The Chernobyl disaster still remains the worst nuclear power plant explosion in history. The explosion of reactor 4 which went online in 1983 occurred when technicians tried to test the backup cooling system. On April 26, 1986, the routine safety drill went horribly wrong and the catastrophe blanketed much of western Russia and Europe beneath a toxic cloud.
A nuclear reactor is like a giant steam engine. When Uranium rods react, they produce massive amounts of heat which is used to convert water to steam, which drives the generators to produce electricity. Control rods are lowered into the chamber to reduce the Uranium reaction and prevent overheating. But during the safety drill the technicians removed all of the control rods, thus overheating the chamber and losing control of the coolants.
The explosion on reactor-4 spewed radioactive materials into the atmosphere.
The extreme heat melted the core at 1:23 AM. The reactor exploded, spewing 8 tons of radioactive debris into the atmosphere. 115,000 people were evacuated from a 30 km (18 mile) radius and the fire due to the explosion took 15 days to be put out.
The indigenous Sami people walk reindeer for miles and sell their meat for a living. The incident that occurred 30 years ago has ruined their way of life and it still haunts them today as the reindeer still suffer from radiation.
Photographer Amos Chapple in association with Radio Free Europe spent a week in the village of Snåsa. They were on a quest to document the lives of the Sami people who were fighting to keep their traditions alive.
One of the most dangerous products from the reactor’s explosion was a radioactive isotope of caesium known as cesium-137. Rain and wind played a huge role in transferring the radioactive materials from the atmosphere to the ground. Heavy rainfall in Norway caused almost 700 grams of radioactive cesium-137 to be transferred to the ground.
When the rain transferred radioactive materials, lakes, forests, wildlife, berries, and plants were affected. A fungus called lichen which grows in the forests is a favorite snack for reindeer’s and they travel for miles in search of it. Sadly, the Chernobyl disaster affected the fungus.
Lichen, a composite organism that arises from algae has no roots. The fungi lives off nutrients in the atmosphere. When the air was polluted by cesium-137, the fungi absorbed it and thus the radioactive fission product was transferred into the reindeer.
The Sami people are still living in the shadows of Chernobyl.
The Sami people are completely dependent on the reindeer since it is their main source of income and food. They have been passing on the tradition of being reindeer walkers or “boazovázzi” for 9,000 years.
Though it’s been 30 years since the disaster, the effects can still be seen. Radiation spikes can be often spotted every now and then. The damage caused by the disaster still lives through the slow growing fungus. In 2014, the Government issued the reindeer to be inspected and hundreds of them failed the test. This is due to the fact that the fungus is growing throughout the forests at a fast rate and reindeer’s snack on them on a daily basis.
Sami herders in Snasa still survive by feasting on the reindeer’s. They are tested annually for radiation poisoning and sickness.
“There’s a real sadness there, because these people had always lived at one with nature, and suddenly in the days after Chernobyl, they woke up to their completely pristine landscape being one of the most contaminated places on the planet.” – Amos Chappel
Sources: Business Insider, Amos Chapple in association with Radio Free Europe.
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