16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster

Trista - March 16, 2019

Today the Chernobyl disaster is considered to be one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. The tragedy took place in the newly founded city of Pripyat, located near the Ukraine-Belarus border in northern Ukraine. On February 4, 1970, Pripyat became the ninth nuclear city at its founding. Pripyat officially became a city in 1979, about seven years before the Chernobyl disaster would take place. By the time the officials evacuated the town on April 27, 1986, due to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion on April 26th, the population had reached nearly 50,000.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
The lasting effects of radiation are tragic. AP/ Daily Mail.


16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
The Power Plant. Lynn Hilton/ The Guardian.

16. Government Tried To Cover Up How Severe The Explosion Was

History is full of times where the governments have tried to cover up how severe disasters really were, and the Chernobyl disaster is no different. In fact, the government of the Soviet Union wasted no time in working ways to make sure they could cover up the aftermath of the explosion as much as possible. One of the biggest reasons was the Soviet Union leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, wanted his crew to investigate the explosion first. However, while a team was summoned to investigate, Gorbachev still refused to tell the public what had happened.

This secrecy is really the only reason why officials didn’t evacuate the city of Pripyat until the next day. The explosion occurred on April 26, 1986, and it wasn’t until the following day that residents of Pripyat faced a mandatory evacuation. However, this didn’t mean the government said anything about how severe the aftermath was. In fact, they only mentioned the explosion from the plant on April 28, radioactivity levels reached their way to Sweden. While the residents of the city and surrounding countries waiting for Gorbachev to speak, he never did acknowledge the severity.

15. When Residents Evacuated, They Had To Leave With Very Little

When the residents of Pripyat received their instruction on evacuating their city, officials told them to take nothing to the minimum of what they needed. Of course, it was dangerous to bring everything because their items were exposed to radiation by this point. The majority of what the residents took included the daily necessities, such as clothing, a couple of their children’s favorite toys, toiletries, photographs, and whatever else they felt they needed. The proof that residents did not take everything is in several aftermath photographs.

Today, the city of Pripyat is known as a ghost town as it’s unsafe for a human to live in for the next 24,000 years. However, people still tour the city, and when they do, they see personal items everywhere. The schoolrooms are filled with desks and books; homes still have toys, furniture, and pictures along the walls. Because it’s been over 30 years since the disaster, kitchen cabinets, paint, and wallpaper have fallen from the walls and ceilings. Pripyat holds the authentic look of a ghost town which was once thriving with life.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
The old swimming pool in Pripyat. Lynn Hilton/ The Guardian.

14. The Solution To Put Out The Fires Caused More Fatalities

Unfortunately, the Soviet Union government only made matters worse after the explosion, and not just by downplaying the severity of the disaster. Whether their next terrible decision in the aftermath of the accident happened because the government didn’t do their research or know any better is yet to be unknown. Whatever the reason behind their decision to use bags of sand to try to put out the nuclear fires was, it only made things worse. Not only did this poor decision affect the area close to Pripyat, but it affected the first responders and several other countries.

The nuclear files raged on for over a week after the explosion. Several helicopter pilots were called to assist in putting out the fires. Each helicopter received a solution many people believed was just sand but was sand mixed with boric acid and lead. The pilots knew right away that it wasn’t working because they could feel it as they dropped it into the fires. However, the government didn’t pay attention. Some people believe that the government just didn’t care because they felt they couldn’t do anything to stop the effects of the radiation anyway.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
The remains of Pripyat. Michael Day/ Barcroft USA/ Telegraph.

13. Some People Stayed In The Exclusion Zone – By Choice

While the town is a ghost town today, it wasn’t always this way, not even after the forced evacuation of the city’s residents. Some residents refused to leave their home while others left for a while but then went back. The people who returned said that they either didn’t believe the effects were that bad or they felt no one else wanted them around because they were tainted with radioactivity and a hazard to everyone else. They felt more at home in a place that would eventually kill them due to radiation poisoning.

Those who stayed said they refused to leave their home, no matter what the risks were and others cited the previous residents by believing conditions were fine. Of course, radiation poisoning is a life-threatening event, and many people died because of it. While estimates vary on the number of deaths due to the Chernobyl disaster, people speculate it was over 9,000 deaths. However, many other numbers range from 900,000 to 1 million people died of radiation poisoning.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
An aerial view of Pripyat. Learning history.

12. You Can Tour Pripyat, But You Have To Follow Many Rules and Guidelines

For years, people weren’t allowed to go in and out of Pripyat. Of course, some people went to live near the area again, and others find ways to sneak into the town to get a peek of what it looked like. It seemed that Pripyat was about to become a ghost town lost in time as trees started spreading everywhere. However, this was around the same time when people decided to turn Pripyat into a tour, but there had to be strict guidelines because the town isn’t safe to live in for another 24,000 years.

Before you go on the Pripyat tour, you will receive a list of rules and guidelines which you must follow. Remember, people created the rules with everyone’s safety in mind. These guidelines include a strict dress code, which means only your face, neck, hands, and wrists can be exposed. You have to cover everything else if you want to take the tour. This rule alone means you have to wear pants and have closed-toed shoes. You also have to wear a hat and a long sleeve shirt.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
The city of Pripyat. Wiztours.

11. After The Explosion, People Kept Working

The explosion at the Chernobyl power plant occurred on April 26, 1986, at 1:30 in the morning. The blast came from the no. 4 reactor and immediately a fire broke out as things started to melt. While employees scrambled to put out the fire and secure the area, two men died. While rescue workers recovered one of the men later, the other man remained in the rumble and many people believe is still there. Even with all the chaos, the leader of the plant informed his employees to keep working.

The staff engineer felt that no damage was done to the core, so as long as the employees remained away from the firemen trying to distinguish the fire and didn’t mess around in the area, they would be fine. But the radiation continued to pour from the no. 4 reactor as more damage happened during the explosion than the staff believed. While no one is certain if the employees, engineer, or anyone knew that large amounts of radiation were leaking from the reactor, we do know that over 100 employees passed away from radiation poisoning.

10. Residents Who Evacuated Became Known As Chernobylites

While some residents refused to leave during the evacuation, others left and came back. The numerous reasons people cited that they returned to an area because they felt unwanted in other places. Many people did give the victims of the disaster sympathy, especially at the beginning. However, this compassion did not last as soon as people started to hear about the dangers of the radiation, which made people believe that the victims were forever tainted.

Of course, the lasting effects of radiation and the rumors that surrounded the victims years later didn’t help. They continued to feel separated from society as others heard women gave birth to babies with yellow fluid in their veins instead of blood. Other rumors stated that the children had terrible physical deformities and would never be able to live on their own. Scientists further fueled the rumors by started saying these effects would last a few generations.

9. Robots Malfunctioned Because Of Radiation Levels On The Plant’s Roof

Once the officials got the city of Pripyat evacuated, they had the task of cleaning it up. The problem was that no one knew how to clean up such a mess. By this time, they knew that the levels of radiation were at an alarming rate which meant they needed to clean it up as quickly as possible. After brainstorming some ideas on who to work on cleaning up the mess, officials decided to try the use of robots.

During the 1980s, robots were a newer invention and very little was known about them. The officials who were in charge of getting Pripyat cleaned up learned pretty quickly that robots would not work as they promptly malfunctioned due to the amount of radiation on the roof of the plant. Therefore, the officials had no choice and had to get liquidators all over to start cleaning up. They told the group that it would take up to three years to get everything cleaned.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
A gas mask left at Chernobyl. Henrik Ismarker/ The Third Pole.

8. Contaminated Products Left The Exclusion Zone

Because radioactivity will cling on to everything, each item that was in the area of Pripyat had certain levels of radiation in them. This included clothing, toys, furniture, jewelry, and food. While most of the products, such as toys, books, furniture, and apparel stayed in the spot people left them during the evacuation, a few items were taken out of the exclusion zone and placed on a truck where they went elsewhere. The majority of the things that officials shipped to other places was food.

When looking for a place to send the milk, meat, and canned goods, officials decided the best locations would be in other areas among the Soviet Union. The officials felt that if they shipped the goods, people would not realize where they came from. However, soon people started to catch on, and they stopped buying the products. Some people say that this was when labels were taken off cans before being sent to the stores as officials felt this was the only way people wouldn’t be able to tell they came from the exclusion zone.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
Abandoned bumper cars. Getty Images/ Daily Mail.

7. Nearby Cities Weren’t Evacuated, Even Though They Needed To Be

Not only did it take officials around 36 hours to evacuate the residents of Pripyat, but it took them even longer to think about leaving other nearby cities. Officials never evacuated all the areas they should have. Because the radiation leaked for so long, radiation levels reached Sweden, which is almost 30 hours away from Pripyat, according to the disaster guidelines, this meant they should have evacuated that whole area. Unfortunately, they never did, and hundreds of thousands of people suffered for their poor decision.

Part of the reason officials did not evacuate all the areas that protocol told them to was because they didn’t want to cause alarm to people as they were trying hard to act like the situations wasn’t as bad as it seemed. The other reason could be that officials didn’t know how bad it was themselves. To them, the damage happened in the city of Pripyat. Therefore, this city became their danger zone, and as long as people left that area, everything would be fine. Of course, years later, everyone knew this was not the case.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
The Elephant’s Foot. Rare Historical Photos.

6. The “Elephant’s Foot” Continues To Burn From Radiation

Besides the fact that no one can live in the city of Pripyat for about 24,000 years, there is still a fire burning in the area. This spot is called the “elephant’s foot” and not because it is an elephant’s foot but because it is a giant blob of goo that measures about as large as an elephant’s foot. What caused this massive lump of goo is simple, it is the location where the no. 4 rector stood when it exploded.

The explosion of the no. 4 rector caused everything from metal to concrete near the area to melt. Because this spot is the most dangerous area, no one has ever touched it. In fact, no one can feel it because just being near the elephant’s foot for five minutes can kill a person. Therefore, the elephant’s foot continues to burn in the basement of the old plant. However, this causes another problem. Because the elephant’s foot location is on the ground, it can contaminate the groundwater one day.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
Chernobyl was left a disaster. Sick Chirpse.

5. No One Knew How To Clean It All Up

No one in the Soviet Union had ever been through a situation such as the Chernobyl disaster before. Of course, this caused many problems and not just talking about lack of knowledge on what to do in the blast. The other major issue that the inexperience caused was that no one knew how to clean up the area. While they let the residents of Pripyat city breathe the radiation levels for nearly 36 hours before they did a mandatory evacuation, none of the officials wanted anything to do with the radiation as it was too dangerous.

Therefore, they worked to come up with a plan that would allow them to find people, who they called liquidators, to take care of the clean-up. Of course, at first, they tried the help of robots, but that didn’t work, so they had no choice but to use the workforce. Most men, who didn’t have families to worry about, were chosen to help out. According to some liquidators, they could decide to do the work but felt pressure as they didn’t want to risk jail time.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
An abandoned home in Pripyat. realt.onliner.by.

4. Three Men Prevented Another Disaster

With such a large amount of radiation released into the air, food, and all items within reach, it is not surprising that other disasters could come out of the Chernobyl disaster. In fact, one almost did, but because of three brave men, the accident will remain a “what if.” The story today is told that these three men drained the pool of water which was underneath the plant. People say that this action helped save Europe because if they didn’t think of this, a steam-based explosion would have occurred, sending more radiation to other continents.

When people reached the water, they realized that it could not continue to sit under the reactor as then uranium and graphite would get into the water a cause another explosion. At first, no one wanted to do it as they felt this was more dangerous than other missions but, eventually, three men volunteered themselves. All the volunteers needed to do was go into the water and open the safety valve. The volunteers received promises of money, a car, and an apartment for their work, which they completed without any issue.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
Abandoned portraits at the school. Europe Between East and West.

3. It Was All Western Propaganda

Of course, as time went on, other places around Europe started to question how serious the Chernobyl disaster was. Many people began to talk about the possibility of a dark radioactive cloud building above Europe. Once the cloud became large enough, it would create a melting pot within the area, and no one would be safe. When this news hit the Soviet leaders, they laughed at it and told the residents that it was all western propaganda.

The leaders continued to downplay the dangers of the no. 4 rector explosion by insisting that they understood everything that needed to get done and it was all under control. The leaders would tell people that they had their men on it and briefed these men on the type of work that needed to get done. Of course, people slowly started to realize that the leaders of the Soviet Union were not being honest with them and soon, no one believed anything that they had to say, especially Mikhail Gorbachev.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
Graffiti in Pripyat. Alex Cheban/ Ukraine Travel Blog.

2. Liquidators Were Forced To Kill Animals

Not only did human suffer in the aftermath of the explosion. Officially, people told the residents that they wouldn’t be gone long so many did not bring their pets as they believed the officials who would be the city up from the explosion would take care of them. Unfortunately, those who left their pets would never see them again because the cleaning crew was told to kill the animals they came across as officials didn’t want the animals to leave the exclusion zone.

Years later, some of the people that were asked to kill the animals described the task. One person stated that the animals were easy to shoot because they were pets and did not fear them. They were happy to see a human as they had been alone in houses, barns, or wandering around town for days to weeks. The person stated that all they had to do was call out to the animal, who would then follow the voice, which is when they would kill the animals. They were then loaded up in a dump truck.

16 Facts About The Chernobyl Disaster
An abandoned building in Pripyat. Bryan Denton/ New York Times.

1. Officials Told Residents They Would Return In Three Days

Not only did Soviet Union officials tell the residents of Pripyat that they had an hour to collect a few necessities, but they would be allowed to return to their homes in three days. Of course, over three decades later, we know that the residents would never really be allowed to go back to their homes, even though some did and some refused to leave. However, the Soviet Union officially downplayed the disaster so much that residents believed they would be able to return within a few days.

According to victims, the officials told residents that they needed to leave so everything could be washed, which would make it safe for them to return. Victims stated they felt that they had been given a vacation and looked forward to the opportunity as officials made everything seem like it wasn’t a big deal as long as they washed everything correctly. So, the kids packed up their school books as parents packed up a couple of smaller belongings they needed and left. It would be well over three days before the residents learned that they would never return to their homes.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Chernobyl Accident 1986.” World Nuclear Association. April 2018.

“Chernobyl Tours: 10 Things to Know Before You Tour Pripyat and Chernobyl.” Stephanie Craig, History Fan Girl. July 2018.

“What Happened In The Immediate Aftermath Of The Chernobyl Disaster.” Stephan Roget, Ranker.

“Chernobyl disaster.” The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Britannica. February 2005.

“Nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.” History.com Editors, History. April 2018.

The Guardian – Chernobyl 30 Years On: Former Residents Remember Life in The Ghost City of Pripyat

Geo History Today – Chernobyl: A Short History of the Human Impact on Ukraine and its Neighbors

Express UK – Chernobyl: Why Did They Use Boron at Chernobyl?

CNN – Inside Slavutych, The City Created by The Chernobyl Explosion

The Atlantic – Visiting Chernobyl 32 Years After the Disaster

Indian Express – How Scientists Used a Robot Dog to Sniff Out Radiation Levels in Chernobyl

Intechopen – Radioactivity in Food: Experiences of the Food Control Authority of Basel-City since the Chernobyl Accident

Science Daily – Crops Near Chernobyl Still Contaminated

Reuters – Locals Eating Radioactive Food 30 Years After Chernobyl

CS Monitor – Chernobyl Will Be Unhabitable For At Least 3,000 Years

Science Magazine – ‘It’s Like the Embers in A Barbecue Pit.’ Nuclear Reactions Are Smoldering Again at Chernobyl

Time Magazine – Chernobyl at 30: How Attempts to Contain the Radiation Failed

Mental Floss – 8 Facts About the Animals of Chernobyl

Bustle – The True Story Behind The Devastating Dog Deaths In ‘Chernobyl’ Is Equally Harrowing

The Conversation – Chernobyl Has Become a Refuge for Wildlife 33 Years After the Nuclear Accident

Ted – After a nuclear disaster, then what? A surprising look at the animals of Chernobyl and Fukushima

National Geographic Channel – Chernobyl: After 35 Years After the World’s Worst Nuclear Accident

Nautil – Chernobyl’s Hot Mess, “the Elephant’s Foot,” Is Still Lethal

Chemistry World – Chernobyl’s Intensely Radioactive ‘Elephant’s Foot’ Lava Recreated in The Lab

Hindustan Times – Real Life Chernobyl Diver Reveals What Really Happened: ‘We Walked Quicker, Had No Oxygen Tanks’

Haaretz – I Was Drafted to Clean Up Chernobyl – and Lived to Tell the Tale

VOX – I Was A Child Of Chernobyl

Euro News – Chernobyl: Why The Nuclear Disaster Was An Accidental Environmental Success