Publish Date: May 12, 1986
Cover Story: Deadly Meltdown
How TIME Covered the News: When a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine suffered a spontaneous meltdown and later exploded, the Soviet government attempted to keep the accident quiet. But as lethal radiation started to waft over the other side of the Iron Curtain, alarms were raised and the true scope of the nuclear disaster spread widespread panic.
“For the Soviet Union, the consequences of Chernobyl could be devastating. Anywhere from two to 2,000 people near the plant were reported to have been killed by causes ranging from the initial blast to lethal radiation, and tens of thousands may have been evacuated from the endangered region. Meanwhile, radioactive gases and particles have spread over a vast section of the Soviet breadbasket in the Ukraine, and water supplies for the more than 6 million inhabitants of the Kiev area are threatened with contamination. Milk from local cows will probably be tainted for months to come.”