Chernobyl Nuclear Incident
It was a disaster that even the Soviets could not cover up. The nuclear reactor accident at the Tchernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union was only a level 7 nuclear incident but it was the worst nuclear power plant disaster in mankind’s history, and at US$200 billion in total costs, its costliest. Resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people, it had four hundred times more fallout than the Hiroshima bomb.
On 26 April 1986, 01:23:45 a.m. (UTC+3) reactor number four at Tchernobyl plant melted down and exploded. But it was the resulting fire that sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden detected the fallout early in the morning, leading the Soviet authorities to admit that an accident had occurred. Even then, they attempted to conceal the scale of the disaster, stating that the fallout was localized.
A Novosti Press Agency (APN) photographer in Kiev, Igor Kostin, was the only one allowed to take pictures of the disaster area. He hopped onto a low-altitudehelicopter used to survey the degree of radioactivity. (Such flights were done five times a day to measure the fallout, which varied with weather and wind. Surveys were reviewed by the liquidators, who draw up emergency plans accordingly.) The motor of Kostin’s cameras degraded because of radioactivity after around 20 shots; his negatives were affected by the high level of radiation. All but one was unsalvageable. Kostin’s only photograph was sent to Moscow, but did not received a permit to publish it until 2 weeks later. His aerial view of the power plant clearly showed the extent of the devastation, and prepared the world for the worst. Although the Soviet media continued to censor information regarding the accident until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West had learnt the extent of the fallout from Kostin’s photos.
Later, Kostin ventured into the rubbles of the Chernobyl nuclear plant site and the reactor 4, along with the liquidators and took some more haunting photos, which included the exodus of the local inhabitants and the plight of flora and fauna. Read his interview with Eurozine on how he got the reactor scoop.