Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine
"The Geek's Atlas" doesn't feature only technology sites. A good portion of the book is dedicated to scientific sites, and none is sadder than the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
On April 26, 1986, in the middle of the night, a steam explosion tore the roof off reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The reactor did not have a containment building, so the explosion exposed the reactor core directly to the atmosphere.
The reactor was operating at the time of the explosion, and the graphite blocks that surrounded the reactor fuel were red-hot. With the addition of oxygen from the atmosphere, the graphite began to burn fiercely. To make matters worse, the fuel in the reactor was close to the end of its useful life and was filled with a wide variety of radioisotopes.
Between the explosion and the fire, the [[xref:http://www.ukraine.com/museums/chernobyl/|Chernobyl disaster|Chernobyl disaster]] was the worst radiation accident in history. It led to the evacuation of the nearby town of Pripyat (where the photo of the abandoned Ferris wheel, above, was taken), 56 deaths, and a large increase in cancer deaths among the most highly exposed people. Ultimately a 30-kilometer exclusion zone was created around the reactor, and the population within the zone was ordered to leave. More than 350,000 people had to be relocated.
Radioactive fallout from the reactor fire contaminated a wide area. The radioactive plume spread across Belarus and on to Finland and Sweden, across northern Europe and into North America. Today, around 5 million people live in parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia affected by radioactive fallout.
It is possible to visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on specially organized tours.
Photo courtesy of [[xref:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pripyat_Ferris_wheel_2009.jpg|Matti Paavonen, Wikimedia Commons|Matti Paavonen, Wikimedia Commons]].