The Ukrainian government has declared a state of emergency at the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster

Pro-Russian separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic sit atop a self-propelled gun during the Victory Day parade in Donetsk on May 9, 2015. Tanks and rocket systems rolled through the rebel bastion of Donetsk in east Ukraine on May 9 as pro-Russian insurgents celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Soviet win over Nazi Germany in WWII. Imitating a vast military parade being held simultaneously in Moscow, some 1,500 separatist fighters marched through the rebel-held city clutching red Soviet flags and portraits of Stalin. AFP PHOTO / ALEKSEY FILIPPOV

The site still contains radioactive debris, which the world has worked to contain in the 36 years since the disaster. Conflict between Ukrainian and Russian forces near Chernobyl raised fears that the site might be disturbed.

Russian troops seized the nuclear power plant today, according to reports from officials, including Ukrainian presidential advisor mykhailo podolyak.

‘this is one of the most serious threats in Europe today,’ podolyak said. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement that the Ukraine regulatory body reported’no casualties nor destruction at the industrial site’.

The Verge spoke with experts on nuclear policy and the Chernobyl disaster. A worst-case scenario is unlikely, but ongoing conflict in Ukraine makes this sensitive location difficult to manage.

About 50 people died in the following two decades as a result of the incident, according to a 2005 United Nations report. That reactor failed during a test run – releasing radioactive particles in the subsequent explosion and fire.

New safe confinement arch was just completed in 2017 at a cost of $ 1.7 billion. Workers can remotely operate a crane and other equipment inside to dismantle the rest of the reactor and remove radioactive fuel.

If that gets damaged, it could stir up remaining radioactive material that might release radioactive emissions. That would take a direct hit – either on accident or through a concentrated effort to damage the structure.

Three other decommissioned reactors at Chernobyl continued operating after the 1986 disaster. Used fuel from those reactors is more radioactive than what’s been sequestered inside the giant confinement arch. To date, there has never been a serious accident involving spent fuel anywhere.

Dry storage facilities do n’t require water cooling. Steel or cement casks inside house materials that have already had some time to cool off in wet pools.

If they’re broken, they can release radioactive material. Though they’re not designed to withstand attacks, they are extremely strong and robust.

In an accidental strike, it would still be unlikely that the cooling pools or casks would be catastrophically damaged. Even then, there would be some time to react – potentially dousing the exposed fuel with water to keep it cool.

Much of the area surrounding Chernobyl is desolate, with very few people who might be affected by any smaller-scale event. The region was evacuated in the wake of the 1986 disaster and remains a cordoned off exclusion zone.

There is still radioactive material in the debris, soil, and leaf litter around the power plant. rofer says that radioactive material has decayed to the point where it’s not immediately dangerous.

Disturbances, human or natural, defy the purpose of the containment zone. It was engineered to keep people away from the area’s radioactivity.

Smoke from fires that ripped through the Chernobyl exclusion zone carried slightly radioactive particles across parts of East and Central Europe. Brown remains concerned about future fires and other disturbances that could spread radioactivity outside the exclusion zone.

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