form Chernobyl. It wasn’t until much later, after they were finally evacuated from the region, that Pripyat residents were informed the air they had breathed that day was filled with radioactivity that would poison their systems.
It took 10 days for response teams to extinguish the blaze at Chernobyl, and over 500,000 workers were needed to contain the contamination and avert any further damage. Those working on the site were exposed to horrendous and even lethal amounts of radiation. All the while, radioactive smoke made its way through the environment, even reaching as far as Scandinavia. Thirty-one people were killed during the catastrophe, and countless others suffered from sufficient radioactive exposure to cause chronic or even fatal illnesses long afterward.
Although Chernobyl’s meltdown was initially shrouded in secrecy by the USSR, information about the area 29 years later is much more accessible. The area is still quarantined in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which allows restricted access to press, former residents and scientists. Pripyat still stands as a ghostly reminder of the tragic disaster that affected so many.
Recently, a drone was used to capture harrowing footage of what Chernobyl looks like today. Check it out below.
The more recent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, a full 25 years after Chernobyl, reminds us that safety measures have a long way to go before nuclear power can be harnessed without fear of disaster.