The streets of Pripyat were paved with foam. The residents perplexed. The date was April 26, 1986. Just after 1:22 am, as the town slumbered, the few eyewitnesses awake described an explosion so loud, they thought an aircraft had broken the sound barrier. The ground shook and shock waves emitted as pillars of black smoke and wreckage shot into the night sky. What followed was ethereally wicked – a spellbinding column of blue-white light that reached for the stars and vanished as soon as it appeared. Into the atmosphere, the air was engulfed by an invisible wave of seven tons of uranium fuel mixed with zirconium and radioactive graphite. The debris containing some of the most dangerous substances known to mankind travelled from Chernobyl’s newest of four reactors across the Earth’s entire northern hemisphere from Czechoslovakia to Japan and as far west as Scandinavia and Scotland.
More than a decade earlier, a partial meltdown in Leningrad generated a confidential study that laid bare the high probability of more disasters to come tied to the USSR’s deadly design faults. Combined with human errors made in the blink of an eye, a runaway chain of events was set in motion in a process akin to the detonation of an atomic bomb. “Nyet” was apparently the answer to a long-postponed safety test that should have been carried out prior to the reactor’s 1983 commissioning. The question: In the event of a blackout, would backup generators kick in quickly enough to keep pumping the water that cooled the newest reactor?
Some morning shift workers tried to warn their families to flee. But the police turned them back. On Sunday, April 27, a full 32 hours after the accident, the order was finally given to evacuate. It would not be until Monday that the Politburo released an official statement that an accident had taken place. Only then would the outside world begin to learn of the 50 million curies of radiation that had been released into the atmosphere, the equivalent of 500 Hiroshima bombs.
We pray that today’s coronavirus passes through the arms of history without inflicting near the damage of the Chernobyl disaster, the worst of nuclear disasters which some projections suggest took casualties into the hundreds of thousands. Given its clear contagion potential, it’s clear global officials must act swiftly to contain potential losses. The best news thus far is the virus appears to be easily treated with adequate medical attention. The risk to the global economy cannot, however, be dismissed as the world’s second largest economy has effectively been idled.
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Danielle DiMartino Booth is CEO and Director of Intelligence at Quill Intelligence
For a full archive of my writing, please visit my website — www.DiMartinoBooth.com
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