Chernobyl was a cluster of nuclear reactors located in Pripyat, a small Ukrainian town. Chernobyl became famous thirty years so when its nuclear reactor leaked radioactive material into the Ukrainian sky. The reason it was historic event was not because of the number of fatalities (2) but because of the long-range effects of the leak.
Physicists spent much of the 19the Century learning about the atom’s structure. Einstein’s famous E = mc2 suggested that huge amounts of energy are released when matter is converted into energy. The first nuclear reactor or “pile” was s built at the University of Chicago on 2 December 1942 as part of the race between World War II adversaries to develop a nuclear bomb. That “pile” is the granddaddy of all nuclear power plants including Chernobyl.
It was not long before it was evident that a nuclear pile could be used to heat water into steam which then could drive a turbine and generate electricity.
The first nuclear power generation plant became operational “On June 26, 1954, at Obninsk, Russia, the nuclear power plant APS-1 with a net electrical output of 5 MW was connected to the power grid, the world’s first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for commercial use.” (as quoted from European Nuclear Society article).
Most electricity generation world-wide is accomplished by burning: coal, natural gas, oil, or whatever. But like renewable energy sources like hydro-electric, wind, tidal, and solar nuclear power appears to be clean, abundant and (unlike current renewable sources) cheap. But nuclear is not actually clean because exposure to spent nuclear materials (generally called “fuel”) can be fatal for thousands of years.
Even with how lethal nuclear energy can be, Chernobyl’s long term effects have been the increased attention to power plant safety and the increased of information exchange between nations and with agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Commission.
What have been Chernobyl’s long term effects?
· According to the last First Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, as reported by Mark Joseph Stern, Chernobyl “ was “perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
· It fostered increase communication between both the Soviet Union and the United States and Europe, and increased emphasis on nuclear safety.
· The Chernobyl power plants were phased out in 2000. The town of Slavutych was built to house the workers of the Chernobyl reactors and the town of Pripyat, where the Chernobyl reactors were located.
· Opposition to nuclear power has increased since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami shut down the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, but generally there have been more power plants built worldwide since Chernobyl. They still provide about 11% of electrical power worldwide. Power plants are still being built and interest in the “clean” aspects of nuclear power generation still continue to grow, though more slowly after Fukushima.
· Deaths from radioactive diseases have increased in the area affected by fallout from the plant
Nuclear power seems to have been a dangerous wartime technology that has endured several disasters (not even mentioned in this article was the three mile island incident in the United States in 1979, which did not result in an escape of nuclear material unlike Chernobyl and no deaths), but still is a growing technology.