Chernobyl nuclear disaster 31 years later

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The world's worst nuclear accident occurred in the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, when the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in what was then the Soviet Union. At least 30 people were killed directly, but some reports project more than 9,000 deaths related to Chernobyl radiation -- and other groups put the number 10 times higher. Millions of people were left living on contaminated land.

Thirty-one years later, see recent photos of the site and surrounding area -- now in Ukraine -- and images from anniversary commemorations. Present-day Belarus and Russia were also affected by the fallout.

Widows hold portraits of their beloved as they
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

Widows hold portraits of their beloved as they stand at the memorial for Chernobyl victims in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 26, 2017, the 31st anniversary of the nuclear power plant explosion. Their husbands died following cleanup efforts after the 1986 catastrophe.

Ukrainians light candles at the memorial for Chernobyl
(Credit: AP / Sergei Chuzavkov)

Ukrainians light candles at the memorial for Chernobyl victims in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 26, 2017, the 31st anniversary of the 1986 nuclear catastrophe.

Demonstrators in Minsk, Belarus, mark the 31st anniversary
(Credit: AP)

Demonstrators in Minsk, Belarus, mark the 31st anniversary of Ukraine's Chernobyl disaster on April 26, 2017. About 400 people marched in the capital city to also protest the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus.

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A broken clock hangs on a wall in
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

A broken clock hangs on a wall in a school in the deserted town of Pripyat, nearly 2 miles from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, on April 5, 2017.

On April 26, 1986, the world's worst civilian nuclear incident occurred when workers at the power plant inadvertently caused a meltdown in the No. 4 reactor, causing it to explode and send a toxic cocktail of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. Soviet authorities did not report the explosion for two days -- until after winds had carried the fallout across Europe, and Swedish experts went public with their concerns.

A central square in the deserted town of
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

A central square in the deserted town of Pripyat, nearly 2 miles from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, is seen on April 5, 2017. Once home to some 50,000 people whose lives were connected to the nuclear power plant, Pripyat was hastily evacuated one day after a reactor at the plant exploded on April 26, 1986. The explosion and subsequent fire spewed a radioactive plume over much of northern Europe.

In this photo taken April 5, 2017, a
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

In this photo taken April 5, 2017, a decrepit piano stands in a school in the deserted town of Pripyat, nearly 2 miles from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The Chernobyl explosion was only about 60 miles from photographer Efrem Lukatsky's home, but he didn't learn about it until the next morning from a neighbor. Only a few photographers were allowed to cover the destroyed reactor and desperate cleanup efforts, and all of them paid for it with their health. Lukatsky went a few months later, and has returned dozens of times.

A room in a dilapidated building, part of
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

A room in a dilapidated building, part of a school in the deserted town of Pripyat, Ukraine, is seen on April 5, 2017. It is near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Journalists take a selfie in front of the
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

Journalists take a selfie in front of the monument of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 5, 2017.

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People take pictures following a ceremony to mark
(Credit: Getty Images / Brendan Hoffman)

People take pictures following a ceremony to mark the movement of the New Safe Confinement sarcophagus over the destroyed No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on Nov. 29, 2016.

A worker explains a structure of an arch-shaped
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

A worker explains a structure of an arch-shaped enclosure in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on Nov. 29, 2016. The gargantuan arch-shaped enclosure has begun slowly moving toward the exploded Chernobyl nuclear reactor, in what represents a significant step toward liquidating the remains of the world's worst nuclear accident.

Candles and flowers left by people commemorating the
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

Candles and flowers left by people commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster lie at a memorial to 27 men and three women who died during or in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Slavutych, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant inadvertently caused a meltdown in the No. 4 reactor, causing it to explode and send a toxic cocktail of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere in the world's worst civilian nuclear incident. Soviet authorities did not report the explosion for two days, until after winds had carried the fallout across Europe, and Swedish experts went public with their concerns.

The fallout spread in plumes across the globe, covering much of Europe and reaching as far as Japan. Today large swaths in Ukraine and Belarus remain too contaminated for human habitation, and strong evidence points to ongoing adverse health impacts for people in the larger region. Slavutych is a new city built after the accident for the workers of the plant and their families. It replaced the worker town of Pripyat, which was contaminated with high levels of fallout and had to be abandoned.

Women hold portraits of their lost husbands near
(Credit: EPA / Sergey Dolzhenko)

Women hold portraits of their lost husbands near a monument honoring people who were killed during cleanup efforts after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster at a memorial ceremony in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

Former
(Credit: Getty Images / Anatolii Stepanov)

Former "liquidators" of the Chernobyl nuclear accident attend a commemoration ceremony at the Chernobyl victims' memorial in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. About 600,000 liquidators were sent in to fight the fire and clean up the worst of the nuclear plant's contamination. They were all exposed to elevated radiation levels.

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in front of the
(Credit: AP / Sergei Chuzavkov)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in front of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, gives a speech to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster on Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko bows after placing flowers
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko bows after placing flowers at a memorial to plant workers who died as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident on the 30th anniversary of the disaster, outside the Chernobyl nuclear plant on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Ukraine.

Ukrainians light candles near the memorial for
(Credit: EPA / Sergey Dolzhenko)

Ukrainians light candles near the memorial for "liquidators" who died during cleanup work after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster during a ceremony in Slavutich, Ukraine, some 118 miles north of the capital Kiev, on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. In the early hours of April 26, 1986, the Unit 4 reactor at the Chernobyl power station blew apart. Facing nuclear disaster on an unprecedented scale, Soviet authorities tried to contain the situation by sending thousands of ill-equipped men into a radioactive maelstrom.

Candles set in the shape of a radiation
(Credit: Getty Images / Genya Savilov)

Candles set in the shape of a radiation hazard symbol on a square next to the monument to Chernobyl victims in Slavutich, Ukraine, some 30 miles from the accident site, and where many of the power station's personnel used to live, during a memorial ceremony on Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

An elderly woman cries on her son's gravestone
(Credit: EPA / Sergei Ilnitsky)

An elderly woman cries on her son's gravestone during the commemorative ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's No. 4 reactor at the Mitino cemetery in Moscow on Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

A Russian man with flowers reflects at the
(Credit: EPA / Sergei Ilnitsky)

A Russian man with flowers reflects at the gravestone of his father during the commemorative ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's No. 4 reactor at the Mitino cemetery in Moscow on Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

Flowers lay on the gravestone of Nikolay Titenuk,
(Credit: EPA / Sergei Ilnitsky)

Flowers lay on the gravestone of Nikolay Titenuk, who died while fighting a fire at a nuclear reactor, during the commemorative ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's No. 4 reactor at the Mitino cemetery in Moscow on Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

Opposition supporters march carrying a banner reading
(Credit: AP / Sergei Grits)

Opposition supporters march carrying a banner reading "Respect nature, respect Belarus" to commemorate Chernobyl nuclear disaster victims in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Commemorative events were held Tuesday outside the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine as well as in Belarus and Russia, which also suffered from the fallout.

Horses wait to be fed at a farm
(Credit: AP / Sergei Grits)

Horses wait to be fed at a farm in the village of Vorotets, on land just 25 miles north of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, on April 11, 2016. A reactor explosion and fire on April 26, 1986, belched a cloud of smoke infested with radioactive particles over much of northern Europe.

Paralympian Oksana Masters prepares her hand cycle during
(Credit: AP / P. Solomon Banda)

Paralympian Oksana Masters prepares her hand cycle during training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., on April 12, 2016. Masters was adopted out of a Ukrainian orphanage by an American woman nearly two decades ago. The malnourished Masters had birth defects believed to be from the aftermath of Chernobyl. On the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, she can't help but think about how far she's traveled.

Graffiti on an abandoned building in the deserted
(Credit: EPA / Roman Pilipey)

Graffiti on an abandoned building in the deserted city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine on Friday, April 22, 2016.

A crucifix and a radiation sign at the
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

A crucifix and a radiation sign at the entrance to the out-of-bounds town of Pripyat, close to the Chernobyl nuclear power station, seen through a bus window on March 23, 2016.

Abandoned apartment buildings in Pripyat, Ukraine, with a
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

Abandoned apartment buildings in Pripyat, Ukraine, with a gigantic arch-shape confinement to cover the remnants of the exploded reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on March 23, 2016.

A view of Pripyat, Ukraine, on Friday, April
(Credit: EPA / Roman Pilipey)

A view of Pripyat, Ukraine, on Friday, April 22, 2016. The explosion of Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the early hours of April 26, 1986, is regarded as the worst accident in the history of nuclear power generation.

A general view of the deserted city of
(Credit: EPA / Roman Pilipey)

A general view of the deserted city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine on Friday, April 22, 2016.

Visitors walk in the ghost town of Pripyat
(Credit: Getty Images / Genya Savilov)

Visitors walk in the ghost town of Pripyat near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine on Friday, April 22, 2016.

Workers employed at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

Workers employed at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant return by train from a shift on April 8, 2016, in Slavutych, Ukraine. Slavutych is a new town built in the years after the 1986 Chernobyl accident to replace Pripyat, the town that had previously housed Chernobyl workers and their families and was abandoned due to radioactive contamination from the accident. The Chernobyl plant, which houses three reactors that continued to operate after the accident, is in a long-term decommissioning process and still employs about 3,000 people.

Storage of the nuclear waste taken from the
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

Storage of the nuclear waste taken from the fourth unit damaged by the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine seen on March 23, 2016. Thirty years after the world's worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is surrounded by both a hushed desolation and clangorous activity, the sense of a ruined past and a difficult future.

Viktoria Vetrov's sons Bogdan, left, and Kolya eat
(Credit: AP / Mstyslav Chernov)

Viktoria Vetrov's sons Bogdan, left, and Kolya eat at home in Zalyshany, 32 miles southwest of the destroyed reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, on April 5, 2016. Viktoria Vetrov, a 37-year-old housewife, keeps two cows to help feed her four children. One of her children, 8-year-old Bogdan, suffers from an enlarged thyroid, and Vetrov suspects it's caused by contaminated food.

A radiation dosimeter shows slightly increased levels in
(Credit: AP / Mstyslav Chernov)

A radiation dosimeter shows slightly increased levels in an abandoned cow farm near Zalyshany, Ukraine, on April 7, 2016. Zalyshany, 32 miles southwest of the destroyed Chernobyl reactor, is classified in the fourth radiation zone -- not contaminated enough for resettlement, but eligible for subsidies to help with health issues.

Olesya Petrova, 9, attends school in Zalyshany, 32
(Credit: AP / Mstyslav Chernov)

Olesya Petrova, 9, attends school in Zalyshany, 32 miles southwest of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine, on April 5, 2016. Olesya hungrily awaits the coming of warm weather, when she can scour the woodlands outside her village for berries and other goodies that can help make up for her canceled school lunch program. But the forest treats carry an invisible danger: Her village is in one of the sections of Ukraine contaminated by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion.

In this photo taken on April 5, 2016,
(Credit: AP / Mstyslav Chernov)

In this photo taken on April 5, 2016, Natalya Vetrova, 1, sleeps holding a bottle with fresh cow milk at home in Zalyshany, 32 miles southwest of the destroyed reactor of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine. Her village is in one of the sections of Ukraine contaminated by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion.

Volodimir Goluga, 61, who suffers from a bone
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

Volodimir Goluga, 61, who suffers from a bone marrow condition as well as cardiac issues, sits on his hospital bed in the hematological ward at the National Research Center for Radiation Medicine, a hospital and research institute established after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, on April 7, 2016, in Kiev, Ukraine. Goluga was a soldier in the Soviet Army and spent six months participating in cleanup and decontamination efforts at Chernobyl following the 1986 explosion at the No. 4 reactor.

Artur Vlasenko, 27, who is applying for a
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

Artur Vlasenko, 27, who is applying for a job at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, undergoes an initial screening for radiation levels in his body at the National Research Center for Radiation Medicine, a hospital and research institute established after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, on April 7, 2016, in Kiev, Ukraine. The Chernobyl plant, which houses not just the stricken No. 4 reactor but three other reactors that continued to operate after the accident, is in a long-term decommissioning process and still employs about 3,000 people. The April 26, 1986, accident at Chernobyl became the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster and spewed a cocktail of radioactive fallout across the globe.

A memorial to technicians who died during and
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

A memorial to technicians who died during and in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident stands on April 8, 2016, in Slavutych, Ukraine. Slavutych is a new town built in the years after the Chernobyl accident to replace Pripyat, the town that had previously housed Chernobyl workers and their families and was abandoned due to radioactive contamination from the accident.

A worker renovates a memorial to technicians who
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

A worker renovates a memorial to technicians who died during and in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident on April 8, 2016, in Slavutych, Ukraine. Slavutych is a new town built in the years after the Chernobyl accident to replace Pripyat, the town that had previously housed Chernobyl workers and their families and was abandoned due to radioactive contamination from the accident.

The names of villages in the Krasnopolsky region
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

The names of villages in the Krasnopolsky region evacuated after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster stand on one of many plaques outside a church dedicated to the victims of the disaster on April 3, 2016, in Minsk, Belarus. Though Chernobyl lies in Ukraine, much of the fallout from the accident fell onto Belarus, contaminating much of the country. Hundreds of villages were evacuated and razed, and thousands of people were resettled. Today about 20 percent of the country remains contaminated to varying degrees with radiation, especially caesium-137, but also strontium-90 and plutonium.

A photo taken March 23, 2016, shows a
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

A photo taken March 23, 2016, shows a monument to workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant who died in the 1986 catastrophe, at the entrance to the plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

Medals for his service belonging to Anatoliy Gubarev,
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

Medals for his service belonging to Anatoliy Gubarev, 56, a former Chernobyl "liquidator," lie displayed on his desk at the small Chernobyl museum on March 31, 2016, in Kharkov, Ukraine. Gubarev, then a factory worker in Kharkov, was drafted and after five days of crash training was sent as a fireman to Chernobyl, where he arrived two weeks after the April 26, 1986, explosion that sent plumes of radioactive particles across the globe in the world's worst nuclear accident. Gubarev says he helped to lay firehoses inside corridors of the burning reactor building where radiation levels reached up to 600 roentgens and that he and his colleagues worked in teams that were never supposed to stay inside the most-heavily irradiated areas for more than five minutes. He recalls afterward how colleagues vomited and collapsed. In 1991 he underwent treatment for subcutaneous sarcoma, a type of cancer, that included 16 lesions on his left leg, and last year he was operated on for a tumor on his right kidney.

A calendar from the fateful year 1986 lies
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

A calendar from the fateful year 1986 lies on the floor of a former hospital on April 9, 2016, in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat, built in the 1970s as a model Soviet city to house the workers and families of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, now stands abandoned inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a restricted area contaminated by radiation from the April 26, 1986, meltdown of the No. 4 reactor at the nearby Chernobyl plant. Authorities evacuated all 45,000 residents from Pripyat in the days following the disaster and the city, with its high-rise apartment buildings, hospital, shops, schools, restaurants, cultural center and sports facilities, has remained a ghost town ever since. Today tour operators bring tourists in small groups to explore certain portions of the exclusion zone.

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 23, 2016,
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 23, 2016, portraits of Soviet leaders are covered by radioactive dust in a club in the dead town of Pripyat, near Chernobyl in Ukraine. The portraits were prepared for a May Day rally in Pripyat -- the town that housed the Chernobyl nuclear power plant workers -- but the residents were evacuated within hours after the radioactive explosion in the No. 4 reactor on April 26, 1986.

This photo taken Wednesday, March 23, 2016, shows
(Credit: AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

This photo taken Wednesday, March 23, 2016, shows abandoned apartment buildings in the town of Pripyat near Chernobyl, Ukraine, with a chimney, left, at the destroyed reactor and a gigantic arch-shape confinement to cover the remnants of the exploded reactor, in the back, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Thirty years after the world's worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is surrounded by both a hushed desolation and clangorous activity, the sense of a ruined past and a difficult future.

Graffiti of a little girl is seen in
(Credit: EPA / Roman Pilipey)

Graffiti of a little girl is seen in an abandoned building in the deserted city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine, on Friday, April 22, 2016.

Toys and a gas mask are seen in
(Credit: EPA / Roman Pilipey)

Toys and a gas mask are seen in a former kindergarten in the deserted city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, on Friday, April 22, 2016. The explosion of Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the early hours of April 26, 1986, is still regarded as the biggest accident in the history of nuclear power generation. An estimated 47,000 people of the city of Pripyat were evacuated after the explosion in 1986.

Toys with gas masks sit on bed frames
(Credit: EPA / Roman Pilipey)

Toys with gas masks sit on bed frames in a former kindergarten in the deserted city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine on Friday, April 22, 2016.

Children's shoes are seen in a kindergarten in
(Credit: EPA / Roman Pilipey)

Children's shoes are seen in a kindergarten in the deserted city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine on Friday, April 22, 2016.

A stairwell stands in abandoned elementary school No.
(Credit: Getty Images / Sean Gallup)

A stairwell stands in abandoned elementary school No. 5 on April 9, 2016, in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat, built in the 1970s as a model Soviet city to house the workers and families of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, now stands abandoned inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a restricted zone contaminated by radiation from the 1986 meltdown of the No. 4 reactor at the nearby Chernobyl plant in the world's worst civilian nuclear accident.

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