The events of Chernobyl have marked the surrounding areas for a long time into the future. Based in Ukraine, the nuclear explosion obliterated an entire town, forcing its surviving residents to pack up and find life elsewhere. While the disaster was devastating to the country, it was almost catastrophic for the whole of Europe. If it weren’t for the intervention of three men, the nuclear reactor might have been even more damaging and thanks to their sacrifice, the damage was minimal.
On the night of April 26 1986, the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl’s plant began to overheat. Engineers on the site didn’t seem too worried about the spikes in temperatures, however; trying to conduct an experiment, they overlooked warnings, and even enhanced the problem to see what the results would be. Unable to deal with the mounting heat and pressure, the reactor’s core exploded, destroying a huge amount of material in its wake. Worse than the initial destruction, however, the reactor released huge quantities of radiation into the surrounding areas, spreading eventually to the local town.
As the government tried to make sense of what had happened, local residents were prevented from leaving the town. The city was fenced off as the fire continued to burn and masses amounts of radiation continued to make their way around the residential areas. While robots were initially brought in to clear up the nuclear waste, they were unable to withstand the intensity of the radiation. Soon, humans were brought to the site, set to work on clearing up the toxic waste.
Without anything to protect them, workers on the site fashioned themselves protective suits out of lead. Thousands of men could work for merely 40 seconds at a time before they reached their lifetime dose of radiation. The people who volunteered to clear up the waste put their lives at risk, and most of them went on to develop cancer later in life.
Apart from the thousands of brave men who helped the clean up effort, however, three men sacrificed themselves in a different way. In the aftermath of the explosion, many feared that the reactor’s molten core might melt through the barriers and combine with the water in the flooded basement. Entering into the water system, the radioactivity had the potential to spread further, infecting first Europe and then the rest of the world.
Engineer Alexei Ananenko and soldiers Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov volunteered to dive down into the waters and drain the fluid. Diving into 20,000 of dark water, the three men set about finding the pipes to shut off the valves, clearing the water from the area. The job was a suicide mission for the men and within a matter of 2 weeks, all of them were dead from radiation poisoning. Thanks to their act of bravery, the damage was kept to a minimum and while Chernobyl is still recovering from the events, the wreckage was as contained as it could be.