Why Russia's Control Of Chernobyl Nuclear Accident Site Is Strategic
Experts say that Chernobyl's strategic position between Russian ally Belarus and Ukrainian capital Kyiv falls in line with Russian plan of 'fastest invasion'.
In April, it'll be 36 years since the Chernobyl nuclear plant near the city of Pripyat was shut after a disastrous accident that put the erstwhile USSR and its adjoining countries at the risk of facing radiation. While the radioactivity is still leaking from the decommissioned plant, it is once again in news in the backdrop of war-like situation between Russia and Ukraine.
On Thursday, the first day of its military operation on Ukraine, the Russian forces took control of the nuclear accident site after an intense battle with the personnel guarding it, news agency Associated Press quoted Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak as saying. The report further said the condition of the plant, a confinement shelter and a repository for nuclear waste, is not known.
A Russian shelling reportedly hit a radioactive waste repository at Chernobyl, triggering an increase in the levels of radiation, officials familiar with the development told AP.
Why Is Chernobyl Key For Russia?
As per western military experts, Russia is using its ally Belarus as the fastest route to invasion. Chernobyl, the site of the nuclear accident, sits on this shortest route from Belarus to Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
"It was the quickest way from A to B," Reuters quoted James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank as saying after Russian forces seized Chernobyl.
The report also quoted a Ukrainian official who said that taking control of Chernobyl was part of the plan.
What Happened In Chernobyl in 1986?
On April 26, an hour past the midnight, the sleepy town of Chernobyl, 86 miles north of Ukranian capital Kyiv, was rocked by a blast and flames were seen lighting up the night sky. The news went around the town that there was a fire at the nuclear power plant and fire fighters were rushed to the spot. Least did they know the fire they were trying to douse was caused by a nuclear reactor explosion and had the potential of putting at risk the lives of those in the town and beyond it.
As the day broke, the calamity that had befallen the town started to unfold.
A safety test of the nuclear reactor had gone awry due to the technical fault of the reactor coupled with human error. The scientists were unable to restore the required power levels. As a result, entire system broke down, triggering an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction. A series of explosions was followed by a fire.
This turned out to be the worst nuclear disaster of the 20th century.
A report in the New York Times said the fire at the nuclear reactor 'probably shot 1,000 feet into the air for two days'. In a matter of hours, the town, its people, animals and even soil turned radioactive.
Human Cost Of the Disaster
The first casualties of the accident were the workers and scientists present at the nuclear plant at the time of accident, followed by the fire fighters who were rushed to the spot to control the fire.
"They kicked at the burning graphite with their feet. ... They weren't wearing their canvas gear. They went off just as they were, in their shirt sleeves. No one told them. They had been called for a fire, that was it," widow of a fire fighter killed in the Chernobyl accident told author Svetlana Alexievich in a series of interviews of her book 'Voices from Chernobyl'.
On May 13, 1986, The New York Times quoted the then Soviet government giving out the number of casualties. "The Soviet Government said today that six people had died from ''radiation and burns'' suffered in the wake of the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. The announcement marks the first time anyone is known to have died from radiation emitted by a civilian nuclear power plant," the NYT report of May 1986 reads.
As a precautionary measure, the European Common Market announced a ban on meat, live animals and produce from Eastern Europe in view of the nuclear accident.
In the first month after the accident, officials had said around 204 people had been affected by the radiation. These included fire fighters and workers at the plant.
135,000 residents of the Chernobyl area of the Ukraine were evacuated from their homes for an indefinite period, another report in the NYT a year later said. Fifty million Ci of radionuclides were released into the atmosphere, according to the Belaruskaya entsiklopedia. Ukraine has 4.8% of its territory contaminated by cesium-137 radionuclides.
How Far Did The Radiations Go?
The constant leakage of the radioactive material has made the population around vulnerable to diseases like cancer, genetic mutations and neurological disorders.
The radiation levels did not remain restricted to USSR. In fact, traces of radiation were found across the continent and beyond. Three days after the accident, high levels of radiation were found in Poland, Germany, Austria, and Romania on April 26. Within days, the radiation levels were reported from as far as India and Japan on one side and US and Canada on the other.
The direct and indirect casualties of the catastrophe vary from the low thousands to as many as 93,000 extra cancer deaths worldwide.
How Was the Situation Controlled?
Within the six months of the accident, a make-shift cover, or "sarcophagus," was built to cover the damaged reactor to control the radiation leakage. In November 2016, a "New Safe Confinement" was moved over the old sarcophagus.
The reactor still holds about twenty tons of nuclear fuel in irs lead-and-metal core. World Nuclear Association estimates that 350,000 people were evacuated from Chernobyl and adjoining areas as a result of the accident.
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