On April 26, 1986, a test was being conducted at Reactor #4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine. The combination of flawed reactor design and mistakes made by poorly trained plant operators caused an explosion causing temperatures in the reactor to reach more than 2,000 degrees Celsius. This melted the fuel rods and ignited the reactor's graphite covering which then released at least 5 percent of the radioactive reactor core as a cloud of radiation into the atmosphere which was/is arguably the largest release of radiation into the atmosphere ever. Residents and some plant workers were evacuated- approximately 6 days later on May 2-3.
Prevailing winds were blowing north, depositing 70% of the radiation on the little country of Belarus just north of the Ukraine. More than 3,600 villages and 2.5 million people in Belarus were affected with additional numbers added to that group in northern Ukraine and western Russia. Radiation from the Chernobyl plant has been found on sheep in the United Kingdom, on clothing worn by people throughout Europe and in rainfall in the United States.
There are many varying statistics on the death rate from the Chernobyl disaster and on resulting illnesses as well. As recently as 2005, several sources said only 44- 60 deaths could be directly related to the radiation. However, based on information and estimates from the Belarus National Academy of Sciences ultimately as many as 93,000 people could die over time as a direct result of radiation exposure from Chernobyl.
The Belarus National Academy of Sciences estimates 270,000 people in the area around the disaster site will develop cancer as a result of the Chernobyl radiation. A report by a department of the Russian Academy of Sciences found a vast increase in deaths since 1990-60,000 in Russia and an estimated 140,00 in the Ukraine and Belarus. These are all attributed to Chernobyl radiation exposure. Birth defects, and what is called "Chernobyl Aids" have added to the disease statistics of the area, along with vastly increased rates of many other illnesses.
According to a 2004 study involving the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, thyroid cancer is 45 times greater in those who experienced the high radiation exposure from the Chernobyl blast than in those in a low dose group. This is the first study of its kind to establish the relationship between Chernobyl radiation and thyroid cancer.
Shortly after the explosion, a cement sarcophagus was placed over the burnt remains of Chernobyl Plant, Reactor #4. It is, however, still full of radioactive material. The sarcophagus is deteriorating badly and needs replacing. Water has been leaking into the reactor and carries that material throughout the plant and threatens to seep into the groundwater. Radiation from the plant has also leaked into the atmosphere since the explosion. Reactor #4 is sadly in need of a new, much stronger covering.