It is now known that almost none of the neutron absorbers made it to the core. Historians believe that over 600 Soviet pilots exposed themselves to deadly amounts of radiation in order to fly the hundreds of flights required to cover reactor No. 4 in this endeavor to block off radioactivity. None of these pilots have ever been identified. Only two men are known to have survived the disaster: Alexander Kolesnikov and Gennady Strekalov. Both men suffered severe radiation injuries and were eventually forced out of their jobs.
The government covered up the true extent of damage caused by Chernobyl for many years, even after thousands had died or been affected by cancer. Finally, under Gorbachev, an investigation was launched; however, it was closed down before all relevant information had been gathered.
In 2006, new evidence emerged showing that a secret project had been carried out following the disaster to build "shields" to hide radioactive material from view. The project was code-named "Chernobylite."
According to scientists who have studied old photographs and documents from the time, the reactor's dome had been covered with clay before being filled with sand for visual purposes only. The shield was designed to be removable for maintenance work on the reactor. However, no one expected there would be a need for it so soon after the accident.
It was a direct outcome of Cold War seclusion and the absence of a safety culture that resulted. The disaster wrecked the Chernobyl 4 reactor, killing 30 operators and firefighters within three months and resulting in numerous more deaths. It also contaminated an area of nearly 100,000 square miles with radiation, causing death and illness for many years to come.
The disaster has become one of history's worst environmental disasters and caused immediate health problems for those who lived near the plant. Long-term effects are still being assessed, but some people believe it will result in an increase of cancer cases among future generations. In addition, animals and plants in the region have been affected by radioactive material that was released into the air, water, and soil. Many species have disappeared from Chernobyl because of the contamination of their habitat. None have recovered despite efforts to restore parts of the zone to its pre-disaster state.
As well as being dangerous now, Chernobyl was also responsible for leaving behind large quantities of radiated food, which would have poisoned anyone who ate it. Additionally, there are concerns that the levels of radiation might be high enough to cause damage to human DNA long after the initial accident. There have been reports of increased rates of birth defects and cancers in areas close to the reactor site.
This was immediately followed by an open-air reactor core fire that released significant airborne radioactive contamination for about nine days, settling on parts of the USSR and Western Europe, particularly Belarus, 16 kilometers away, where approximately 70% landed, before being finally contained on May 4, 1986. This is the world's second-largest nuclear disaster after Fukushima.
The accident at Chernobyl began at around 03:00 on April 26th, 1986 when one of the reactor's power supplies was interrupted during an overhaul. The workers attempting to fix it in the control room found that one of the unit's valves had been left open, allowing steam from the top of the reactor vessel to escape. Despite this serious error, no one removed the valve cover entirely. Instead they used a hammer to try and close the hole with no success.
Once the cover was opened, the heat from inside the reactor vessel quickly evaporated any moisture in contact with it, forming a thin layer of radioactively contaminated water that coated the inside of the cover. This also caused the steam escaping from the top of the vessel to become saturated with radiation and create more intense vibrations which warned those working inside the reactor room that something was wrong. However, because of the limited communication system used by the staff, they had no way of knowing exactly what was going on within the reactor itself so continued to work on rebooting the unit while waiting for someone else to arrive to help them.