Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was the scene of the largest nuclear disaster in history. It suffered not a leak, nor a meltdown, but an explosion. In this article, we will concentrate on the power plant itself. For how to visit the Chernobyl site safely, see here. The construction and history of this power plant are beyond fascinating. Chernobyl is located in northern Ukraine near the border with Belarus. The clean-up of this power plant is not expected to be complete until the year 2065 - nearly 80 years after the initial disaster.

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About Chernobyl

Oddly enough the power plant was not called Chernobyl, but in typical Soviet-style, the "Vladimir Lenin Nuclear Power Plant" and the neighboring and now abandoned city next to it is called Pripyat (Chernobyl actually is another city further away). But we will call the plant, Chernobyl.

We encourage everyone to watch HBO's mini-series "Chernobyl", they are highly accurate within the creative liberties of making a series. The depictions of the power plant in the series are with acute attention to detail and the events are true to history.

  • Fun Fact: The Dramatic Helicopter Crash Scene In The Movie Suggested It To Be From The Radiation, But It Was Actually Cos It Hit The Crane (That Is Also Visible In The Movie)

The power plant was made up of four RBMK-1000 reactors with a combined capability of 4,000 megawatts (MW) of electric power. The plant at the time of the disaster produced around 10% of Ukraine's electricity.

  • Supplied: 10% Of Ukraine's Electricity

Other Accidents

The Soviet Union (and Russia in its wake) had a very poor record of nuclear safety. Side note, all the serious accidents that resulted in core damage and leaking radiation on submarines were all Soviet - they had 14 such separate accidents. What happened in 1986 wasn't the first accident in the site's short history, nor was it the second.

In 1982 reactor No. 1 experienced a partial meltdown. When it came online the uranium in the tank overheated and ruptured. One employee was killed and it took eight months to repair the reactor. In true Soviet fashion, the accident was covered up by the government for years.

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  • Reactor: Reactor No. 4 Exploded

It has just come to light this year in 2021 from declassified KGB documents that there was another incident in 1984. This was in both reactors No. 3 and No. 4. The details of this incident are not clear. Furthermore, according to those documents the central Soviet government was well aware that Cheynobol was the most dangerous nuclear power plant in all of the Soviet Union.

  • Previous Accidents: There Had Been At Least Two Other Accidents In The Powerplant's Short History

History of the Plant

Construction began in 1970 on both the power plant and the adjacent city of Pripyat (Pripyat was built to house the workers and their families). The first reactor - reactor No. 1 was commissioned seven years later in 1977. At the time it was the Soviet Union's only third RBMK nuclear power plant. Reactor No. 2 followed in 1978. No. 3 in 1981 and the ill-fated No. 4 in 1983. It was reactor No. 4 that exploded.

But this was not to be the end of the construction of the plant. It was meant to have two more reactors added for a total of 6 reactors. So at the time of the disaster in 1986 parts of the facility remained under construction. At that time Reactor No. 5 was around 70% complete and would have been commissioned around 6 months later had No. 4 not blown up. Another 6 reactors were also planned to be built close by, so the combined site would have had 12 reactors.

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  • Intended Future Of Chernbol: The Plant Was Meant To Have 6 Reactors

Now for the odd part. It took 3 years for reactors No. 5 and No. 6 to be canceled, in that time they were merely suspended. The other mindboggling fact is despite the scale of the disaster and the necessity to evacuate thousands of people for miles around, the other three reactors remained in use. They were not shut down as the Soviet Union and later Ukraine could not afford to lose such an important power plant. They were only shut down in 2000 and the plant as a whole remains in a state of decommissioning as of 2021.

Of the four reactors at the site, the third and fourth ones were actually the second generation and they were improved over the first. Oddly enough it was the more advanced and safer reactor that exploded.

  • Containment: The New Safe Confinement Was Completed In 2017

Today reactor No. 4 is entombed in a new steel containment structure dubbed rather boringly the "New Safe Confinement". This confinement was announced back in 2003 and completed in 2017 and was designed and built by the French company Novarka. It measures 886 feet wide and 328 feet high and 492 feet long. It had to be that big to not only cover the reactor but also the old crumpling containment dome.

The story of Chernyobol is truly amazing.

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