Today in History: April 26

Reactor number four exploded at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (at the time a part of the USSR) on this date 30 years ago.

Officially, 41 deaths are attributed to the explosion and its immediate effects, most of them reactor employees who were not firefighters, some of whom knowingly sacrificed their own lives and health as they attempted to manage the radioactive fire in and near the reactor, or direct water towards it. Many local firefighters also died of acute radiation poisoning within days or weeks, as they may not have known or were not told about the unique hazards at a radioactive accident.

It remains the worst nuclear accident on the planet and the first to reach a Level 7 Event classification (Fukushima was the second accident to acquire that distinction). Almost a half-million people were displaced from the region over the next 15 years. Much of the eastern portion of Western Europe received some contamination from the disaster.

The metal-and-concrete structure that was built at the time to contain the escaping radiation was not built to last this long and even almost collapsed a few years ago, which would have been a second nuclear disaster at the former plant. A giant new metal sarcophagus, an arch, is under construction that is slated to last a century. It will be 350 feet tall and will be moved into place over the melting remains of the reactor after it is completed, which will make it the largest object ever moved on the planet.

* * * *
John Wilkes Booth, who had shot President Abraham Lincoln on April 14 and then led Union soldiers on a manhunt to apprehend him for almost two weeks, was located, shot, and killed at a farmhouse in Virginia on this date in 1865. There had been a $50K bounty on his head.

* * * *
Frederick Law Olmsted was born on this date in 1822. Hack Wilson was born on this date in 1900. Bernard Malamud was born 102 years ago today.

* * * *
I. M. Pei is 99 today. The architect has been designing buildings since the 1940s and his most recent building projects were constructed in his 90s.

Carol Burnett is 83 today. Duane Eddy is 78 today. Giorgio Moroder is 76. “Right Here, Right Now”:

Jet Li is 53. Kevin James is 51. Channing Tatum is 36.

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