26 April 2016

Chernobyl Disaster - 30 years on

On 26th April 1986 at 01:23 in the morning there was a catastrophic nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station (ChNPP) which was then under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Union. It is one of only two level 7 events (the highest classification), with the other of course being Fukushima in 2011.

Chernobyl and the nearby town of Pripyat are situated 70 miles north of Kiev (the capital and largest town in Ukraine). At the time of the disaster Pripyat was home to nearly 50,000 people, all of whom were evacuated after the accident.

There is a 30 km exclusion zone around ChNPP, of which the town of Chernobyl sits 15km inside. This is where the workers (building the new sarcophagus) live and the "hotel" for the tourists is. The background radiation there is only a fraction more than in Kiev, although the general rule is that workers are only allowed to be there for 15 days at a time, before having to vacant the zone for 15 more days until they return.

I call it a hotel as its in the loosest sense of the word. You won't find it on Expedia, and you need to go through a local tour guide to even gain access to the zone. There are just two choices for food, you either eat what they put in front of you, or you don't. However they do have very cheap beer.

The inner zone is 5 km down the road at 10km from ChNPP. Upon leaving both zones you have to go through vehicle and personal radiation checks (although I always get the impression the body scanners are more just for show than actually doing anything).

Inside the 10km zone is where you find ChNPP and Pripyat.

After the "glow in the dark" comments, people normally ask what is the appeal of the place. It's a fascinating place, with nature doing what nature does best without humans to get in the way. Nature at all levels (plants, trees, wildlife) all appear to be thriving. Combine this with the urban decay of the buildings, and you have a photographers paradise, or be it for all the wrong reasons.

On the first trip we were inside the zone for 36 hours and according to our dosimeters were received a dose equivalent to a transatlantic flight and a chest x-ray. That was with us deliberately finding areas of moss on the ground that made the "beeps" go crazy. There are hot-spots of radiation, mostly areas in the direction of the wind on the night of the accident. Needless to say you don't stop in those areas.

There are some excellent documentaries available on Youtube, both of the disaster, the clean up, and more recently about the nature inside the zone.

I've made 3 visits there now, with two more planned for 2016 and I'm going to keep returning until I finally get to see one of the moose that live inside the zone.

Would you like to come with me to the zone?   All of the details are on my website - Photo Experience Days - www.photoexperiencedays.com 

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