Explaining the Chernobyl situation in Ukraine

PRIPYAT, Ukraine– Radiation monitors inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone spiked on Thursday as Russian troops invaded Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian parliament and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Exclusion Zone covers hundreds of square miles in northern Ukraine and southern Belarus where one prong of the Russian attack began. Reports came on Thursday that Russia had captured the damaged nuclear power plant near the abandoned community of Pripyat.

The Chernobyl power plant was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history. Part of the plant exploded in April 1986 when a reactor test got out of control. For days radioactive materials were spread by the wind across Europe and then the world. The fallout would heavily impact most of Eastern Europe as well as the Scandinavian countries.

Chernobyl Fallout Categorized

The aftermath is still being felt today. The damaged reactor is encased in a containment building while the Exclusion Zone remains mostly abandoned because of radioactive contamination that will last for thousands of years.

The radiation spike on February 24 is believed to be because of military equipment kicking up contaminated dirt and dust around the power plant, acc Ukraine officials. However, there is no way to verify this information with the Exclusion Zone being occupied.

Radiation levels near the power plant rose to around 65 microsieverts per hour. That’s equal to about three chest x-rays. Humans are exposed to radiation all the time, called background radiation. If someone were to stay in the Chernobyl plant area at those readings, they would get a full year’s worth of radiation in two and a half days. It would take four days to reach the level of one CT scan.


This spike in radiation is not extremely dangerous, but it is something that many people will be monitoring as the Ukraine crisis continues. The IAEA says there hasn’t been damage in the Chernobyl area and that safe and secure operations of the containment facility there are of “vital importance.”

ABC News continues to track the war in Ukraine as the battle for the capital of Kyiv unfolds.

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