The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine suffered a major nuclear disaster in the wee morning hours of April 26, 1986. A failed safety test coupled with human error and nuclear reactor design flaws triggered two violent eruptions that tore apart Chernobyl’s Reactor Four. The nuclear disaster instantly killed one power plant worker and another died shortly after being taken to hospital. Another 28 people died from radiation exposure up to four months later and various health groups estimate at least 4,000 people suffered radiation-related thyroid cancer in the years that followed.
Where is the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant?
Chernobyl, or officially the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, is a defunct nuclear complex in northern Ukraine.
The power plant’s construction kicked off in 1972 and was completed by September 1977.
Chernobyl’s primary focus was to deliver electricity to the Kiev Oblast, or region, home to the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Chernobyl was the very first nuclear power plant built on Ukrainian soil.
The plant was constructed just 10 miles (16km) from the northern border with Belarus.
READ MORE: How many people died in Chernobyl?
Chernobyl: The destroyed nuclear power plant is in northern Ukraine
Chernobyl location: Radiation spread as far out as Scandinavia
The border proximity after the nuclear disaster later resulted in a fifth of Belarus’ agricultural land being lost to radioactive fallout.
About nine miles (15km) northeast of the plant was its namesake city of Chernobyl.
The vast majority of Chernobyl’s employees lived just 1.8 miles away (3km) in the now abandoned city of Pripyat, which was constructed for the power plant’s staff.
All of these areas are now included in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which extends in a 19-mile (30km) radius.
About 68 miles (110km) south of the nuclear plant is the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
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How long will the area of Chernobyl remain uninhabitable?
The Chernobyl reactor explosion triggered a deadly fire of the reactor building, which spewed radioactive fallout into the atmosphere for 10 days straight.
In the last two decades there has been some resettlement of the areas evacuated in 1986
By the time the raging fire was contained, the World Nuclear Association estimates Reactor Four released about five percent of its radioactive material into the air.
Most of the radioactive material settled over Ukraine, Belarus and Russia but strong winds carried the radiation as far as West Europe and Scandinavia.
More than 600,000 so-called liquidators from all over the Soviet Union were called in to contain the fallout, which included mass evacuations of residents and the killing of local wildlife and farm animals.
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About five million people lived in the wider contaminated areas of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and about 400,000 people lived in the worst affected areas.
The main radioactive fallout from Chernobyl came in the form of iodine-131 and caesium-137.
Caesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years before it decays while iodine-131 is much more short-lived at just eight days.
However, the stronger radiation around the power plant itself has likely rendered the immediate area of the disaster uninhabitable for 20,000 years.
Chernobyl location: The Reactor Four building was torn apart by an explosion
Chernobyl location : Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated
General director of the Chernobyl Power Plant Igor Gramotkin estimated the contaminated area will remain uninhabitable for such a long period of time.
There are however areas further out which are being slowly designated safe and repopulated.
The World Nuclear Association said: “In the last two decades there has been some resettlement of the areas evacuated in 1986 and subsequently. Recently the main resettlement project has been in Belarus.
“In July 2010, the Belarus government announced that it had decided to settle back thousands of people in the ‘contaminated areas’ covered by the Chernobyl fallout, from which 24 years ago they and their forbears were hastily relocated.
“Compared with the list of contaminated areas in 2005, some 211 villages and hamlets had been reclassified with fewer restrictions on resettlement.”