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On the Friday evening of April 25, 1986, the reactor crew at Chernobyl-4, prepared to run a test the next day to see how long the turbines would keep spinning and producing power if the electrical power supply went off line. This was a dangerous test, but it had been done before. As a part of the preparation, they disabled some critical control systems - including the automatic shutdown safety mechanisms.
Shortly after 1:00 AM on April 26, the flow of coolant water dropped and the power began to increase.
Some of the 211 control rods melted and then a second explosion, whose cause is still the subject of disagreement among experts, threw out fragments of the burning radioactive fuel core and allowed air to rush in - igniting several tons of graphite insulating blocks.
Once graphite starts to burn, its almost impossible to extinguish. It took 9 days and 5000 tons of sand, boron, dolomite, clay and lead dropped from helicopters to put it out. The radiation was so intense that many of those brave pilots died.
The causes of the accident are described as a fateful combination of human error and imperfect technology.
Radiation will stay in the Chernobyl area for the next 48.000 years, but humans may begin repopulating the area in about 600 years - give or take three centuries. The experts predict that, by then, the most dangerous elements will have disappeared - or been sufficiently diluted into the rest of the world's air, soil and water.
Radiation can directly interact with a molecule and damage it directly. Because of the abundance of water in the body, radiation is more likely to interact with water.
When DNA is damaged, the harm can be magnified by the cellular machinery. One example of a possible consequence is a cell which loses control over replication-this mutation is better known as cancer. Ionizing radiation is thought to initiate (start), but not promote (help grow) mutations.
Since radiation causes damage to DNA, genetic effects in human populations have long been suspected. Unrepaired or incorrectly repaired chromosonal damage can be passed on to subsequent generations.