On 26 April 1986, the worst civilian nuclear accident in history occurred when the Chernobyl nuclear plant's reactor exploded. The accident made headlines worldwide, and countries in Europe were put on alert to watch for dangerous radiation levels coming from the Ukrainian power plant. Even now, nearly 30 years later, the effects are still being felt. For example, about one-third of the wild boars in German forests are believed to be radioactive. The levels aren't high, but they do go beyond the radiation limits set by the European Union. Hunters must have wild boar meat tested for radioactivity before offering it for sale.
An estimated 48 people died of radiation sickness or from direct radiation exposure after the Chernobyl explosion. By 2002, about 5,000 known cases of thyroid cancer had occurred in children in the region. Areas in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine were contaminated with radiation. Although these radiation levels have been largely deemed safe, areas in Gomel and Mogilev in Belarus and Bryansk in Russia may still show some contamination in milk.
Some causes of the Chernobyl accident:
- Poor reactor design. Because the reactors were designed for military as well as civil use, the reactors' built-in safety mechanisms were restricted and not as effective.
- Lack of training. The plant operators were not trained properly, and safety was not a priority at the plant, leading to a lack of knowledge about how to respond to a reactor emergency.
- A culture of secrecy. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was notoriously secretive about technology because of the close connections between military and civilian applications. This led to a lack of emergency preparedness and critical thinking by the operators.