The creaking old Ferris wheel sat alone in the old theme park never used, due to open on the same day the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, the worst man-made disaster of all time. The chill in the air sends shivers down your spine as you walk through the abandoned city of Pripyat, with old schools and daycares full of one-eyed dolls and children’s toys.
April 26th marked the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident. Two weeks before the anniversary I visited Chernobyl and the abandoned town of Pripyat, to see the full effects the disaster had on Ukraine and its surrounding regions.
Although the Simpsons had given me a false impression of what a nuclear disaster would look like, and there were no three-eyed fish or five-legged dogs getting around, you could see the full effect this disaster had on the town and just how dangerous nuclear energy can be.
On April 26th, 1986, when Ukraine was under control of the Soviet Union, known as Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union, the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl power plant exploded. The nuclear power plant was testing a safety emergency cooling system when a sudden burst of hot air forced the power plant to emergency shut down. The fire that erupted sent deadly doses of radioactive particles into the air and over the neighboring town of Pripyat. The initial blaze killed one person, and another died in hospitable later that day, but 30 firefighters died a month later from acute radiation disorder and thousands in years to come. It is the worst man-made incident of all time, and one of two nuclear disasters to rate the highest 7 on the disaster scale, the other being the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.
A deadly dose of radiation was spread through the clouds and carried mostly into Belarus then through Western USSR and Eastern Europe, right up to Scandinavia. The Soviet Union tried to initially hide the explosion and the catastrophic nightmare that followed. The town of Pripyat remained oblivious to their sudden exposure to the deadly radioactive energy. It wasn’t until 36 hours after the explosion that the town was finally evacuated, but the public was only told it would be temporary, to ensure there wouldn’t be an outburst of panic. Later, the exclusion zone saw more people being evacuated, a total of 116,000 people in a 30-kilometer radius were relocated due to the disaster.
The rest of the world still remained unaware of the disaster until a nuclear plant in Sweden found their workers had been exposed to larger amounts of radiation that normal on their routine checkup.
For ten days the, reactor released deadly particles of radiation into the air. Miners from Russia were transported to the site to dig a tunnel under the reactor to build a cooling system to try and distingue the fire. A total of 200,000 people from all over the Soviet Union were involved in the cleanup from 1986 to 1987.
The safety and capability of the workers have been questioned for many years since the accident, some claiming that the power plant under the Soviet control wasn’t equipped with the correct safety features. It’s also claimed that the plant’s workers didn’t follow correct protocol for the experiment, and it has been suggested the catastrophic consequences of the accident could have been minimalized.
– propaganda room
– old classroom
An estimation of the number of deaths the incident will cause is extremely difficult to determine, although it is predicted to be around 4,000. About ten young children who lived in the area at the time of the disaster died of thyroid cancers, and many other cancers have been linked to the disaster.
After the area was finally cleaned, visitors were allowed to enter the exclusion zone and visit the reactor and abandoned the town of Pripyat. In 2011, the site was officially declared a tourist attraction, and today attracts around ten thousand tourists a year.
The radiation was so well cleaned up following the accident and for years to follow, that you receive no more radiation than an hour plane flight. I was impressed how close we were aloud to the reactor and able to see the decaying sarcophagus built 30 years ago to contain the radiation.
A new sarcophagus is now currently being built, costing a whopping €2.15 billion. We could see the ginormous container being built when we were there, scheduled to go on at the end of the year. I was really glad to be able to visit the site before this massive container covers the reactor completely from sight, as the decaying concrete really shows the old nuclear plant as it was in 1986.
– old sarcophagus
– new sarcophagus being built to cover the reactor
– one of the most fucked up couple photos ever?
When traveling from Kiev to Chernobyl, we passed through three-safety checkpoints in order to pass through the different exclusion zones. This included showing our passports and walking through the heavily guarded gates. Throughout the exclusion zone, almost 7,000 people still work there, either in construction or as tour guides. Laws have been set in place for their safety and to minimize their exposure to the radiation, and they must work on various schedules of time allowance in the zone.
Driving through the checkpoints and into the exclusion zone I was really surprised to see nothing changed the closer you got to the reactor. I expected to see almost a desert of nothing, no animals, and all wildlife killed off from its heavy exposure to radiation. What I saw instead was a jungle of wildlife, thriving all around. Animals live in the zone, and nature has thrived since the disaster. In the town of Pripyat, nature has slowly reclaimed the abandoned city, taking over the once poster town for the Soviet Union, that will one day be absorbed back into nature.
The first point we stop at is an abandoned childcare. The fallen and the overgrown building still has toilets and rows of cots for the children. Strategically placed dolls with missing eyes and teddies bursting with stuffing are scattered around the building. Whether these are originally from the childcare or placed back after the site was declared a tourist attraction, it is unsure. But they defiantly add to the spookiness the place gives off. Our tour guide held a small device that reads the level of radiation in different spots. It was interesting to see the numbers rise from a normal level to dangerously above 5 and largely avoid these affected areas.
One of the best sights in Pripyat is the old abandoned carnival. An old creaking Ferris wheel sits overgrown with trees and bushes, and bumper cars are left scattered throughout.
Although walking through Chernobyl and Pripyat by a guided tour takes away its scariness and abandoned feeling, it is still one of the best tours I’ve been on, fill with great information. Unofficial tours do take place through the exclusion sight, and adventures (or dumb) tourists have been known to sneak in and camp the night. I think I’ll stick to the safe guided tours when it comes to radioactive camp sights.
Being in the exclusion zone is perfectly safe. The only place with high enough radiation to get acute radiation sickness is inside the Sarcophagus apart from that all around is perfectly safe. Nowadays, up to 1,000 residents have moved back into the 30-kilometer zone, at their own risk.
When we left the exclusion zone we had to be tested to see if we had any radioactive particles on us. This involved stepping through an old steal doorframe, so old it was comical to think it was anything more than a prop. It was similar to the x-ray machines used at airports, placing our hands on the side it scanned our bodies and flashed green for safety for everyone, and we were out of Chernobyl and heading back to Kiev.