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Chernobyl, 30 Years Later

A look inside the 'exclusion zone'

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On this day in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, a Ukrainian city in the former Soviet Union. Today, the city is a ghost town, located at the center of the “exclusion zone,” which is still uninhabitable. See Pripyat and a snapshot of the lives affected by the Chernobyl meltdown below. For more information on the accident, click here.

PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 30: In this aerial view an abandoned ferris wheel stands on a public space overgrown with trees in the former city center on September 30, 2015 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat lies only a few kilometers from the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and was built in the 1970s to house the plant's workers and their families. On April 26, 1986, technicians at Chernobyl conducting a test inadvertently caused reactor number four to explode, sending plumes of highly radioactive particles and debris into the atmosphere. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the area, including 43,000 from Pripyat. Today Pripyat is a ghost-town, its apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, hospital, schools, cultural center and sports facilities derelict and its streets overgrown with trees. The city lies in the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl where hot spots of persistently high levels of radiation make the area uninhabitable for thousands of years to come. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
In this aerial view an abandoned ferris wheel stands on a public space overgrown with trees in the former city center on September 30, 2015, in Pripyat, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 29: An assistant holds up a photo showing the city of Pripyat's main square and the "Energetik" cultural center before 1986 at the same site that today is abandoned and overgrown with trees on September 29, 2015 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat lies only a few kilometers from the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and was built in the 1970s to house the plant's workers and their families. On April 26, 1986, technicians at Chernobyl conducting a test inadvertently caused reactor number four to explode, sending plumes of highly radioactive particles and debris into the atmosphere. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the area, including 43,000 from Pripyat. Today Pripyat is a ghost-town, its apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, hospital, schools, cultural center and sports facilities derelict and its streets overgrown with trees. The city lies in the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl where hot spots of persistently high levels of radiation make the area uninhabitable for thousands of years to come. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
An assistant holds up a photo showing the city of Pripyat’s main square and the “Energetik” cultural center before 1986 at the same site that today is abandoned and overgrown with trees on September 29, 2015, in Pripyat, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
PARUSHEV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 30: Marya Kindrativna, 80, sits in the house she shares with her husband Ivan Semenyuk inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on September 30, 2015 in Parushev, Ukraine. Parushev, a village that before 1986 had a population of about 600, lies 13km from the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where in 1986 workers inadvertantly caused reactor number four to explode, creating the worst nuclear accident in history. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people, including the residents of Parushev. Semenyuk and Kindrativna, along with a few other elderly residents, were allowed to return a year later and have lived there ever since. While radiation levels in Parushev are negligible, the village lies in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that covers 2,600 square kilometers and where only a few elderly people have dared to return. Semenyuk grows corn, beets, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes and pumpkins, forages for mushrooms in nearby forests and has a stall with 13 chickens. A bus selling provisions still comes by around once a month, though visits by a medical team to Parushev have ceased. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Marya Kindrativna, 80, sits in the house she shares with her husband Ivan Semenyuk inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on September 30, 2015, in Parushev, Ukraine, which lies 8 miles from the former nuclear power plant. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
CHORNOBYL, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 29: A worker makes a phone call in the control room of reactor number two inside the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant on September 29, 2015 near Chornobyl, Ukraine. The Chernobyl plant is currently undergoing a decades-long decommissioning process of reactors one, two and three, which continued operation for years following the accident at reactor four. On April 26, 1986, technicians at Chernobyl conducting a test inadvertently caused reactor number four, which contained over 200 tons of uranium, to explode, flipping the 1,200 ton lid of the reactor into the air and sending plumes of highly radioactive particles and debris into the atmosphere in a deadly cloud that reached as far as western Europe. 32 people, many of them firemen sent to extinguish the blaze, died within days of the accident, and estimates vary from 4,000 to 200,000 deaths since then that can be attributed to illnesses resulting from Chernobyl's radioactive contamination. Today large portions of the inner and outer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that together cover 2,600 square kilometers remain contaminated. A consortium of western companies is building a movable enclosure called the New Safe Confinement that will cover the reactor remains and its fragile sarcophagus in order to prevent further contamination. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A worker makes a phone call in the control room of reactor number two inside the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant on September 29, 2015, near Chernobyl, Ukraine. The Chernobyl plant is currently undergoing a decades-long decommissioning process of reactors one, two and three, which continued operation for years following the accident at reactor four. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
CHACHERSK, BELARUS - APRIL 04: Elderly women sit next to a traditional house in the village of Pokats on April 4, 2016 near Chachersk, Belarus. Chachersk and Pokats, both located in south-eastern Belarus, are in a zone designated as still contaminated to varying degrees with radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, especially caesium-137. Numerous areas nearby are off-limits to visitors and signs on the edges of forests warn of radiation and urge people not to pick berries and mushrooms. While the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation (UNSCEAR) claims that Chernobyl radiation in the region no longer poses a significant health risk, local physicians and researchers say the ongoing threat is still very real and that a dramatically high rate of children are born with weak immune systems and heart rhythm disorders. According to the Belarus government it currently spends 5% of its annual budget dealing with the consequences of Chernobyl and 20% of arable land in Belarus remains too contaminated for use. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Elderly women sit next to a traditional house in the village of Pokats on April 4, 2016, near Chachersk, Belarus. Chachersk and Pokats, both located in southeastern Belarus, are in a zone designated as still contaminated to varying degrees with radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, especially cesium-137. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 30: Dolls and stuffed animals lie in the "Zlataya ribka" ("Golden little fish") abandoned kindergarten on September 30, 2015 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat lies only a few kilometers from the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and was built in the 1970s to house the plant's workers and their families. On April 26, 1986, technicians at Chernobyl conducting a test inadvertently caused reactor number four to explode, sending plumes of highly radioactive particles and debris into the atmosphere. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the area, including 43,000 from Pripyat. Today Pripyat is a ghost-town, its apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, hospital, schools, cultural center and sports facilities derelict and its streets overgrown with trees. The city lies in the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl where hot spots of persistently high levels of radiation make the area uninhabitable for thousands of years to come. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Dolls and stuffed animals lie in the “Zlataya ribka” (“Golden little fish”) abandoned kindergarten on September 30, 2015, in Pripyat, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 30: Cold War-era gas masks once common in the former Soviet Union lie strewn on the floor in a classroom of abandoned School Number 3 on September 30, 2015 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat lies only a few kilometers from the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and was built in the 1970s to house the plant's workers and their families. On April 26, 1986, technicians at Chernobyl conducting a test inadvertently caused reactor number four to explode, sending plumes of highly radioactive particles and debris into the atmosphere. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the area, including 43,000 from Pripyat. Today Pripyat is a ghost-town, its apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, hospital, schools, cultural center and sports facilities derelict and its streets overgrown with trees. The city lies in the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl where hot spots of persistently high levels of radiation make the area uninhabitable for thousands of years to come. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Cold War-era gas masks once common in the former Soviet Union lie strewn on the floor in a classroom of abandoned School Number 3 on September 30, 2015, in Pripyat, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 29: Bumper cars stand in an abandoned amusement park on September 29, 2015 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat lies only a few kilometers from the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and was built in the 1970s to house the plant's workers and their families. On April 26, 1986, technicians at Chernobyl conducting a test inadvertently caused reactor number four to explode, sending plumes of highly radioactive particles and debris into the atmosphere. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the area, including 43,000 from Pripyat. Today Pripyat is a ghost-town, its apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, hospital, schools, cultural center and sports facilities derelict and its streets overgrown with trees. The city lies in the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl where hot spots of persistently high levels of radiation make the area uninhabitable for thousands of years to come. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Bumper cars stand in an abandoned amusement park on September 29, 2015, in Pripyat, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)