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What happened at Chernobyl – Is it safe now? Can I still watch HBO drama?

Ben Fogle visits the wreckage of the disaster in a new Channel 5 documentary

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Ben Fogle visits the site of one of the most horrifying man-made disasters in recent history in Inside Chernobyl – but what happened at Chernobyl and is the area safe?

And is it still possible to watch the HBO dramatisation of the events?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Ben Fogle inside the ruins of a school in Pripyat (Credit: Channel 5)
Ben Fogle inside the ruins of a school in Pripyat, but what happened at Chernobyl? (Credit: Channel 5)

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What happened at Chernobyl?

The Chernobyl disaster refers to the catastrophic events that happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat in 1986.

It was a nuclear accident that occurred on Saturday April 26 1986, at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR.

Historians and scientists consider it the worst nuclear disaster in history both in terms of cost and casualties.

Inadequately trained personnel operated a flawed reactor design that caused the entirely avoidable Chernobyl accident in 1986.

The accident started during a safety test on an RBMK-type nuclear reactor, which was commonly used throughout the Soviet Union.

After a planned decrease of reactor power in preparation for the electrical test, the power unexpectedly dropped to a near-zero level.

The operators were able to only partially restore the specified test power, which put the reactor in a potentially unstable condition.

Operators proceeded with the electrical test, not knowing that there was a risk.

Upon test completion, the operators triggered a reactor shutdown, but a combination of unstable conditions and reactor design flaws caused an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction instead.

The result was radioactive contamination being leaked into parts of the USSR and western Europe, especially Belarus, 16 kilometres away, where around 70 per cent landed.

It was finally contained on May 4 1986.

What happened at Chernobyl? How many people died?

The nuclear disaster claimed 31 lives as well as leaving thousands of people and animals exposed to potentially fatal radiation.

The exact death toll is not known and the long-term affects could last for decades.

First of all, the reactor explosion killed two of the reactor operating staff.

In the emergency response that followed, 134 station staff and firemen were hospitalised with acute radiation syndrome due to absorbing high doses of ionizing radiation.

Twenty-eight died in the days to months afterward.

Approximately 14 suspected radiation-induced cancer deaths followed within the next 10 years.

Finally, the Chernobyl catastophe caused at least 15 childhood thyroid cancer deaths.

In 2005, the World Health Organisation revealed a total of 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure.

About 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been seen since the disaster – mainly in people who were children or teenagers at the time.

The Unit 4 Control Room where the explosion happened (Credit: Channel 5)
The Unit 4 Control Room where it all went wrong (Credit: Channel 5)

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What happened at Chernobyl? Is it safe now?

An 18-mile radius known as the ‘Exclusion Zone’ was set up around the reactor following the disaster.

There are around 160 villages in the Exclusion Zone.

Despite all the effort invested in the area to make Chernobyl safe, its clean-up still continues today.

Scientists from the State Radiation Ecological Reserve frequently test radiation levels to check whether people and wildlife can safely return to the area again.

The site and Pripyat were declared safe for tourists to visit in 2010.

Can you visit Chernobyl?

Yes, you can visit Chernobyl and people do.

If you get yourself to Kyiv, Ukraine, you can buy a tour to get access to Chernobyl town, the front of the power plant and the abandoned town of Pripyat.

Ben Fogle inside the ruins of the Azure swimming pool in Pripyat (Credit: Channel 5)
Ben Fogle inside the ruins of the Azure swimming pool in Pripyat (Credit: Channel 5)

Is anyone from Chernobyl still alive?

Contrary to reports that three divers died of radiation sickness during the immediate aftermath of the disaster, all three survived.

Shift leader Borys Baranov died in 2005, while Valery Bespalov and Oleksiy Ananenko, both chief engineers of one of the reactor sections, are still alive and live in the capital, Kiev.

Can I still watch HBO’s Chernobyl?

HBO’s Chernobyl dramatises the story of the 1986 nuclear accident – one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history.

Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson star in the award-winning five-part mini-series.

Chernobyl is currently available to watch on Now TV/Sky Atlantic.

It is also available to buy on Amazon Prime from £2.49 an episode or the whole series for £5.99.

Inside Chernobyl with Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle visits Chernobyl and the “socialist dream” city of Pripyat.

He finds a city left to ruin and consumed by nature.

Accompanied by a government expert, Ben enters the control room where the fatal mistake was made.

During his week in the exclusion zone, Ben also explores the ruins of a local school, and ventures inside the ruins of a nearby hospital.

Inside Chernobyl with Ben Fogle airs on Channel 5 at 9pm on Wednesday March 03 2021.

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