(WBRE/WYOU) — On Saturday, April 26, 1986, an accident occurred while a disastrously ill-conceived safety test was being run at a nuclear facility in Pripyat, Ukranian SSR that would cost thousands of people their lives, turn a city into a ghost town, and reshape the course of history.
The disaster at Chernobyl was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, but because of the secrecy of the Soviet Union, the actual severity of the event was unknown and greatly under-reported at the time. That is until radioactive fallout began to trigger alarms over 600 miles away in Sweden.
The number of deaths attributed directly and indirectly to the explosion at Chernobyl has been disputed over the years. The Soviet Union reported an official tally of 31 deaths in the accident and immediate aftermath of the explosion, but in August 1986, international reports estimated an unofficial projection of 4,000 deaths. That projection was contested in 2006, with various organizations now placing the long-term death toll at more than 93,000.
According to Mikhail Gorbachev, the disaster at Chernobyl was a turning point for the Soviet Union that showed the flaws in their system, and one could argue, as Gorbachev does, the disaster helped expedite the collapse of the communist superpower. The catastrophe also confirmed many fears about nuclear power and has served as a warning of the dangers of the atomic age.
We would like to thank our partners at the Osterhout Library for their help in putting together the Eyewitness to History series.