Check out this site - an absolutely chilling and captivating look at Cherynobyl reactor meltdown. Something I guess we all took for granted at the time - fascinating, devastating, unspeakably sad, but true - the content is so gripping. The site can be down at times but keep trying it's well worth the wait
My wife was in Eastern Europe when it happened. I forgot how far away she said she was. Maybe 100-200 miles. I'll ask her Tuesday. She said the goverment never said anything. About a week later word spread what happened from the British or US news.
I wonder how it is that the Cherynobyl area will be uninhabitable for hundreds of years, but those Japanese cities we nuke bombed back in WW2 have been rebuilt and are lived in today.
Primarily, the vastly different amounts of radioactive material released.
Hiroshima was one bomb, with a few kg of plutonium, some percentage of which was converted into energy. The bomb was detonated at some distance above ground level, allowing much of the fallout to be dispersed by the winds.
Chernobyl involved the release of hundreds if not thousands of kg of radioactive material at ground level. Much of the radioactive material fell in the surrounding area, contaminating the ground, the water table, and the crops growing near the site.
The Chernobyl reactor was essentially blown up by extreme mishandling. Instead of water it used graphite, i.e. coal, as moderator. Even a child can tell you that coal burns. It is no wonder the radioactive material spread like it did. It is not possible to cause the same level of damage in a western reactor or modern Russian reactor, although you can still have a meltdown.
Unfortunately, some really scary reactors remain in use. The Leningrad 1 and 2 reactors are even older and unsafer than those of Chernobyl and situated next to St. Petersburg.
[This message has been edited by C-H (edited 04-13-2004).]