The ill-fated Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant in the north of Ukraine. On 26 April 1986, an unauthorised system test went horribly wrong and resulted in a “meltdown” and fire. A plume of radioactive material exploded into the surrounding countryside, and onto the nearby city of Pripyat. The fires were attended immediately by the local fire fighters who were unaware of the hazardous environment. All died within a few days/weeks from acute radiation sickness.
The reactor was encased in a concrete sarcophagus to contain the remaining material and limit the radiation leakage. This was due to last for 20 years. At my visit in May 2008 – 22 years after – the original sarcophagus remains in place. Radiation levels in the local area continue to rise with some areas significantly exceeding safe levels.
The nearby city of Pripyat, with a population of 60,000, was based on the communist ideal of having the workers near to the place of work with all necessary amenities – this was a model city and was used as a showcase for Soviet communism.
They did not start the evacuation of Pripyat until the following day – in order to speed the process up, people were told only to take their basic belongings with them as they would be allowed to return in 3 days. They never returned – Pripyat remains completely untouched to this day.
Books and papers in the school library scattered and windswept – so tempting to take a souvenir, but each and every book has been irradiated to a level which would would fail the radiation checks on the exit from the exclusion zone…
I was privileged to have had the opportunity to visit this unique place and witness and experience its eerie lifelessness. Walking through this post-apocalyptic world where you could easily imagine and “hear” the children playing and the general noise of life illustrated through the discarded and decaying remains. Nature is painstakingly and inexorably reclaiming the land, and will, over time, remove all visible signs of human habitation. Sadly, it will never be able to deal with the invisible radiation that will penetrate all life, and disturb and mutate its genetic structure for millions of years to come. The long-term impact on the human population is largely unknown.