The Chernobyl Disaster - 30 Years Later


The worst nuclear disaster in history happened 30 years ago at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine. On 26 April 1986 engineers carried out a safety test in Block 4 of the reactor. A human error and the unsafe design of the building set off a fire and caused an explosion. The core of the reactor melted and huge amounts of radioactivity were released into the atmosphere.

The disaster was not made public by Soviet authorities until two days later. It was only after radioactive clouds started spreading across Sweden that government officials announced what had happened.

According to Soviet officials,  30 people died in the explosion and from radiation sickness in the days and weeks that followed. The World Health Organisation estimates that since the accident 9,000 people have died of cancer and other illnesses. Greenpeace places the number of deaths at 90,000.

Towns and villages in the disaster area were evacuated . 350,000 people had to be resettled and can never come back to their original homes.  A thousand square miles (2600 square km) in the Ukraine and Belarus will stay off limits for decades to come.

In the weeks after the Chernobyl catastrophe, half a million people were brought in from around the Soviet Union to clean up the site. The countryside around the reactor was closed off and nobody was allowed to get near the damaged reactor . A sarcophagus was built over the exploded building  to keep more radioactive waste from escaping into the atmosphere.



Currently, a new containment is being built because nuclear experts fear that the life of the old sarcophagus may be coming to an end. A shelter in the form of an arch will cover the destroyed building . The $2 billion dollar structure is expected to prevent radiation from getting out for at least a hundred years.

Ukraine officials held memorial ceremonies and laid wreaths to mark the 30th anniversary  of the disaster. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that the Chernobyl disaster was one of the factors that led to the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991. Even 30 years later the disaster is still in the minds the people who once lived in the area.



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  • according to = as said by ....
  • anniversary = day on which something important happened in the past
  • announce = to say officially
  • arch = here: with a curved roof
  • authorities = group of people with the power to make decisions for the government
  • billion = a thousand million
  • cancer = illness in which cells in your body grow in an uncontrollable way
  • catastrophe = disaster
  • collapse = break down, fall apart
  • containment = here: building that stops radioactivity from spreading into the atmosphere
  • core = place where the atoms are divided
  • currently = at the moment
  • decade = ten years
  • design = the way a building is made
  • disaster = an event in which objects are destroyed and people get killed or hurt
  • engineer = here: expert who works at a power station and controls machines there
  • error = mistake
  • escape = get away from
  • estimate = to judge something without really calculating it
  • evacuate = bring people away from a danger zone
  • factor = reason
  • former = here: at that time
  • government official = a person who is in a high position in the government
  • huge = very large, very great
  • illness = disease
  • make public = here: tell the people
  • memorial ceremony = here: event that takes places in order to remember something that happened years ago
  • mind = head
  • off-limits = you are not allowed to enter the area
  • place = here: estimate, think
  • power plant = building that produces electricity
  • prevent = stop
  • radiation sickness = illness caused by the energy that nuclear reactors send out
  • radioactivity = the energy that is released when atoms are split
  • reactor = large machine in which atoms are divided in order to produce electricity
  • release = set free
  • resettle = to move to another place to live
  • safety test = to check if an object is safe or not
  • sarcophagus = here: a massive structure used to keep radioactivity inside the building
  • set off = start
  • shelter = building designed to protect a place
  • site = here: place where the disaster happened
  • Soviet Union = largest Communist country that existed between 1922 and 1991
  • structure = building
  • waste = material that is not needed any more
  • World Health Organisation = part of the United Nations that wants to improve the health of people around the world and stop illnesses from spreading
  • wreath = flowers laid around in a circle made to remember people who ahve have