Good evening wonderful people of the world!!!!
Today the Xbox “achievement unlocked” light of my life plinked again. Today Twizzles and I visited Chernobyl and Pripyat.
I suppose I should give you a brief background of this place, for those of you who have missed this bit of history. During the late 60s, early 70s the Soviet Union was building nuclear power stations to power the massive empire they had. In northern Ukraine sat a small city by the name of Чорнобиль or to give it it’s improper name Chornobyl which we spell Chernobyl. They built a massive power station with two reactors some 18km away from the city and didn’t waste anytime building more. With four reactors it was 3rd biggest in the world. The Soviets were going for 12 to make it the biggest globally. Now as they needed somewhere to house the many workers and their families, so in 1970 the city of Припять (Pripyat) was founded. This city was to become the jewel of the Soviet crown.. The so called Atomograd (atomic city) was fresh, vibrant and lively, I was said that in the Soviet Union there were only two places you could buy Chanel No5 perfume: Moscow and Pripyat. On 25/04/86 at 0123 a build up of pressure in number 4 reactor caused a massive steam explosion that blew off the top of the whole building with the force of 100 Hiroshima atom bombs. A simple safety test had become the worlds worst nuclear disaster. A deadly cloud of radioactive fallout spread north with the wind soon reaching Sweden and Finland. Firefighters tackling the blaze had reported tasting metal in their mouths as they fought a fire they had no idea was so dangerous. After a few hours all of them were suffering advanced radiation sickness.
The people of Pripyat slept on.
The next day, in Sweden, a researcher at a nuclear facility arrived at work and went through a normal scan. It was showing as ‘contaminated’ so he called a tech who scanned him and the equipment wasn’t faulty, he was indeed contaminated. This broke the story the soviets had tried to conceal. The world knew and they had to respond, the city of Pripyat had to be evacuated, the citizens heard this announcement across the city
“For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 pm each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you. The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order. All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Comrades, leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation.”
So on 27/04/86 1300 busses and 3 trains took the people away from their beautiful city, never to return.
On 19/08/2013, 9977 days since the city was abandoned, Twizzles and I saw it for ourselves.
At the first checkpoint you had your passport checked out by the guards who look like they mean business, the other thing you notice is the silence (and barbed wire) it was like being back at Auschwitz. We drove onwards down a massive highway which was devoid of… Everything. This was the start of the 30km exclusion zone. We first came to the city of Chernobyl, this place is actually quite lively, people who used to live here have returned to their homes and restarted their lives. There is a monument to Chernobyl here and a representation of the exclusion zones. A candle holder marks the spot of each lost village and more striking was the rows of village name boards, all 94 wiped off the map because of the disaster. All the water pipes here are carried above ground rather than below making rather odd squared off archways over roads and sidewalks. We stopped next at the remains of an old village kindergarten in the village of Копачі (Kopachi). The village is almost gone but there were a few radioactive hotspots here which made the Geiger counters start shrieking warning bells with readings of 20uSv/h (when you consider, background radiation in downtown Kiev was 0.14uSv/h it makes you think). The kindergarten was littered with bunk beds for nap time and scattered toys and books everywhere. It was the first real evidence of what had happened here. The other thing which you notice is how much nature has fought back. The building was less than 10 metres from the road and yet you could barely see it. Onwards to the power station itself.
Setting eyes on it for the first time was quite special but when we found out that the last reactor was finally shut down in 2003, it’s hardly surprising to find the admin buildings still very much in use as part of the close down and clean up operations. We stopped to feed the famous catfish. Famous because of their massive sizes, not, as everyone assumes, due to mutation but because catfish grow their whole lives and when left alone will reach 9-10 feet in length.
We drove around to the back of the power station where we could see the new sarcophagus being built and up close and personal with reactor number 4. Our Geiger counters all woke up at once and began screaming again, this close to the reactor we were getting doses of 5-6uSv/h which means you would get your whole days dose in one hour. We arrived at the right time too because in autumn the well known chimney tower will be removed to make way for the new arched sarcophagus. After pictures we moved on to Pripyat. Oh I should tell you about the memorial statue here, it’s such thick granite that when you put the counter behind it it drops down to normal levels. The staff are fond of this statue because it protects them.
When we arrived in Pripyat you have to ask “where is it?” The main road into town looks like a barely used forest track but then, from out of the trees you begin to see apartment blocks staring like shy children from behind the trees, street lamps, long since broken, faded and peeling street signs, this truly was a dead city.
We came to the famous fair ground, despite a few people with dodgy ‘conspiracy theories’ (why?) that fairground has never worked, it still stands silently awaiting children who will never come. As I stood below the Ferris wheel, I realised that the wait was truly worth it, here I stood below this iconic landmark, I wanted to call someone back home and tell them (yes, you do get phone signal there) so I called the first person i thought of; Mikey whom I work with, (Mike, I know you are reading this, you have to call me when you get there yourself ;-) ) as I know he holds a wish to stand where I stood today.
Walking around, you can see what happens when nature goes unchecked; the city is full of trees and birds. Nature has reclaimed Pripyat (only a shame I couldn’t eat the apples, they looked so nice). A slow walk around central square past the hotel and city hall brought us back to the mini bus and the journey home. But not before a meal in the workers canteen in Chernobyl town, a traditional meal of fish, beetroot soup and stuffed peppers rounded off one amazing day.
This is one adventure you should try, be fair warned, it’s not for the faint of heart… When those Geiger counters are screaming at you and your just standing in the open or when you hold them up to a patch of moss by the palace of culture and off they go again, you get a sense of the true nature of how terrible this disaster was. As you walk the clink clink clink of the counters is a constant reminder of why “50,000 people used to live in this city, now it’s a ghost town”