Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster: 30 Years Later

Three decades ago, part of the the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, exploded, killing an estimated 4,000 to 200,000 people in the following decades due to radioactive contamination that spread as far as western Europe. Today, large portions of the inner and outer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that together cover 2,600 square kilometers remain contaminated by the radioactive particles that were thrust into the sky. The former residents of Pripyat and the surrounding areas, through monuments and murals, remember the disaster that changed their lives forever. Three decades later, international efforts to contain the accident and study its effects continue. A consortium of western companies is building a movable enclosure called the New Safe Confinement that will cover the reactor remains and its fragile sarcophagus in order to prevent further contamination.

14 photos
1/14
Getty Images
Vladimir Barabanov, 64, a former Chernobyl "liquidator," wears his Belarussian military uniform and medals he received for his service at Chernobyl as he sits next to a computer screen that shows a photo of himself (C) with two colleagues standing on top of reactor number three at Chernobyl in 1987 on April 2, 2016 in Minsk, Belarus. Barabanov spent six weeks at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant approximately one year after the April 26, 1986, explosion at reactor number four that sent plumes of radioactive particles across the globe in the world's worst nuclear accident, and his duties included exchanging the dosimeters that measured the radiation exposure of thousands of soldiers working in clean-up crews. He also helped decontaminate reactor number three, which was separated from stricken reactor four only by a steel wall and continued operation for years. When asked about his experience, he replied it was part of his duty to volunteer and that "work is work."
2/14
Getty Images
A calendar from 1986 lies on the floor of a former hospital in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat, built in the 1970s as a model Soviet city to house the workers and families of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, now stands abandoned inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a restricted zone contaminated by radiation from the meltdown of reactor number four.
3/14
Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine.
4/14
Getty Images
A man walks past a mural on the wall of a museum commemorating the disaster with an exploding reactor core and images of storks, the Ukrainian national bird, shackled with bits of barbed wire.
5/14
AFP/Getty Images
A doll and shoes lay on a bench in a nursery school in Pripyat near the plant.
6/14
Getty Images
Instrument panels in the control room of reactor number two. They are nearly identical to the panels in the control room of reactor four. The Chernobyl plant is currently undergoing a decades-long decommissioning process of reactors one, two and three, which continued operation for years following the accident at reactor four.
7/14
AFP/Getty Images
A sign of radioactivity is set in front of a crucifix near Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat.

The death toll from the accident remains a mystery and continues to jeopardize the local population's health. More than 200 tons of uranium remain inside the reactor that exploded three decades ago, raising fears there could be more radioactive leaks if the aging concrete structure covering the stricken reactor collapses.
8/14
Getty Images
Radiological samples taken from wood dust in the village of Babchin, Khoiniksky District, located about 17 miles from the plant. The Khoiniksky District was one of the most affected by the Chernobyl disaster.
9/14
Getty Images
A worker renovates a memorial to technicians who died as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Slavutych is a new town built in the years after the Chernobyl accident to replace Pripyat, the town that had previously housed Chernobyl workers and their families and was abandoned due to radioactive contamination from the accident.
10/14
Getty Images
Vladimir Barabanov, 64, a former Chernobyl "liquidator," wears his Belarussian military uniform and medals he received for his service at Chernobyl as he sits next to a computer screen that shows a photo of himself (center) with two colleagues standing on top of reactor number three at Chernobyl in 1987. Barabanov spent six weeks at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant approximately one year after the explosion at reactor number four that sent plumes of radioactive particles across the globe in the world's worst nuclear accident, and his duties included exchanging the dosimeters that measured the radiation exposure of thousands of soldiers working in clean-up crews. He also helped decontaminate reactor number three, which was separated from stricken reactor four only by a steel wall and continued operation for years. When asked about his experience, he replied it was part of his duty to volunteer and that "work is work."
11/14
Getty Images
A monument stands in front of reactor four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
12/14
Getty Images
Anatoliy Koliadyn, 66, a former Chernobyl "liquidator," stands for a photo next to a monument to the Chernobyl liquidators. Koliadyn was an engineer in block four and arrived for his 6am shift only hours after the blast. He remembers pipes and cables hanging everywhere and cement walls 28 inches thick displaced from the force of the explosion. Anatoliy says his first task was to prevent the fire in reactor four from reaching adjacent reactor three. "I thought it was going to be the last shift of my life" he recalls, "but who else [to do it] if not us?" He says the last 30 years of his life have been a fight for survival against various illnesses that he attributes to the radiation exposure he received at Chernobyl. He is also bitter against authorities for failing to act swiftly enough after the accident in evacuating nearby residents and in distributing iodine tablets in order to prevent radioactive iodine from lodging itself in the thyroids of children. And he is bitter too that the liquidators, many of whom have since died, are awarded such little recognition and assistance today.
13/14
AFP/Getty Images
Visitors look over on the construction site of the Interim Spent Nuclear Fuel Dry Storage Facility (ISF-2) next to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat ahead of the thirtieth anniversary of the nuclear plant disaster.
14/14
NurPhoto via Getty Images
The New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure built over the destroyed fourth block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Contact Us