Disaster in the Soviet Union The Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown

In the Western region of the former Soviet Union, at that time the only Superpower in the world other than the United States, disaster struck the sleepy Ukraine town of Pripyat. On April 26, 1986, in the cold early morning hours, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. The resulting disaster hit a level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the only incident in the history of atomic energy to do so. Following the initial explosion, fire and subsequent explosions from the site sent radioactive plumes of smoke into the air and contaminated much of the surrounding area. Reports came from many European countries of increased radioactivity levels in the atmosphere, and detailed reports thereafter picked up changes in the radioactivity as far away as the United States. It is estimated that the fallout was up to forty times that of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.

How It Happened

Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was scheduled for a shutdown to perform routine maintenance on April 25th, the day before the disaster. This shutdown was to take place, in part, so an experiment could be undertaken. The engineers at the plant intended to test the turbines running the generators in the reactor to see if they would continue to run even if there was an external power outage. This would be an important safety component, as the reactor type used at Chernobyl requires a constant spray of water in order to remain cool. Of course, the turbines could not turn forever under their own momentum (or else there would be no need for a nuclear power plant). There was a forty second delay between the shutdown of the electricity and the initiation of the backup generators. The engineers needed to test if the turbines could continue to turn for a minimum of forty seconds, thus producing a seamless transition in the event of a power outage.

In a twist of fate, the grid controller in the area requested that the reactor stay online, however, rather than decreasing power output….

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