Yesterday I noted that a nuclear power plant involved a controlled nuclear chain reaction. If something goes wrong, the reaction could run out of control with a great release of energy and/or radioactive material into the surrounding area. This came to public awareness in 1979 with the Three Mile Island accident. This plant in Pennsylvania had a stuck valve that led to a loss of coolant. The reactor core heated up and in the process some radioactive material was released. No serious heath effects came from this accident, though there was a huge public panic and outcry, perhaps in part due to the movie the China Syndrome which came out around the same time.
Seven years later was a much more serious nuclear event, the Chernobyl disaster. A sudden power spike in one of the reactor cores led to an explosion, spewing radioactive material into the environment. Some of this material spread over much of Europe. 28 or 31 people were killed directly by acute radiation poisoning, with another 200 or so suffering from radiation sickness. Long term effect include a rise in the incidence of thyroid cancer, with thousands affected - perhaps up to 9000 deaths will result from this over time. There was also a huge financial impact due to the cost of the cleanup, the destruction of contaminated and potentially contaminated food, and the cordoning off of a large section of land in what is now the Ukraine, including the city of Pripyat, which is now a ghost town.
Jonah Day illustrated the explosion.
Eric Constantineau illustrated the control room.
Others focused on the aftermath in the city of Prypiat, such as Juliandrius,
Sealclubber actually recently visited Chernobyl, with LEGO in hand.