Chernobyl: disaster explained, where it happened, is it safe now – and how to watch Ben Fogle documentary

Ben Fogle visits Chernobyl in Channel 5 documentary Inside Chernobyl

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 10:39 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 10:43 am
Ben Fogle visits Ukraine in Channel 5 documentary Inside Chernobyl (Channel 5)

Thirty-five years on the Chernobyl Disaster continues to grimly fascinate.

Regarded as the worst ever nuclear disaster in terms of lives lost and cost, the catastrophic meltdown of the Soviet nuclear reactor was recently the subject of a much-praised HBO miniseries which detailed the chain of failures which led to the man-made disaster.

And now broadcaster Ben Fogle is visiting the radioactive wasteland left behind by the disaster, interacting with locals who have remained in the exclusion zone despite the severe health risks.

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Where is Chernobyl?

Chernobyl is located in modern-day northern Ukraine.

Once of the Soviet Union, the nuclear power plant is located near the now abandoned town of Pripyat.

The power plant is surrounded by a 30 Kilometre Zone, or human-free zone, due to the ongoing dangers of radiation.

What happened at Chernobyl?

On 26 April 1986, the disaster occurred when technicians at a nuclear reactor attempted to execute a flawed experiment.

The reactor’s power-regulating system was shut down, along with emergency safety systems, while control rods were removed while the reactor continued to run at 7%.

At 1:23 AM on April 26 the actions of the technicians resulted in a fireball which blew off the heavy steel and concrete of the reactor. This explosion combined with a subsequent fire in the graphite reactor resulted in radioactive material pluming into the atmosphere where it was carried great distances.

The day after the accident 30,000 inhabitants of nearby Pripyat were evacuated while the Soviet Union attempted to cover up the accident.

After Swedish monitoring stations detected wind-transported activity the Soviet Union admitted there had been a nuclear disaster sparking international outcry.

In the days that followed the heat and the radioactivity leaking from the reactor core were contained, at great risk to workers.

The highly reactive radioactive reactor core was contained in a steel ‘sarcophagus’.

Sources differ on the death toll of the disaster, with the number of fatalities attributed to the initial explosion ranging from 2 to 50.

Dozens more firefighters and technicians contracted serious radiation sickness and died.

In the aftermath of the disaster millions of acres of woodland and farmland were contaminated, while radiation-induced illnesses and cancer deaths were attributed to the accident. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded that, apart from some 6500 thyroid cancers (resulting in 15 fatalities), "there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident."

Is it safe to visit now?

The nuclear reactor is still surrounded by a 30km exclusion zone where humans are not allowed to live.

Scientists and visitors are able to file for a permit to visit the zone for limited amounts of time.

In 2011 the Ukrainian government announced that they would be welcoming tourists back to the nearby town of Pripyat.

How to watch Inside Chernobyl

Inside Chernobyl airs on Channel 5 at 9pm on Wednesday, March 3.

You can catch up after transmission on the Channel 5 streaming platform My5.