April 26, 2003 marks the 17th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the biggest man-caused catastrophe of the late 20th century. A memorial service for the victims of Chernobyl was held last night by the Chernobyl Heroes Memorial in Slavutich, a Ukrainian town not far from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
In the early hours of April 26, 1986, the fourth unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was then in the process of its preparation for regular maintenance work, was destroyed by a powerful explosion with a force equal to a few tons of TNT, according to a recently declassified document of the Ukrainian State Security Committee. As a result, a large amount of radioactive materials and bits of the blown-up reactor were scattered all around the station. Experts said the surge of radioactive materials measured 50 million curies, which is equal to 500 A-bombs (similar to those dropped on Hiroshima in 1945) exploding at a time.
The disaster was generally blamed on the inaccuracy of the staff, which had been carrying out unsanctioned tests of turbogenerators. Another version mentions numerous technological violations committed during the construction of the power plant.
In UN estimates the Chernobyl catastrophe affected more than 7 million people, specifically 3.2 million Ukrainians, 2.1 million Russians, and 1.8 Belarussians. More than 148,000 people from these countries became disabled. 784,000 hectares of plough lands and 694,000 hectares of woods were irrecoverably spoiled.
Seven months after the tragedy, a special concrete sarcophagus was erected above the exploded unit to protect the environment from radioactive dust. A safer cover, which is planned to replace the old one in 2005, will cost 758 million dollars, 708 of which will hopefully be donated by the Group of Seven.
The Chernobyl power plant was closed down on December 15, 2000. It will be completely removed from service in a matter of 15 years.