Atomic Deserts A Survey of the World's Radioactive No-Go Zones

The Soviet nuclear testing site in present-day Kazakhstan is just one of many places in the world that remain dangerously radioactive to this day.

The Soviet nuclear testing site in present-day Kazakhstan is just one of many places in the world that remain dangerously radioactive to this day.

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Part 4: Uninhabitable to This Day


Corbis

The worst nuclear accident the world has so far seen occurred on Apr. 26, 1986 at the Chernoybl power plant near the town of Pripyat, in what was then the USSR (now Ukraine). The testing of a new voltage regulator led to an explosion in reactor 4 which destroyed the roof, exposing the melting core and hurling radiation into the air.

The Soviet authorities tried to cover up the incident for as long as possible. On the morning after the explosion, area residents were requested to stay indoors and to keep their windows closed. One day later, all 50,000 residents of Pripyat were evacuated. They were told they would be able to return home after three days, but they were never allowed back.

It was weeks before the full extent of the disaster became known outside of the Soviet Union as radioactivity reached large parts of Europe. An exclusion zone was set up prohibiting entry into an area 30 kilometers on all sides of the stricken reactor. Some say that as many as 110,000 people lost their lives with hundreds of thousands more still suffering from the effects of the radiation, but other estimates are much lower. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in 2006 that fewer than 50 people died from initial exposure to radiation from the reactor. At the scene of the accident, radiation exposure is still 700 times higher than permissible levels, and Pripyat remains uninhabitable.

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