35 Years After Chernobyl Disaster

35 years ago, the worst nuclear disaster in history happened at the power plant at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union. A failed safety test caused the nuclear reactor in Block 4 to become unstable. As a result a chain reaction caused the core to explode. Fire spread out over the entire compound. Two people were killed in the explosion, over 30 workers officially died of radiation sickness. It is not known how many people died in the months and years that followed.

The Soviet authorities hid the truth about the explosion and did not warn other countries. A nuclear cloud spread across Europe for more than a week. Almost half a million people had to leave their homes.

The accident led to a worldwide debate on the safety of nuclear energy. It may have also been one of the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later.

After the clean-up the remaining reactors at Chernobyl continued to produce electricity for some years before the whole power station was shut down by Ukrainian authorities in 2000. A sarcophagus was built around Block 4 to prevent radioactivity from escaping. In 2017 a new steel structure was built to ensure more safety. The whole site is expected to be completely decommissioned by 2065.

Today, the area is still affected by radiation. Even though there is a 30 km exclusion zone a special kind of tourism has emerged. People from all over the world are coming to see the remains of the catastrophe and observe the wildlife in the region. The Ukrainian government is planning to use the area as a site for nuclear waste.

Reactor 4 months after the disaster
IAEA Imagebank, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


  • affected = here: there is still dangerous radiation
  • authorities = the people who are in control of a certain part of a region
  • caused = led to
  • causes = reasons
  • chain reaction = event that produces more and more energy in an uncontrolled way
  • collapse = breakdown; if something does not exist anymore
  • compound = a set of buildings
  • core = the central part of a nuclear reactor
  • decommission = to stop using the power plant and tear it down
  • disaster = a sudden event that causes a lot of damage and kills people
  • emerge = come up, appear
  • entire = whole
  • exclusion zone = area that people are not allowed to enter because it is dangerous
  • failed = something that did not work
  • former = earlier, once
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • nuclear energy = the energy you create when you split atoms
  • nuclear waste = leftover material from nuclear reactors
  • officially = as said by the government
  • power plant = one or more buildings that produce electricity
  • prevent = stop
  • radiation sickness = illness that is caused when your body gets too much radiation
  • radioactivity = the sending out of radiation when an atom is split
  • remains = what is left
  • sarcophagus = here: a structure that is put over the reactor so that dangerous radiation cannot escape
  • shut down = to close something
  • Soviet Union = the largest communist country that existed between 1917 and 1991
  • spread = travel, move across
  • unstable = something that may suddenly change and become worse
  • wildlife = the animals that live naturally there