Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About The Chernobyl Disaster
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Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About The Chernobyl Disaster

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
This man-made disaster continues to affect humanity to this day. For this list, we'll be looking at lesser known facts about this infamous nuclear accident in 1986. Our countdown includes There Was No Containment Building, The Clothing in Pripyat Hospital, It Was a Boon for Wildlife, and more!
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Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Chernobyl Disaster


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 things you didn’t know about the Chernobyl disaster.

For this list, we’ll be looking at lesser known facts about this infamous nuclear accident in 1986.

Which of these do you find the most fascinating? Let us know in the comments!

#10: There Was No Containment Building

So what exactly caused the Chernobyl disaster? Well, it was a combination of poorly trained personnel and a flawed reactor design. Deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov ignored safety systems to perform a procedural test. But the fault also lies with the plant’s RBMK reactor. Much has been said about the graphite tips in the control rods, which helped trigger the meltdown. But RBMK reactors were also so large that they didn’t have containment buildings, which would have been expensive to build. Had Chernobyl had a containment building, it may have reduced the amount of nuclear fallout that spread out into the environment.

#9: The Soviet Union Attempted a Cover-Up

The Soviet Union was extremely concerned with its reputation, and censorship was the norm. As such, the government didn’t want anyone to know that their state-of-the-art nuclear reactor had just exploded. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, officials were reluctant to take responsibility, and played down the damage. The city of Pripyat wasn’t evacuated until 36 hours after the initial blast. The Soviet Union didn’t even alert nearby countries. In fact, it was Sweden that broke the story when their air monitors detected radiation in the atmosphere. It would be years until the full extent of the disaster was revealed.

#8: The Clean-Up Was Deadlier Than the Explosion

Only two plant operators were killed in the initial blast. Several others perished from acute radiation sickness. But most of the deaths attributed to Chernobyl came from the clean-up efforts. Of the 31 deaths that the Soviet Union attributed to the disaster, many were first-responders battling the resulting fire. And this number is likely to grow. The Soviet Union employed 600,000 people in the extensive liquidation effort. It’s projected that 4,000 of these liquidators will die prematurely due to the disaster.

#7: The Death Toll Is Unknown

Unfortunately, the death toll of the Chernobyl disaster is impossible to know for sure. The Soviet Union claimed that 31 people died from blast trauma and acute radiation syndrome. In subsequent decades, radiation induced cancer may have killed roughly the same number again. However, there’s considerable debate over how many people will die prematurely in coming years. Predictions range from 4,000 in former Soviet states to up to 16,000 for the whole of Europe! It’s difficult to know how many cancer deaths, past and future, could be pinned on Chernobyl.

#6: The Clothing in Pripyat Hospital

The basement of Pripyat Hospital is a place ripped straight from a nightmare. Radiation sickness quickly hit the plant personnel and first-responders. They began vomiting and collapsing at the site, and all were rushed to the nearby Pripyat Hospital. Over 100 people were admitted to the hospital by 10 AM, and all of their clothing was ripped off and thrown into the basement. While the critically ill patients were transferred to a better hospital in Moscow, their clothing remained behind. It all lies there to this day, festering in the dark basement and continuing to emit dangerously high levels of radiation.

#5: The Red Forest

Even the trees weren’t immune to the Chernobyl disaster. Immediately following the accident, extremely dangerous clouds of dust and radiation were carried by the winds and spread over a nearby forest. The radiation was absorbed by the pine trees, turning them a distinct ginger-brown color. This in turn resulted in the name The Red Forest. Everything inside the zone was dead and the trees needed to go. Liquidators worked tirelessly to raze the forest and bury all the dead trees under a thick layer of soil. Despite their efforts, the Red Forest remains one of the most radioactive places in the world, with 90% of its radiation found in the soil.

#4: The Elephant’s Foot

Found just a few dozen feet from the destroyed reactor is a hellish object known as the Elephant’s Foot. It’s a giant glob of corium that resembles an elephant’s foot owing to its bulky and wrinkly appearance. Corium is an extremely dangerous, lava-like material created during a nuclear meltdown. This particular blob was made in the reactor and eventually burned through the reinforced concrete. It then traveled through cracks and pipes before coming to rest at its current location. At the time of its discovery, the Elephant’s Foot was emitting enough radiation to deliver a lethal dose in just five minutes.

#3: The Sarcophagus Is Collapsing

Immediately following the disaster, a sarcophagus was built and placed over the destroyed reactor to contain the radiation. It was built as quickly as possible. Construction began two months after the disaster, and it was fully completed in just five months. By November 1986, the exposed reactor was fully enclosed within. Unfortunately, it is now at a very high risk of collapse. Thankfully, the sarcophagus itself is entombed within the New Safe Confinement, which was built to last for the next century. The collapsing sarcophagus is currently being dismantled inside the New Safe Confinement, and the project is scheduled to conclude in 2023.

#2: It Was a Boon for Wildlife

With Pripyat left abandoned, the city and the surrounding area has become inundated with wildlife. In fact, the wild boar population increased eightfold just two years after the disaster. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is now the third-largest nature reserve in mainland Europe. It’s home to a wide variety of animals, including deer, eagles, wolves, and even bison, and they are doing just fine. The reasons are simple: animals have different radiologic tolerances to humans; they aren’t being hunted there; and most of the surrounding radioactivity has decayed. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, we suppose.

#1: The Future Is Uncertain

Animals may be doing great around Chernobyl, but the area is still off-limits to humans. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone stretches 1,000 square miles around the plant and remains one of the most contaminated places in the world. However, the levels of radiation are not consistent. There are still many areas that could kill a human being provided they linger long enough, including the Elephant’s Foot. But other surrounding areas are relatively safe. It’s hard to say how long it will be until Chernobyl is free of radiation. It could be dozens or even hundreds of years. But if you wish to walk right up to the Elephant’s Foot without being harmed, you’ll be waiting about 20,000 years.
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