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The Chernobyl Disaster: 25 Years Ago

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The 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is next month. On April 26, 1986, a series of explosions destroyed Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 station and several hundred staff and firefighters tackled a blaze that burned for 10 days and sent a plume of radiation around the world in the worst-ever civil nuclear disaster. More than 50 reactor and emergency workers were killed at the time. Assessing the larger impact on human health remains a difficult task, with estimates of related deaths from cancer ranging from 4,000 to over 200,000. The government of Ukraine indicated early this year that it will lift restrictions on tourism around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, formally opening the scene to visitors. It's expected, meanwhile, that a 20,000-ton steel case called the New Safe Confinement (NSC), designed as a permanent containment structure for the whole plant, will be completed in 2013. [39 photos]

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A military helicopter sprays a decontaminating substance over the region surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power station a few days after its No. 4 reactor's blast, the worst nuclear accident of the 20th century. (STF/AFP/Getty Images)
A military helicopter sprays a decontaminating substance over the region surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power station a few days after its No. 4 reactor's blast, the worst nuclear accident of the 20th century. (STF/AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident, is shown in this May 1986 photo made a few days after the April 26 explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine. In front of the chimney is the destroyed 4th reactor. Behind the chimney and very close to the 4th reactor is the 3rd reactor which was stopped on Dec. 6, 2000. (AP Photo) #
Repairs are carried out on the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine on October 1st, 1986, following a major explosion in April 1986 which, according to official statistics, affected 3,235,984 Ukrainians and sent radioactive clouds all over Europe. (ZUFAROV/AFP/Getty Images) #
Part of the collapsed roof at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, damaged in a fire, is pictured in this photo taken, Friday, Oct. 13, 1991 in Chernobyl, Ukraine during a media tour of the facility. (AP Photo/Efrm Lucasky) #
Lt. Colonel Leonid Telyatnikov, Head of the Pripyat Fire Brigade which fought the Chernobyl blaze, points at a photograph of the power station's damaged fourth reactor following the April 26, 1986 nuclear accident. The reactor has since been entombed in concrete. Telyatnikov, 36, was hospitalized for two months with acute radiation sickness and was twice decorated for bravery. (Reuters) #
Repairs are carried out on the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia on August 5th, 1986. (ZUFAROV/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Kurchatov Nuclear Institute worker walks in the light streaming into the cement-entombed room of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's exploded reactor on Friday, Sept. 15, 1989, three years after the nuclear disaster. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel) #
A worker at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant checks the radiation level in the engine room of the first and second power units in this June 5, 1986 photo. (Reuters) #
A graveyard for vehicles highly contaminated by radiation, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, seen on Nov. 10, 2000. Some 1,350 Soviet military helicopters, buses, bulldozers, tankers, transporters, fire engines and ambulances were used while fighting against the April 26, 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl. All were irradiated during the clean-up operation. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) #
A Kurchatov Nuclear Institute worker stands in the operators room of block number four Chernobyl's nuclear power plant inside the sarcophagus on Friday, Sept. 15, 1989, three years after the nuclear disaster. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel) #
A nurse at a children's health clinic in Warsaw administers an iodine solution to a three-year-old girl held in her mother's arms in Poland, May 1986. Protective measures were taken for possible radiation poisoning from the Soviet nuclear accident in Chernobyl. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) #
Trucks filled with concrete wait for unloading at the construction site of the concrete sarcophagus at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's fourth reactor in this October 1986 file photo. (Reuters) #
Ukrainian Academy of Sciences member Vyacheslav Konovalov holds a preserved mutated colt in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, on Monday, March 11, 1996. Konovalov had been studying biological mutations appearing after Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion. The colt was dubbed "Gorbachev colt" after Konovalov brought a lifesize photo of it to the Supreme Soviet in 1988 to show the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev what Chernobyl was doing the country's wildlife. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) #
A statue of Vladimir Lenin stands in the middle of a small park in the port of Chernobyl near the frozen river of Pripyat on January 29, 2006 in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The Chernobyl Port was abandoned soon after the 1986 Catastrophe. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #
A general view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, April 26, 2006. (Reuters/Mykola Lazarenko)#
A monitor screen of the first power block's control assembly of Chernobyl nuclear power plant displays the unloading of the last atomic fuel from the reactor on November 30th, 2006. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images) #
A raven stretches its wings as it sits on a post inside the 30 km (18 miles) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near the village of Babchin, Belarus on December 23, 2009. The sign reads: "Radiation hazard". (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko) #
Ukrainian school children try on gauze masks as part of a safety drill in a school in Rudniya, just outside the Chernobyl contamination zone, Monday, April 3, 2006. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) #
A view of the Chernobyl nuclear power station is seen from Ukraine's ghost town of Pripyat, April 13, 2006. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #
A Ferris Wheel is seen in the ghost town of Pripyat, which was evacuated after a nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, April 13, 2006. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #
Baby cradles are seen in a hospital in the abandoned town of Pripyat, inside the exclusion zone around the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant Sunday, April 2, 2006. Pripyat, a town of 47,000-people near Chernobyl nuclear power plant, was completely evacuated within days after the accident. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) #
General view of Ukraine's ghost town of Pripyat, April 13, 2006. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #
A guide holds a Geiger counter showing radiation levels 37 times higher than normal as a woman takes a picture in front of the sarcophagus of the destroyed fourth block of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on September 16, 2010. Thousands of people each year visit the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where the world's worst nuclear disaster took place in April 1986, and the 30-km zone around it that remains uninhabited. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images) #
Nastasya Vasilyeva, 67, cries at her home in the devastated village Rudnya in an isolated zone some 45km (28 miles) from Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Monday, April 3, 2006. Dozens of villages in the contaminated zone stand empty, their residents having been evacuated following the world's worst nuclear disaster. However, despite radiation warnings many residents have returned to their homes, saying they had difficulties starting their lives anew in other parts of the country. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev) #
A Ukrainian man with a dog walks in a street in the ghost town of Chernobyl, April 13, 2006. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #
An abandoned house seen in the deserted village Redkovka, some 35 km (22 miles) from Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Thursday, March 30, 2006. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev) #
A wolf stands in a field inside the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near the village of Babchin, Belarus on February 1, 2008. Wildlife in the exclusion zone has been teeming despite radiation, since people left the area around Chernobyl after the 1986 nuclear disaster, keepers of the ecological reserve said. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko) #
A man lights a candle at the Chernobyl victims' monument in Slavutich, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the accident's site, and where many of the power station's personnel used to live, during a memorial ceremony on the night of April 25-26, 2009. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images) #
Pictures of workers who worked at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant immediately after the explosion in 1986 are exhibited in the Chernobyl museum in Kiev April 18, 2006. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #
A close view of reactor number 4 of Chernobyl nuclear power plant in this May 10, 2007 picture, with the Chernobyl Monument, left, erected in 2006. (AP Photo/ Efrem Lukatsky) #
In April of 1996, a worker operates a drilling machine as he makes tests under the sarcophagus, built over the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's fourth reactor which exploded on April 26, 1986 (Reuters) #
In this Nov. 10, 2000 photo, the control room with its damaged machinery, is seen inside reactor No. 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Geiger counters registered about 80,000 microroentgens an hour, 16,000 times the safe limit. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, file) #
An employee of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant walks in the control room of the destroyed 4th block of the plant on February 24, 2011 ahead of the 25th anniversary of the meltdown of reactor number four due to be marked on April 26, 2011. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images) #
Graffiti is seen on a wall of one of the buildings in the ghost city of Pripyat, near Chernobyl nuclear power plant on February 22, 2011. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images) #
An interior view of a building in the abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine February 24, 2011. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #
A man visits his ruined house inside the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Lomysh, southeast of Minsk, Belarus on March 18, 2011. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko) #
Anya Savenok, 9, who was born physically affected due to high radiation according to doctors, plays in her home in the village of Strakholissya, just outside the exclusion zone around the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant April 1, 2006. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A woman passes by a sign on a fire station, displaying the local time, temperature and radioactivity level data, in Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok on March 16, 2011. (Reuters/Yuri Maltsev) #
Vika Chervinska, an eight-year-old Ukrainian girl suffering from cancer waits to receive treatment with her mother at the children's hospital in Kiev Tuesday, April 18, 2006. Greenpeace stated in a 2006 report that more than 90,000 people were likely to die of cancers caused by radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, countering an earlier United Nations report that predicted the death toll would be around 4,000. The differing conclusions underline the contentious uncertainty that remains about the health effects of the world's worst nuclear accident as its 25th anniversary approaches. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) #

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