The Zone of Alienation

Diana Thater: 'Chernobyl'
Hauser and Wirth
196A Piccadilly, London, W1J 9DY

by Sue Hubbard


At 1:23 am on April 26, 1986 two explosions ripped through the Unit 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine. The reactor block and adjacent structure were wrecked by the initial explosion as a direct result of a flawed Soviet design, coupled with serious mistakes made by the plant operators. The resulting steam explosion and the subsequent fires released at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere, though it was not until 2 p.m. on April 27th that workers were evacuated. By then 2 people were dead and 52 in hospital. Nearby buildings were ignited by burning graphite projectiles. Radioactive particles swept across the Ukraine, Belarus, and the western portion of Russia, eventually spreading across Europe and the whole Northern Hemisphere.

The graphite fires continued to burn for several days despite the fact that thousands of tons of boron carbide, lead, sand and clay were dumped over the core reactor by helicopter. The fire eventually extinguished itself when the core melted, flowing into the lower part of the building and solidifying, sealing off the entry. About 71% of the radioactive fuel in the core (about 135 metric tons) remained uncovered for about 10 days until cooling and solidification took place. 135,000 people were evacuated from a 30-km radius exclusion zone and some 800,000 people were involved in the clean up. The radioactivity released was about two hundred times that of the combined releases at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Millions were exposed to the radiation.

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