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The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is one of the most radioactive places in the world. On April 26, 1986, a disastrous meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine (in the former USSR) led to two enormous explosions that blew the 2,000-ton (1,800 metric tons) lid off one of the plant’s reactors, blanketing the region with reactor debris and its radioactive fuel. The explosion released into the atmosphere 400 times more radiation than was produced by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and nuclear fallout rained down far and wide across Europe, according to a report by the European Parliament

On May 2, 1986, a Soviet commission officially declared an off-limits area around the disaster and called it the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The zone includes an area of roughly 1,040 square miles (2,700 square kilometer) around the 18.6 mile (30 km) radius of the plant; the area was considered the most severely irradiated environment and was cordoned off to anyone but government officials and scientists, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. By April 27 (the day after the explosion), officials had already evacuated the nearby city of Pripyat, but fresh orders in May were given to evacuate everyone who remained within the exclusion zone. Over the following weeks and months, around 116,000 people would be relocated from inside the exclusion zone. This number continued to grow, reaching a total of around 200,000 people before the end of the evacuation, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Related: 5 Weird things you didn’t know about Chernobyl

The Chernobyl reactor after the explosion on April 26, 1986. (Image credit: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, during the first year of its existence, the 18.6 mile (30 km) mile exclusion zone was further split into three distinct regions:

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