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Published: July 16th 2014
The whole reason I came to the Ukraine was to visit Chernobyl. For those of you that don’t know Chernobyl is the worst industrial accident of all time where a nuclear reactor exploded on 26th
of April 1986. The official death toll is 20, 2 workers at the plant and 18 firefighters. However the real number of deaths from exposure to radiation could be as high as 100,000. If your interested in the subject the best documentary I’ve found is called “Battle for Chernobyl.” It’s available on youtube. For some reason the Russian death toll from the accident is listed as 31, not sure from the difference. The number is much lower than is real, for example recently footage has emerged from inside the reactor days after the accident. This was taken by an anonymous KGB agent, he would almost certainly have received a fatal does, yet to this day his day no one knows his name and he is not listed among the dead.
I couldn’t actually believe I was here, with all the trouble they’ve had in the Ukraine I didn’t think I would make it. We headed off at about 9am, we drove for 2 hours to the
first barrier, an exclusion zone 30 kms around the site. We had to have passport checks. We stopped at a kindergarten that had been abandoned. Everything was just left there, it literally looked liked they went out for lunch and never came back. Next we went to the town of Chernobyl, there are about 6000 people who live there today, they are mostly workers who maintain the accident site. Usually people have to have 15 days at the site and 15 off to avoid exposure. There are no children allowed to live there. There are some people who lived there before the accident, who are called resettles, most of them are in their 70s and 80s who wanted to return to their homes. Because the soil is contaminated you’re not allowed to drink ground water, or eat anything from the ground there.
After the accident a major effort was made to clean up the site, if they didn’t do this we would not be able to go there. Even despite their best efforts there are higher than normal levels of radiation. Stone and brick can be decontaminated but wood can’t be, everywhere we went we saw these radiation signs.
That means there are wooden houses buried there. Before 2008 there was a vehicle grave yard with thousands and thousands of helicopters, fire trucks and other military vehicles that were just left there because they were too contaminated. The vehicles were buried in 2008 because people were stealing aircraft parts and selling them on the black market! In the town of Chernobyl the water pipes are above ground, so that if something breaks they don’t need to dig into the ground.
After this we drove to about 300 meters away from reactor four. After the accident, the reactor was covered in a giant sarcophagus. 30 years later this is almost falling apart, there is an international effort to build a new confinement structure that will cover both the reactor and the sarcophagus. One of the reasons I wanted to go now was to see the transition. The new structure will have automatic cranes that will dismantle the old sarcophagus and the reactor. Despite all this the site will be contaminated for 250,000 years!
Following this we drove to the town of Pripyat, this was once home to 45,000 people. A day after the accident the government came in
and evacuated everyone within 3 hours. They were told they could return in three days, 30 years later many have never been back even for a quick visit. Pripyat was considered the place to be in the USSR, it was a small paradise. The town was built specifically to house the workers and their families at the nuclear plant. Today it has just been left, there are trees growing in buildings, buildings are falling down and everything is heavily over grown. It was a very surreal experience; to know this whole town was completely abandoned. Because you can’t see radiation you can’t see the danger. We were not meant to go into the buildings, but our guide allowed us to. I had wanted to see the famous swimming pool so I was very glad to be allowed to go in. We saw the fairground which was meant to open the day after the accident. Today it’s little more than rust.
On the way back we had to have two radiation checks, they take us into a room and turn off the lights if we glow in the dark we have to stay forever if not we’re free to go.
No just kidding, they have machines almost like airport scanners to test for radiation as they don’t want to spread it beyond the exclusion zone. Everyone in the group was given the all clear.
I’m so glad New Zealand is nuclear free after going there, there was a staggering number of deaths attributed to the accident, maybe a cost of 300 billion euros, and counting also it may have been the event that brought down the USSR (that’s probably a good thing).
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