Chernobyl - Site of the World's Worst Nuclear Disaster
Chernobyl Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
September 7th, 2008 – by: Nige820
The carnage that ensued was the result of a culmination of factors, including a design flaw in the type of RBMK reactor at Chernobyl, operational errors and safety procedures which were at best not adhered to and at worst totally ignored. What resulted was a power surge, which in turn led to a massive escape of steam triggering a full-blown nuclear explosion. At 1:26 on the morning of 26th April, 1986, the reactorâs 500-tonne top was breached by a huge fireball discharging nine tonnes of radioactive material into the atmosphere, more than ninety times the amount released in the Hiroshima bomb. The deadly radiation cloud, rich in Cesium-137 and strontium-90, was blown north and west over the next few days, falling patchily over Kiev, but mainly Belarus. In typical Soviet style, the problem was not reported and May Day celebrations continued on the streets of the Ukrainian capital and, terrifyingly, in the impossibly dangerous Chernobyl area, in particular the Soviet model town of Pripyat, within spitting distance of the stricken reactor.
For too many, by this time it was too late; two people had been killed in the accident itself, but 29 brave firemen were sent in to extinguish the blaze and had neither knowledge of or protection from what they were dealing with. Each had perished horribly and agonisingly within six weeks. Some 135,000 souls were evacuated âtemporarilyâ from Pripyat without any belongings; they have never been able to return.
The long term effects of the disaster are still being evaluated. The most obvious impact has been a massive increase in cases of thyroid cancer in young children, mainly due to the fact that their cells are still dividing and, as they grow, their bodies absorb radioctive substances which mimic essential calcium.
Furthermore, some 35,000 square kilometres of forest have been contaminated, leading to unacceptably high radiation levels in meat, milk, vegetables and fruit. The most dangerous foodstuffs are berries and mushrooms. Silt carried down the Dnipro river is highly radioactive, although itâs almost impossible to measure constant levels precisely. Birth defects, suicides and deaths from heart disease and alcoholism are exceptionally high, and by 2015 it is estimated the âaccidentâ will have cost the economy in excess of $200 billion.
It was as late as the year 2000 that the last working reactor at Chernobyl, number 3, was finally decommissioned and shut down.
In the intervening years, some 350 ardent locals have moved back into the zone, preferring to take their chances with the silent, unseen spectre of radiation than face life in the crowded tenements they had relocated to. They grow and eat contaminated food in contaminated land, and drink contaminated water, yet they not only survive but thrive. It is almost as much of a phenomenon as the flourishing wildlife inhabiting this unlikely natural haven, almost completely reclaimed by mother nature.
Our visit to this abandoned land wasnât the easiest trip in the world to organise, but we finally got things arranged through CAM travel company, but it was necessary to arrange an international transfer of the funds in US dollars. We nearly lost our booking, however, when CAM had to pay $48 in fees to their receiving bank and therefore didnât reserve our places because âthe money was not enoughâ. Given that weâd already sent across almost $700, this was more than a little irritating; all they had to do was ask. But, fortunately, we are clairvoyant and did send that last minute email the week before the tour, just to make sure everything was alright. A little knowledge is a wonderful thing.
The day arrived, and Sergei our driver arrived in his rather battered white volkswagen minibus nice and prompt at only twenty minutes late.
A few minutes prior to the first checkpoint, we collected Dennis, our guide for the day. A fairly laid-back chap in his late twenties, he was well used to the daily grind of life in the exclusion zones; he makes the trip around sixteen times a month, getting a thorough health check every June: âso far, so good,â he told us.
Before long we were having our passports examined by the officials at that first checkpoint. This was it then - we were inside the 30 kilometre exclusion zone; no going back now.
Once on the road again, a surprise stop was at the Chernobyl village store. âWe donât stop for lunch until 2.
After a brief stop at the âghost villageâ - the only one razed completely to the ground in an experiment to stop the spread of radiation - it was onward to the infamous reactor itself, complete with decaying concrete sarcophagus desperately hanging on to its belly full of lethal radioactive left-overs until the new steel structure can be built alongside it and slid into place in 2009.
Unstable it may be, but this sarcophagus is still worth its weight in gold to the surrounding regions. A pause on the way afforded us the opportunity to throw chunks of bread to the two metre catfish, thriving happily in the reactorâs cooling pond; the plethora of flora and fauna which abound throughout all three exclusions zones provide testimony to the fact that this apocalyptic nuclear disaster was not universally cataclysmic in its effect. Itâs an ill windâŚ
Leaving the destroyed reactor in our wake, we next fetched up at the deserted town of Pripyat. Built in 1970, this settlement was created purely for population by the Chernobyl work force and their families.
One more stop gave us a glimpse of the boat graveyard, littered with vessels far too radioactive to serve, languishing away in their rusty, skeletal state. These were boats that would never sail again.
After a delicious four course lunch at the Chernobyl Interinform, it was back on the road again, through both checkpoints and on to the decontamination chamber, a unit specifically set up to read our radiation levels before leaving the zone. Cleared by officials, all that remained was the ninety minute journey back to Kiev. What a way to spend a Sunday.
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