Long before the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan dominated the news, another nuclear disaster a generation earlier shocked the world and helped hasten the decline of a once-powerful Cold War superpower. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 sent a sweeping radiation cloud across Europe and exposed the vulnerabilities of the Soviet Union.
The effects of that reactor explosion are still felt in the Ukraine, Belarus and elsewhere 25 years later. A look at these numbers shows the impact of the devastation then and now:
1986: The year when the Chernobyl reactor exploded in northern Ukraine. After the initial explosion April 26, fires raged for nearly two weeks afterward and radiation from the plant spread as far north as Finland and as far south as Italy.
400: When the reactor exploded, it released a dose of radiation 400 times more powerful than the amount released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the United States near the end of World War II.
350,000: The number of “liquidators” who were involved in containing and cleaning up the accident in the early stages. These emergency workers came from all over the Soviet Union. Among those involved in the cleanup were members of the Soviet army, staff from the plant, local policemen and firefighters.
116,000: The amount of people living in heavily contaminated areas near Chernobyl who were evacuated in the spring and summer of 1986. Soviet authorities continued evacuations over subsequent years, eventually relocating another 220,000 people from towns and villages now unsuitable for habitation.
56: The official death toll directly related to the Chernobyl explosion as determined by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency. Out of that number, 28 deaths occurred by the end of July 1986 as a direct result of exposure to lethal doses of radiation. The estimated death toll from illnesses to radiation exposure given by other groups ranges from 4,000 to 200,000.
4,000: The number of thyroid cases detected in children exposed to radiation from Chernobyl by the year 2000.
19 miles: The size of the area around the plant that remains uninhabited 25 years later. Much of the land remains contaminated by radioactive material released from the explosion.
1,350: The number of contaminated vehicles that lay idle around the plant 25 years later. An array of Soviet helicopters, buses, bulldozers, tankers, fire engines and ambulances were all used in an effort to contain the damage.
20 percent: One-fifth of the farmland in Belarus ended up being contaminated by the blast after nearly 70 percent of the fallout settled within the borders of the former Soviet Republic.
330: The number of residents who refused to leave the 19 mile exclusion zone around the plant and still live in this contaminated area 25 years later.
2015: The expected completion date of a new shelter that will be placed over the containment shell covering the destroyed fourth reactor of the Chernobyl plant. This new protective shell is designed to contain any further radiation leaks for at least 100 years. $300 million is still needed to complete the project.
300: The number of years it could take for the last traces of caesium 137, a radioactive substance released by the Chernobyl explosion, to be completely removed from contaminated soil in Belarus and Ukraine.