Faces of Chernobyl: A Blighted Future?

4.18_FE0216_Chernobyl_04
A destroyed school in the ghost town of Smersk, in an area where the radioactive fallout was greater than in Chernobyl itself. Stefan Boness/Ipon/Panos

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, a catastrophe at the then-Soviet nuclear power plants that saw vast amounts of radioactive particles leaked into the atmosphere, blighting the surrounding area of Ukraine, Belarus and parts of Russia.

While the tragedy highlighted the dangers of nuclear power to both people and the environment, it is increasingly being used across the globe, and as of 2016 provides 11 percent of the world's electricity.

For those living in the areas affected by the Chernobyl disaster, two recent events have raised fears that a similar nuclear accident could happen again. The first is the Fukushima disaster in 2011, whereby an earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami caused equipment failure that led to three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant and the release of radioactive material into both the surrounding areas of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.

The tragedy shocked the world and once again showed the dangers of nuclear power. In response, Japan shut down its remaining power plants, although some reactors have been restarted intermittently since. There was no such response in the then U.S.S.R. to the Chernobyl disaster, and even today in independent Ukraine four nuclear power stations continue to operate.

Fears of another Chernobyl occurring have been raised by a second major event in recent times, that of the war in eastern Ukraine. The conflict between the military and pro-Russian separatists began in the east of the country two years ago in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Two years on, international monitors have warned of increasing violence in eastern Ukraine, with U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond noting in March that pro-Russian rebels continue to violate the extended ceasefire agreement that was agreed on February 12.

This marks the first time in history that an armed conflict is taking place in a country using nuclear power. While Chernobyl and Fukushima were caused by human error and a natural disaster respectively, there are now fears that the armed conflict being so close to two of Ukraine's power plants, South Ukraine and Zaporizhzhya, could trigger another nuclear disaster in the country.

Faces of Chernobyl: A Blighted Future? | World