Ask Us!
University of Washington Libraries

Chernobyl, The destroyed Russian Nuclear Reactor

Explore Collection

Before arriving at the Sarcophagus

On April 26th. 1986, there was an explosion in a nuclear power plant in the then, Soviet Union. This collection tells the story of the Chernobyl reactor accident, seen through the eyes of Professor William Zoller, an atmospheric chemist, invited by the United Nations to examine the site. The accident is rated a level 7 event, top of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event scale. As of 2016, there has been only been one other such event, the accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant, which many scientist don’t feel the compares.1 The Chernobyl accident released a great deal of radiation into the atmosphere and the worldwide environmental impacts are still being felt and studied.2

The story began with a call to Dr. Zoller from the Los Alamos Nuclear laboratory, where Dr. Zoller, was a consultant. The call told him to go to Los Alamos immediately. Upon arriving at Los Alamos, an auto was waiting to take him to the High Security Nuclear Chemistry Laboratory where he was told that a nuclear reactor had been destroyed by an explosion in the Ukraine and radioactive debris was traveling across Russia and headed toward the Pacific Ocean.

This story began with a call to Dr. Zoller from the Los Alamos Nuclear laboratory, where he was a consultant. The call told him to go to Los Alamos immediately. Upon arriving at Los Alamos, an auto was waiting to take him to the High Security Nuclear Chemistry Laboratory where he was told that a nuclear reactor had been destroyed by an explosion in the Ukraine and radioactive debris was traveling across Russia and headed toward the Pacific Ocean.

Dr. Zoller was asked by the International Atomic Energy Agency to travel to the damaged reactor and visit the site for the United Nations. The trip there and what was seen at the site are discussed, along with the details from the Russian report to the United Nations.

The collection includes data collected from samples from the pacific by Professor Robert Duce of the University of Rhode Island, the director of the SEREX project, which was collecting Atmospheric Aerosol samples at Island in the Pacific Ocean along with samples, collected by students, from the highest building on the University of Washington Campus, the Atmospheric Sciences building.

UW Emeritus professor, William Zoller, a consultant with the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories conducted this work while at the University of Washington.

About this Database

Images for this collection were provided from slides taken and/or produced by Professor William Zoller. They were initially used to support a series of talks he gave to various groups and organizations, including at the Pentagon. Prof. Zoller was a longtime participant in the American Chemical Society Speakers Bureau. The slides were scanned by the students and staff of the UW Chemistry Library using a Hewlett-Packard Scanjet ADF and saved in .jpg format. The scanned images were then linked with descriptive data using CONTENTdm software.


  1. Fukushima: As bad as Chernobyl? BBC 12 April 2011 Richard Black
  2. ENVIRONMENTAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE CHERNOBYL ACCIDENT AND THEIR REMEDIATION: TWENTY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE Report of the Chernobyl Forum Expert Group ‘Environment’, Radiological Assessment Report Series, http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1239_web.pdf

Back to top

Follow Us:

Twitter Flickr