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The Chernobyl nuclear power plant three days after the explosion on April 26 1986.SHONE/GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
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A warning sign on a barbed wire fence on the outskirts of the Chernobyl Militarized Zone.Flickr/zoriah
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A team of human liquidators prepares to clear radioactive debris off the roof of number 4 reactor, throwing it on the ground where it will later be covered by a concrete sarcophagus. They must only work in increments of 60 seconds.Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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An abandoned kindergarten near Chernobyl. Flickr/_spy_
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A liquidator from a chemical specialist unit measures radiation inside an abandoned house in Tatsenki village, within the 30 km "no-go" zone.Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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At Moscow's No. 6 clinic, which specializes in the treatment of radiation victims, a liquidator is examined by a doctor in a sterile, air-conditioned room after an operation. Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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Bumper cars at a fair rust away in the ghost town of Pripyat, after it was evacuated following the Chernobyl disaster.Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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With radioactivity spreading across Ukraine and Belarus, the population was evacuated with little time to prepare.Anatoli Kliashchuk/Sygma via Getty Images
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Ukraine's Narodichi district (pictured) is one of the most contaminated areas outside the forbidden zone.
Despite high radiation levels, some families preferred to remain and eke out a living on the land, perhaps through lack of resources to begin life elsewhere.
For many years, this woman lived completely abandoned, without access to electricity, shops or healthcare. Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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Thousands of contaminated vehicles used in the cleanup operations on the Chernobyl site have to be buried in trenches after a short period because metal absorbs radiation. Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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Part of the village of Sviatsk lies in ruins after it was destroyed by liquidators.
A forgotten doll sits in the window of an abandoned home, a favorite spot for children to place their treasured possessions. Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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An abandoned village shows no form of life in the 30 km forbidden zone. Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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Family photos lie in an abandoned house within the "no-go" cordon around Chernobyl.
The evacuations were carried out quickly, and their inhabitants, not knowing where they were moving to, often left framed photos behind. Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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A man wearing a gas mask takes a sample from the ground to measure the radioactivity. 1986.Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images
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A man waits in an irradiated zone in the Chernobyl area.Anatoli Kliashchuk/Sygma via Getty Images
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The entrance gate to the Chernobyl reactor zone. In the background, the concrete sarcophagus of disaster reactor number 4. Flickr/lord_yo
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Few people know that there was a second Chernobyl explosion on October 11 , 1991, in the turbine hall of reactor 2. The roof was blown off, but there was no leak.
Igor Kostin/Sygma via Getty Images
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Men inspecting the inside of the sarcophagus containing the unit 4 reactor, March 1991. Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images
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A pair of pink shoes discarded on the landing of an abandoned tower block in Pripyat. November, 1995. Martin Godwin/Getty Images
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Five-year-old Anya Petrushkova, who was diagnosed with lymphosarcoma, stands behind four-year-old Andrey Sabirov on August 20, 1996, at the Gomel Regional Clinical Hospital in Belarus. Andrey has been diagnosed with leukemia.
Many of the children were curable, but the hospitals lacked the medicine and supplies needed to help them. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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This Pripyat park had once been many local children's favorite place to play. This photo was taken on the ten-year anniversary of the explosion, April 26, 1996. AFP/Getty Images
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A file photo from 1998 shows control panels of the destroyed 4th power block at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. GENIA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images
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A view of a classroom as it stood in 2003 in the ghost town of Pripyat. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
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A photo titled "Welcome to Chernobyl" taken in 2016.Flickr/wendelinjacober
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Through the last 20 years, wildlife and plants have been able to successfully adapt to the radiation levels around Chernobyl. Flickr/kyletaylor
These Photos Of Abandoned Chernobyl Remind Us Of The Fragility And Resilience Of Life
Just before its meltdown in 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant served as a decent proxy for the state of the Soviet Union: The isolated plant used outdated, Soviet-era reactors with few safety features — it was only a matter of time before it faltered entirely.
And on April 26, that's precisely what happened. Reactor number four became unstable when running at a low power, and the subsequent chain reaction ended in a giant steam explosion. With a reactor core now exposed to the atmosphere, radiation spilled into the surrounding towns.
In its wake, 115,000 locals evacuated from the plant's surrounding areas. The Soviet government relocated another 220,000 people shortly after.
Chernobyl burned for ten days. The nearby population blamed radiation poisoning for a spate of health issues, and subsequent reports backed their claims up. For instance, a 1995 United Nations (UN) report stated that the disaster caused a 100-percent increase in cancer and leukemia in children.
The uptick in radiation-related cancer seemed to abate over time, though of course it is difficult to determine exact causality between disease and a single event.
That aside, by the year 2000, the World Nuclear Association noted that apart from an increase in thyroid cancers, the UN no longer attributed other area health consequences to lingering radiation.
These days, Chernobyl continues to serve as a site of significant popular and scientific interest. NASA, for instance, has taken to study the organisms that survived Chernobyl in hopes of developing a radiation blocker for astronauts. Studying these fungi and other organisms, NASA says, could eventually help scientists learn to grow crops on other planets as well.
Meanwhile, some reports have circulated that Chernobyl may be transformed into a solar farm. In political decision-making circles, critics still point to the Chernobyl disaster when questions of nuclear power are brought to the fore as a way to provide cheap energy to a consistently growing global population.
The photos above remind us just how fragile life — regardless of the ideologies or technologies that vow to protect or enhance it — really is.