Today, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sits inside a fenced area known as the Exclusion Zone. Radioactive remnants of the failed reactor linger inside the so-called sarcophagus, a 24-story concrete and steel encasement hastily erected after the accident. Leaky and structurally unsound, it now threatens to collapse, shaking loose enough radiation to cause a second disaster of similar magnitude. Work has started on a new encasement, which will slide over the existing sarcophagus to seal in the remaining nuclear fuel - at an estimated cost of 2 billion dollars.
"As members of a select scientific panel convened immediately after the...accident," writes Bethe, "my colleagues and I established that the Chernobyl disaster tells us about the deficiencies of the Soviet political and administrative system rather than about problems with nuclear power."
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone now encompasses more than 1,600 square miles of northern Ukraine and southern Belarus, a ragged swatch of forests, marshes, lakes, and rivers. Cordoned off by a fence and armed guards soon after the accident, the perimeter was first drawn up according to airborne surveys of gamma radiation contamination conducted in the days after the explosions, and it has since been expanded more than once.
The government of Ukraine indicated early this year that it will lift restrictions on tourism around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, formally opening the scene to visitors. It's expected, meanwhile, that a 20,000-ton steel case called the New Safe Confinement (NSC), designed as a permanent containment structure for the whole plant, will be completed in 2013.
"It was not just a banal disaster, it was a message that nuclear power is not safe. It is time to think, consider alternatives, and bring the industry under tight international control. Otherwise, humankind will destroy itself."
On April 26, 1996, the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, Ukrainian President Kuchma formally established the Chernobyl Center for Nuclear Safety, Radioactive Waste and Radio-ecology in the town of Slavutych. The center would provide the Ukraine with an indigenous, institutional capability to provide technical support to its nuclear power industry, the academic community, and nuclear regulators.
From the first day, officials downplayed the damages of the catastrophe and the politics of misinformation continues: A UN report estimates that 4,000 people will eventually succumb to cancer-related illnesses as the result of the accident. But major environmental organizations have accused the report of whitewashing Chernobyl's impact and state that more than 100,000 people have already died as a consequence of the disaster.
The accident destroyed the Chernobyl 4 reactor, killing 30 operators and firemen within three months and several further deaths later. One person was killed immediately and a second died in hospital soon after as a result of injuries received. Another person is reported to have died at the time from a coronary thrombosisc. Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was originally diagnosed in 237 people on-site and involved with the clean-up and it was later confirmed in 134 cases. Of these, 28 people died as a result of ARS within a few weeks of the accident.
In the months after the accident, Soviet authorities undertook drastic measures to deal with the catastrophe. Almost 1,000 acres of the Red Forest had perished, and nearly 4 square miles of topsoil around the sarcophagus was scraped away and buried as radioactive waste.
The April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyla nuclear power plant in Ukraine was the product of a flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with serious mistakes made by the plant operatorsb. It was a direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture.