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| Splitting more than hairs|
"Chernobyl" (Чернобыль) is the Russian form of the name, while "Chornobyl" (Чорно́биль) is the Ukrainian one. At the time of the accident, Russian was the dominant language due to its status as a lingua franca of the Soviet sphere of influence, so most writings related to the accident use the Russian transliteration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian language was declared the official language of Ukraine, and so "Chornobyl" is more correct when referring to the present-day deserted town. Another common spelling is "Tschernobyl," which is used in German.
The Chernobyl disaster is remembered as the most devastating nuclear accident to have ever occurred, and is often used as fuel for the anti-nuclear movement. Presented here is a short summary, for more details see the Wikipedia article.
On 26 April 1986, as a result of a poorly thought-out experiment, Reactor #4 suffered an uncontrolled power surge. The pressure tubes of the reactor exploded, exposing to the air the melting fuel and the graphite moderator, which caught fire. Both the initial explosion and the consequent fire released 50 tons of radioactive particles into the atmosphere that eventually spread outside of the USSR, releasing 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima Bomb. Over the next six months 200 tonnes of radioactive material were sealed inside a 300,000-tonne shelter made from steel and concrete called the sarcophagus resulting in the deaths of 30 workers.
30 years later the previous containment structure was falling apart. 300 metres away from the reactor, where radiation levels are low enough for builders they constructed two halves of a giant steel arch taller than Big Ben mounted on two concrete runways, slid together the largest structure ever moved across land at 36,000 tons, sealing the previous containment facility within it. Inside the dome are attached two giant robotic cranes with ventilation and control systems that began the many years long dismantling of the reactor in what is easily the most impressive crane game in history. 
There is some controversy over the exact
causes placement of blame. The direct cause of the explosion was the experiment that the reactor operators attempted to conduct — cooling the reactor using the kinetic energy of the turbine rotors after an emergency shutdown. The underlying cause of the explosion was the poor design of the reactor (inserting the control rods initially intensified the nuclear reaction instead of halting it) and the power plant itself (there was no containment building around each reactor which allowed the fire to spread the particles into the atmosphere).
As a result of graphite fire, radioactive particles were spread around the globe, which is how the world found out — glasnost having not really taken off yet. The first official account of a minor problem was doubted when increased levels of radiation caused an alarm at the Forsmark nuclear power plant in Sweden.
Firefighters and other first responders were not fully aware of the danger they were in: although they were trained on the dangers of radiation and how to deal with radiological emergencies, as would be expected from a resident fire brigade at a nuclear power station, they did not at first realize the full extent of the accident — most of them assumed it was a turbine explosion or a small fire. 237 emergency workers suffered from acute radiation poisoning and of them 28 died in less than 3 months.
The "atomic city" of Pripyat (population about 50,000) that housed the power plant employees and the nearby regional capital of Chernobyl (population of 15 000) were evacuated. It is often said that personal belongings were left in the city until being looted recently, but this is not true. The residents were allowed to collect their things in an organized manner once the area was decontaminated. Only large low-value objects were left, such as beds. However, almost nothing was taken from public buildings such as the hospital.
Nowadays, the remnants of the reactor are covered with a steel structure officially called "Object Shelter" but commonly known as the "sarcophagus." A popular misconception is that the sarcophagus is made from concrete. Actually, only the "stairs" on the north side are concrete, and the rest is assembled from steel elements resting on large steel support beams. The plates are not welded to the beams, as this was impossible due to high radiation. An exclusion zone has been established around the Chernobyl plant, where settlement and all economic activity is forbidden. There were three more reactors at the site which continued to be operated for some time after the accident. The last one was shut down in 2000.
The consensus report of the Chernobyl Forum, a collaboration of 8 UN agencies and the governments of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, projects the disaster will eventually cause a total of 4,000 additional cancer fatalities, and suggests that psychological impacts caused by fear of radiation combined with inappropriate emergency response were a bigger cause of suffering than radiation itself. This conclusion is extremely at odds with the worldview of anti-nuclear activists, who often attack the report and single out the World Health Organization from the collaborating agencies for alleged collusion with the nuclear industry or the IAEA. Several alternative "counter-reports" were also published.
“”And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
|—Revelation 8:10-11, KJV|
Certain Christians and other woo supporters who would know better if they looked things up outside the Bible claim that "Chornobyl" is Ukrainian for "wormwood." This is to fit the disaster into the Revelation of John, a series of hallucinations claimed to be a prophecy of the end times.
While "wormwood" may refer to any plant in the genus Artemisia the word used in the Book of Revelation (αψίνθιον, apsinthion, or άψινθος, apsinthos) most probably refers to absinthe wormwood, Artemisia absinthium. "Chornobyl" (literally "black plant" or "black grass") is Ukrainian for mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), a plant different from wormwood both in appearance and symbolism.
The wormwood claim was first made by one Serge Schmemann in the New York Times a few months after the disaster, citing "a prominent Russian writer" — who, curiously, has never come forward since, or been named by Schmemann. Funny, that.
- Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment
- Fear of radiation
- Fukushima I
- WHO-IAEA conspiracy
- Chernobyl Nuclear Accident Government Documents - CIA, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Congressional, GAO, and Foreign Press Monitoring Files
- Hilliont Chernobyl - photo gallery including shots from inside the sarcophagus and from its construction
- Chernobyl's arch: Sealing off a radioactive sarcophagus - on the New Safe Confinement
- At Chernobyl, Hints of Nature’s Adaptation, The New York Times
- Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl - footage today of Pripyat and Chernobyl, taken by a drone.
- A few hundred, actually. Have pity for them.
- Inside Chernobyl's Mega Tomb, American Experience
- Forsmark: how Sweden alerted the world about the danger of the Chernobyl disaster, European Parliament
- Photos from the construction of the "sarcophagus"
- Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident, WHO
- See the Wikipedia article on The Other Report on Chernobyl.
- An example
- Absinthe. liquid.org. Retrieved on 6 January 2016.
- Look for чорнобиль here
- Discussion on "Above Top Secret"
- Chernobyl: a documentary story, by Yurii Shcherbak, (ISBN 0312030975) makes extensive mention of the 'wormwood' meaning of chernobyl, and though the book has a 1989 copyright date (New York: St. Martin's Press), that does not necessarily mean it had not been published, or otherwise circulated, earlier in the Soviet Union. This could, plausibly, be the "prominent Russian writer" Schmemann refers to. (However, though the book makes extensive mention of wormwood, it makes no reference at all to the Bible -- and if Schemann had known the work in question and cared about intellectual probity, he would presumably have provided an actual citation.)