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Haunting first image captured of Chernobyl taken just 14 hours after disaster shows effects of radiation

Kit Roberts

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Haunting first image captured of Chernobyl taken just 14 hours after disaster shows effects of radiation

Featured Image Credit: Igor Kostin/Pavel Gospodinov

It remains one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history, and now a photo has resurfaced of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

The events at the ill-fated nuclear power plant have become seared into the public image of nuclear power. Even today, nearly 40 years later, the disaster remains a threat, with concerns raised that fighting in Russia's invasion of Ukraine could compromise the sarcophagus protecting the world from the deadly radiation inside.

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One photo goes back from this most recent development in Chernobyl's story back to the day of the disaster itself. To all intents and purposes it looks like a fairly uninteresting photo. It's just a crumbling building that's barely visible through the heavy grain on the film.

But the context behind this seemingly unremarkable photo sends a shiver down the spine.

If you hadn't already guessed, that's because the image is one of the earliest pictures of the Chernobyl site after the meltdown which destroyed the plant and flooded Ukraine and Eastern Europe with radiation.

The power plant was rocked by an explosion at 1.23am on 26 April 1986. Ironically, the explosion happened during an experiment on a method of cooling the reactor core in an emergency situation.

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The first image taken of Chernobyl after the disaster. Credit: Igor Kostin
The first image taken of Chernobyl after the disaster. Credit: Igor Kostin

Just 14 hours after the explosion, photographer Igor Kostin went on a helicopter carrying out an assessment of radiation levels over the affected area.

The radiation levels were so high that only one photo of all the pictures he took developed properly, the rest all came out black.

Riding on a helicopter above the area was also very dangerous. During the disaster a helicopter collided with a crane by the reactor and tumbled into the power station. Everyone on board was killed.

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Kostin's visit to the site was not sanctioned by authorities, with news of the incident being concealed initially. Nonetheless, he was subsequently granted permission to take pictures of the site, as well as the evacuations.

The site a few weeks after the disaster. Credit: Igor Kostin/Laski Diffusion/Getty Images
The site a few weeks after the disaster. Credit: Igor Kostin/Laski Diffusion/Getty Images

The levels of radiation during his trip were high enough to distort the image, but despite this, Kostin was not impacted by the radiation. He died in 2015 in a car crash at the age of 78.

A zone of 30km was established around the stricken nuclear plant. Since then a protective sarcophagus was erected over the site to prevent radiation from leaking out, with further protection installed in 2016.

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In 2022 the power plant was occupied by Russian forces who entered the exclusion zone. Concerns were raised that artillery strikes on the site could compromise the containment work and cause the leakage of radioactive material.

Russian forces withdrew from Chernobyl on March 31 2022 as they moved away from the regions around Kyiv.

Even decades later, the shadow of the disaster looms over Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and the world at large.

Topics: Community, News, Ukraine, Chernobyl, Science

Kit Roberts
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