The Legacy Of The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster

Photo of Culture Trip
29 November 2016

Ukraine’s Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power accident in history, and it had an irrevocable effect on the surrounding countryside and its people. Culture Trip examines the legacy of the accident and some of the books and films which have depicted it.

©Jennifer Boyer/Flickr

On April 26, 1986, the world witnessed the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. More than two decades later, the Chernobyl nuclear plant lies in ruins and the surrounding areas will rightly remain uninhabited for at least a century. Like the ghost city of Pripyat itself, when it comes to facing and coping with a disaster that was created by mankind’s ‘technological progress’, only haunting stories remain.

The Chernobyl disaster was the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster. A flawed design and personnel who were not trained adequately led to an explosion in the nuclear plants’ ‘reactor 4’ while tests were being conducted on a backup power supply. The explosion led to a blaze which released radioactive isotopes into the air.

Even today decontamination is still in progress. The disaster is said to have released 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with even parts of Scandinavia affected badly. It also caused widespread anger due to the secrecy maintained by the Soviet government and led to greater transparency and eventually contributed to the collapse of the Iron Curtain. The plant is located in the modern republic of Ukraine near its border with Belarus. Both countries still continue to be burdened economically by the disaster.

© Fi Dot/Flickr

In Out of Chernobyl: A Girl Named Olga author Maureen White compiles a tribute to the survivors of the disaster, their courage and dignity and their refusal to give up their dreams and aspirations while facing unimaginable circumstances. In When Disaster struck: Chernobyl 1986, Victoria Parker writes about the dangers of Nuclear power and nuclear waste citing instances from the Chernobyl disaster. The book acts as a archive on the disaster with timelines, firsthand accounts and suggested further reading.

On that fateful day of the accident, Igor Kostin was the only photographer to take pictures of the disaster. His images were the only source for an anxious country and eventually the rest of the world to see the unfolding horrors and realize the scale of the accident. While the rest of the Soviet media tried to suppress information regarding the accident, Kostin’s photos were widely circulated around the world. Kostin continued his coverage on the aftermath of the disaster over the years and his book Chernobyl Confessions of a Reporter was released in 2006.

Heavy Water: A Film for the Chernobyl is based on Mario Petrucci’s poem Heavy Water a Poem for Chernobyl. The film uses the poem as a narrative while haunting images of the disaster unfold on the screen; its consequences and aftermath are shown. The poem is inspired by eyewitness accounts and tells the story of the heroes who put their life on the line while trying to deal with the disaster. Following the disaster, thirty one of the emergency workers and reactor staff lost their lives. Leonid Telyatnikov, who was the head of the fire safety unit at the plant became a hero after he personally led efforts to extinguish the fires. He died in 2004 due to cancer. Tests concluded that he had been exposed to radiation during the rescue efforts.

© Kyle Taylor/Flickr

Andrea White’s Radiant Girl is a story about a young girl who lives near the Chernobyl power plant. Her father works at the power plant and the book follows her life as it is forever changed by the disaster. This coming of age story shows the struggle of a new generation as they deal with and try to understand a disaster with such far reaching consequences.

In 2011, exactly twenty five years after Chernobyl, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan occurred, bringing back the memories and images from Chernobyl and revealing the degree to which the world is still haunted by this terrible tragedy.

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