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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 26, 1986

It's time for the final Tuesday Timeline in April, and I have to say that coming up in the next week, I'll be starting a celebration for the fifth anniversary of this blog.  I can't reveal too much about what I will be doing right now, but it will legitimately be a throwback to the past - right down to the look of this blog itself!  Stay tuned for more.  I'll make the changes the end of April.

For now, it's the 26th of April, and we've got quite a bit to talk about.  But as always we'll talk about the historical events of the day that didn't quite warrant a full discussion.

1564 - William Shakespeare is baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England

1721 - Tabriz, Iran is completely destroyed by an earthquake

1777 - Sixteen-year-old Sibyl Ludington rides 40 miles to warn American colonial forces of the approach of the British

1803 - Thousands of meteor shards fall from the skies over France, convincing European scientists that meteors exist

1865 - John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed by Union cavalry troopers

1923 - The Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon get married at Westminister Abbey

1933 - The Gestapo is established in Nazi Germany

1943 - The Easter Riots commence in Uppsala, Sweden

1954 - The Geneva Conference begins

1962 - NASA's Ranger 4 crashes into the face of the Moon

1965 - Rioting causes a Rolling Stones concert in Toronto to be shut down after just fifteen minutes!

1981 - Dr. Michael R. Harrison becomes the first doctor to perform a human open fetal surgery in the world

1989 - Comedy legend Lucille Ball dies at the age of 77

1991 - "General Hospital" actress Emily McLaughlin passes away, aged 62

1994 - China Airlines Flight 140 crashes at a Japanese airport - only seven passengers survive

1999 - British journalist Jill Dando is gunned down outside of her home in London - Dando was just thirty-seven at the time of her death

2013 - Country legend George Jones passes away at the age of 81

2015 - Actress Jayne Meadows dies at the age of 95

And birthday wishes go out to the following famous faces - I.M. Pei, Mac Martin, Carol Burnett, Duane Eddy, Giorgio Moroder, Claudine Clark, Bobby Rydell, Gary Wright, Nancy Lenahan, Koo Stark, Giancarlo Esposito, John Corabi, Roger Taylor, Joan Chen, Michael Damian, Debra Wilson, Jet Li, Susannah Harker, Kevin James, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Curtis Jones, Kate Hardie, Melania Trump, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Jay DeMarcus, Geoff Blum, Ivana Milicevic, Tom Welling, Avant, Stana KaticJason Earles, Tyler Labine, Jordana Brewster, Channing Tatum, Marnette Patterson, Jon Lee, and Jessica Lynch.

Certainly a long list of celebrity birthdays, huh?

Okay, so I've kept you waiting long enough.  Let's take this Tuesday Timeline back in time to the year that Peter Gabriel released "Sledgehammer", Sigourney Weaver battled aliens once more, and a quartet of "Designing Women" spread their Southern charm to CBS viewers.

We're going back thirty years to April 26, 1986.  And for several people in the vicinity of the Soviet Union at that time, it is a date that they will never forget as long as they live.

You see, on this date was an event that was so shocking and so devastating that it killed hundreds of people, displaced thousands more, rendered an entire portion of the world uninhabitable, and put fear into the hearts of many people who questioned the safety of using nuclear power.

Can you believe that it has been thirty years since the Chernobyl Disaster?  I can hardly believe it myself.  I mean, I was just a few weeks shy of my fifth birthday, so I wasn't able to process just how devastating this was.  The only clue as to how it might have gone down may have been similar to a music video released by the band Ultravox in 1984.

Okay, so the Chernobyl reactor didn't completely melt down.  But something happened within the walls of the power plant, located within the city of Pripyat which at the time was part of the Soviet Union - it is now considered a part of the Ukraine since the Soviet Union folded in 1991.

The events of Saturday, April 26, 1986 began quite normally.  A systems test had been scheduled for that morning just after one o'clock at the power plant's #4 reactor and it was slated to be just like all of the others that had been performed since the power plant became operational in 1977.  There was one incident that occurred in September 1982 when a partial core meltdown occurred in Reactor #1, but the reactor was fixed and fully operational by 1983.  However, only those who worked at the plant that day knew what had happened, as the 1982 incident was never made public until years later.  I can only imagine that had more people known, perhaps the incident in April 1986 might never have happened.

When the test was set to begin, everything in Reactor #4 was business as usual - at least, that is until something unexpected happened.  Too much electrical power was being used and that energy caused a massive power surge.  Recognizing the dangers of a power surge, engineers at the power plant tried everything they could to reduce the amount of power that was being used, even triggering an emergency shutdown of the whole reactor.  Unfortunately, that shutdown made the problem much worse, and the power surge intensified.

The resulting power surges caused a series of steam explosions, and ruptured the reactor vessel which caused the reactor to ignite into flames.  The fire shot out clouds of smoke that were filled with highly toxic radioactive particles, and the clouds covered much of the Soviet Union area, with some clouds drifting over as far as Scandinavia!

The hardest hit areas of the disaster were Russia, the Ukraine, and especially Belarus - where it is estimated that 60% of the nuclear fallout landed there.

At least thirty-one people died instantly at the Chernobyl plant.  It's unclear as to what the official death toll is from the incident, as that number continues to climb, but the facts are quite sobering.

Between 1986 and 2001, it was estimated that close to 350,000 people in the Chernobyl area were forced to relocate to areas that were not highly contaminated from the radiation.  Further statistics indicate that since 1986, the rate of cancer has increased among citizens of Europe with the 2006 TORCH report stating that a prediction of up to 60,000 people will lose their lives prematurely as a direct result of the Chernobyl disaster.

Now certainly the world has done its best to try and help those who were the most affected by the disaster.  I know that since the late 1980s, my town has hosted a "Children of Chernobyl" exchange program where kids from the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were hosted by a local family so that they could have the chance to experience life that was free of radiation.  I have no idea if the program is still a go, but I can tell you that so many children had positive experiences during the years the program went on.

And interestingly enough, even though the land around the reactor is uninhabitable by humans, there have been some instances in which tourists have been allowed to visit the area - provided that they don't come too close to certain areas that are still covered in radiation.  And over the last thirty years, while the human population has decreased in that area, the animal population has increased and seems to be thriving. 

But don't take that news lightly.  The 1986 Chernobyl Disaster made the land unsafe for humans to stay for a significant period of time.  It's said that the radiation won't dissipate until at least fifty years from the time of the accident.  And in some areas, it may never fully disappear.  It's certainly a monument to the worst case scenario for sure.

Perhaps no place best describes that feeling than the once prosperous city of Pripyat.  Once home to fifty thousand people, the population is now zero.  The city left abandoned for thirty years.  In some ways, it serves as a time capsule to what life was like back in the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, as children's toys, books, medical equipment, and Soviet propaganda still decorates the walls of the now decaying schools, hospitals, businesses, and residences within.  A ferris wheel sits rusting having never been used - the Pripyat Amusement Park was set to open in May 1986 - but as we all know, that grand opening never came, as every citizen of Pripyat had to evacuate the city by the 27th of April.

I can only imagine the frustration, fear, and horror the people of Pripyat had to face that day.  

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