It happened 24 years ago tomorrow, on 26 April 1986.
I was 21 at the time, and still remember it clearly. The news came slowly; nothing was said from Soviet Union and the alarm spread just because a radioactive clud was spreading apparently coming from Scandinavian countries. Probably a leak from some Northern nuclear plants, it was suggested. But soon it became clear it was something immensely worse. News kept arriving slowly, day by day, together with more and more stricter safety measures for the population...
Northern Italy was hit rather badly. Winds kept the radioactive cloud rolling over our country for what seemed ages...I remember how we became familiar with concepts such as Becquerel and half-life of radiactions; how rare chemical elements hardly ever heard before became common topics of conversation...In the evening TV news would give us the level of radiations much like the same way as the weather forecasts, with the suggestion of not to spend much time out unless it was necessary. We learned to beware of a whole new category of dangers: from lettuce and spinaches, (extremely radioactive!), to milk and its derivates, who could be trusted only when produced before the accident. Fishing in Northern Italy lakes was forbidden, as well as eating fish coming from those areas.
A funny memory...I remember that at Christmas 1986 no moss could be found in shops for making cribs, as it was all radioactive and forbidden to use.
But of course, this is nothing compared to what people in the area of the accident had to suffer. And it is nothing compared to what would have happened to Europe if firemen and volounteers hadn't managed to stop the fire in reactor no.4 and prevent it to reach the other three reactors of the nuclear plant. All those who were in the first squad died within a few weeks; most of the others in the following months. A few of them are remembered here (the page is in Russian but Google makes miracles with translations), others are mentioned in Svetlana Alexievich's wondeful and terrible book 'Voices from Chernobyl ' ...Most of them, as usual, will remain unknown. Yet it's thanks to all of them that for most of us living in Europe tomorrow will be just another ordinary day, and that Chernobyl is just a fading memory of an old accident.
This video was produced by the UN last year and made available on YouTube... I find it rather sad that only about 5000 people have watched it. It doesn't show the horrors of the accident, the helicopter crashing, the malformed children...It's about reconstruction, and think it's the best way we have to commemorate the day.