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Published: October 6th 2007
Bright eyed and bushy tailed we weren't this morning. We went to bed slightly later than we intended so getting Rob out of bed was a bit of a chore.
We were picked up outside St Petersburg hotel at nine. An American man called Irwin came along which wasn't terrible because it did make the price cheaper. The drive to Chernobyl was pretty bad. It took almost an hour to get out of Kiev and our guide drove like a true Ukranian. Forget being ill from radiation, I was surprised we made it there in one piece and without a single scratch on the car.
First impression of Chernobyl was that we could have been entering a national park because it was so green and tranquil. The checkpoint for entering the 30km zone was rather easy, and less traumatic than most border crossings. Despite knowing that you aren't allowed to take pictures at checkpoints, both Rob and Irwin took a couple.
Tour Chernobyl has a centre inside the town of Chernobyl where we first arrived. The town of Chernobyl is actually a populated town within the 30km exclusion zone. Most of the inhabitants live there in dormitories in
15 day shifts. Mostly we saw people in military uniforms but we were told that a lot of scientists/ engineers/ ecologists lived there as well. It used to be a town no one had heard of with a high Jewish concentration. During soviet rule jews were not allowed to farm and so it was just a trading town.
Once we arrived steph latched on to 3 radiated kittens who thoroughly enjoyed the attention; one of whom was only weeks old. Once we teared her away from them we went inside the building and prepared for an introduction; steph washed her hands and then wondered whether the water was safe. In the introduction it was explained how even after reactor 4 had exploded reactor 1 and reactor 3 (which is in the same building) were still in use and only decommisioned in 1996 and 2000 respectively. Although reactors 5 and 6, which were in the final stages of being built during the accident, were left untouched and unfinished. It was also explained how Prypiat was created to house workers for the plant in 1970 (population 50,000) and had to be evacuated after the accident in 1986. A town was built
to the east of the plant to replace the contaminated Prypiat, this was conveniently on a trainline so workers could get to and from the plant. The position was also chosen because of how the fallout fell; first to the southwest and the blew northwest of that position, this placed the town in the closest safe area. When ukraine gained its independence the town ended up being in ukraine but part of the trainline went through Belarus causing a few problems. He also told us how the vehicle graveyard, an area where all the contaminated vehicles were parked, has since been sold off for scrap as metal prices in russia have risen so much!
From the centre we drove to the site of the power station. On the way we passed a second checkpoint immediately outside Chernobyl to mark the 10km zone. From here we followed a road through trees and countryside, over a river and obviously alongside massive power cables. On the way there were mounds with little signs with the radioactive symbol on, these were from where a village used to be; it was demolished and buried to reduce the radioactivity of the area although it was
not covered with clay so the mounds remain highly radioactive.
The power plant was visable from quite a distance and was striking against its backdrop. The road in took us first past a french companies attempt at making a spent fuel storage facility; it was never used as important factors were overlooked such as the temperature change and cracks formed in it before it was finished! Not the best thing for highly radioactive material! The next thing we saw were the reactors 5 and 6 still with the construction cranes around them.
The famous reactor 4 was massive. We parked about 300m away and the whole structure was very clear but it was hard to distinguish the concrete sarcophagus from the building. A new metal frame was on the western wall to stop it collapsing; this structure was only completed within the last few weeks. Inside a visitor centre a women described all the work that was going on since securing EU funding. The metal structure is a temporary measure to last 15 years until a new sarcophagus can be designed and built as the old one had no design process and was just a hasty attempt to
contain the radiation. The metal structure takes the weight of the roof of the leaning western wall; this was done using giant jacks which lifted the 1000s of tons transferring the weight. A new sarcophagus is being designed by the same french company that designed the problematic spent fuel building and will be made out of metal with cranes inside, the new unit will be sealed unlike the current one.
From the reactor we went to the deserted town of Prypiat, again we needed to cross a checkpoint. This checkpoint was to stop looting, although origionally it was so that residents could go back and collect belongings left during evacuation. We parked up in the main square; the town was created as the model of a soviet town with high rise buildings, theatres, schools, parks etc. The concrete was full of plants and in the sunlight it looked quite pretty. There was an apple tree with heaps of apples at its base with butterflies and wasps buzzing round (incidentally the wasps were massive).
From the square we walked round to a fun fair. There were dodgems, a ferris wheel, swinging boats and a spinning ride, all of which
Monument To The Firefighters
this is an amateur monument made by the firefighters of the local station in Chernobyl
just looked rusty but kind of new. On one of the seats someone had put soft toys; probably just for effect in a picture. Round from the fair ground we went backstage at the local theatre. There where portraits of important soviet leaders amongst the other props. The lighting rig was massive and while we were looking at it we heard the sounds of something watching us; a wolf, bear, boar, who knows.
From the theatre we went to a school which had heaps and heaps of text books all strewn over the floor. One of the strange things about the school was how vandalised it was considering it was a working school and then evacuated. It was interesting to see the school stuck in a time warp still very much inside the Soviet regime. Books were strewn across the floor that encouraged Soviet patriotism and there were posters on the walls picturing military drills such as marching and loading weapons. This was the end of our tour all be it a bit too quickly. We then went back to the radioactive kittens in chernobyl and had our specially imported meal; salad, soup, chicken and rice. It was extremely
The Burried Village
The flags mark where an entire village was buried to reduce the levels of radiation
filling. After it we set off back to kiev.
In kiev we thought we'd go see some of the sights we'd missed and wanted to do before we left. We first went to the golden gate which was once the gateway to Kiev, this was covered with scaffolding and impossible to see. We then went to find the chimera building but we didn't have a map and instead got a chance to see the parts of the city we'd never seen before. (whether we wanted to or not)
After "sightseeing" we went to the internet café to sort a few things out. When we left it was very late so we nipped into McDonalds and got some chips for the walk home. Back at the hotel we hunted cockroaches and went to bed.
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