Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nothing Yellow About It

Seen at a "Chernobyl graveyard" in Pripyat, one of many vehicle graveyards around the Chernobyl/Pripyat area.  This is *not* the main Chernobyl vehicle graveyard, which was declared off-limits in 2008. Apparently vehicles stored at that location were removed by authorities, spread far and wide, wrapped in plastic, and then buried because of persistant problems with people looting the radioactive remains and selling them on the black market.

Burial of radioactive remains is generally not considered a good solution because underground aquifers become subject to radioactive pollution decades earlier than would normally happen.  That's why the remains were wrapped in plastic.

Oh, and yeah.  I'm not color-blind.  The truck obviously is yellow.  In the US, someone is said to be "yellow" if they run from a fight or a confrontation.  The vehicles here obvious did not run from the fight with the Chernobyl disaster.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bus Station, Pripyat

This is the former bus station in Pripyat.  The map on the wall are some of the destinations formerly served by this bus station, most of which are towns that no longer exist.  Well OK, they do exist, but people no longer live there, except in a few cases.

The authorities in the Exclusion Zone can be a bit schizophrenic about which buildings you can enter and which you cannot.  The further you are from the disaster epicenter, the more likely they are to let you enter, even if the building has rotting wood floors.  But the main attraction has always been the buildings in Pripyat.  I've been of the notion for a while that as radioactivity in the area subsides, the danger of buildings falling apart increases.  So I felt I'd better not wait too much longer or all buildings would be off-limits.

So imagine how surprised and disappointed I was when our official government guide said many of the places I really wanted to enter were off-limits.   No entry allowed.  And when I first got off the bus in the center of Pripyat, I really thought I understood why.  There really was more decay and more wreckage then there were in photos I had seen.  But maybe those photos were five or more years old.  I had not been paying attention to dates.  But yet, having read many stories of trips to this area, I had not come across any account of restricted access to buildings in Pripyat.  (The power plant itself, even the three non-affected reactors *are* off-limits without special permission).

The bus station was one of those buildings were entry was permitted.  But as the trip progressed, every one on our trip had made at least one unauthorized entry into a building.  That really is a main attraction of the trip.  While there is still some radioactivity lingering in the buildings, the real danger now is plaster falling off walls, crumbling brick facades, and a lot of rubble and broken glass.  But if you look and step carefully, you'll generally be fine.  If you are not careful, the rubble can do a lot more harm than the radioactivity can.  And rushing in and out to avoid the watchful eye of the government guide doesn't help safety either.

I recently saw photos people took two weeks after we had visited, and it seemed there were a lot more photos taken inside buildings.  Maybe it all depends how determined the government guide is to keep you out, and how determined members of  your group are to get inside.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Ferris Wheel at Pripyat

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This is another one of those photos that have defined Pripyat throughout the years. The story has been told so often that this has taken on an almost mythical dimension. How this Ferris wheel was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986. How the Chernobyl reactor had blown up 5 days earlier. How the city of Pripyat was evacuated 36 hours after Chernobyl blew its top. And how this Ferris wheel had never seen a rider. This story has been told so often that it must be true.

Or is it?

Recently, some photos have surfaced that seem to undermine the truth of what everybody has taken for granted for so long. It seems that at some point, the rides had actually been used, most likely in the 36 hour period between the Chernobyl incident and the evacuation. Town authorities may have opened the Ferris wheel to local residents to keep their minds occupied and to take the focus off the incident at the reactor while they assessed the situation and attempted to develop a plan about what to do next.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Post Office, (Town of) Chernobyl

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The town of Chernobyl is where current administration of the activities of the exclusion zone occur. (except those at the power plant and those related to the construction of the new containment shelter).

The town of Chernobyl was established in 1193 (or there abouts) and early in the 1980's had a population of 13,700.  The current population is 500.  And even those are not full-time residents.  Most people living in the town of Chernobyl are governed by the 15/15 rule.  You can work and reside in the town for 15 days, then you must take 15 days off, which must be done outside the exclusion zone.

The Post Office is open and does things that you would expect a Post Office to do.  The sign in the window also advertises telephone and telegraph services, but performs neither of those these days.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Stairway to Nowhere, Pripyat

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Stairway to the second floor, seen on the outside of a former restaurant in Pripyat.

Having done a lot of reading about this place before visiting, one of the things almost everybody seemed to agree on is that you do not want to step on moss, because for one reason or another, radioactive fallout seems to have an affinity for moss. However, of all the things our official government guide told us, I don't remember her ever mentioning "don't walk on the moss."

She did have a habit of telling the group things on the van, but like many 21 year old women, she was rather soft-spoken and difficult to hear if you sat more than 2 rows away. And she was facing toward the front of the van while speaking.

Mention or no mention, I had read enough that I decided to use caution and step around or over moss whenever possible.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


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The statue of Prometheus at Chernobyl.

This statue used to be located in the town of Pripyat, however, after the accident at the nuclear power plant, Prometheus was relocated onto the site of the power plant.

Maybe they needed to be reminded more often that if you play with fire, you might get burned?

Monday, June 11, 2012

National Opera House, Kiev

Taken early on a Saturday morning.  Hey, how else to take this photo without traffic blocking the view?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pripyat, Established 1970

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This sign marks the entrance to the town of Pripyat, established 1970. It probably ranks as one of the more recognizable spots in the Chernobyl area. Now, it's just a halfway point between the power plant and the center of Pripyat.

The town of Pripyat was designed as a Soviet "model city." Designed from the ground up, it had all the modern conveniences anybody could want. Schools, a hospital, a cultural center, a movie theater, restaurants, a stadium, playgrounds, and an Olympic sized indoor pool. Yet this model city, still under construction and still growing in the mid 1980's, would meet an abrupt end.

Thirty-six hours after the Chernobyl explosion, the city faced a mandatory evacuation. Residents were to gather their papers and essential belongings and board a bus for mandatory evacuation. By necessity, to get people out as quickly as possible, it was necessary to severely restrict the amount of personal belongings they could take with them. They were told they would likely return in three days. Telling people this would be permanent would encourage people to smuggle out things better left behind. This three day evacuation will in the near future be thirty years.

Furniture, clothing, family pets, heirlooms. Left behind, abandoned, and sacrificed on the alter of a nuclear promise gone awry.

Monday, June 4, 2012

View from the Bridge of Death

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This is the view of the Chernobyl reactor as seen from the so-called “Bridge of Death”. To the immediate right of the reactor you might see 2 white cranes. These cranes are part of the “new safe containment” project. The goal of this project is to create a new containment unit, and to replace the existing sarcophagus.

On the left side of the photo you will see 2 sets of railroad tracks. Notice also how the tracks on the left have obviously not been maintained in a very long time. The tracks on the right look positively new in comparison. That's likely because they are new. This train line has apparently been reactivated as part of the "new safe containment" project.

Now, after all of this, you just might be wondering how this bridge got the name “Bridge of Death.” In the early morning of April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl number 4 reactor blew a 1000 ton cover off the containment unit. Obviously, an explosion of that magnitude would be heard a good distance away. But no news was forthcoming from the Soviet authorities or the power plant managers. So, some people wandered out the following morning to try to figure out what happened. This bridge was the 1st place they could get a clear view of the reactors. Unfortunately, the night before, a good deal of radiation had fallen in this area. It is said that everyone who viewed the explosion from this vantage point died. Whether death happened in one month, one year, or 5 years, I have not seen reports clarifying in any way.

It is not surprising that people who viewed the reactors from this vantage point received a high dosage of radiation. From the point where I took this photo, off to the right and behind me, is an area called “the Red Forest.” It is said that the Red Forest received such a high dose of radiation that the trees glowed red. Or maybe it was only the needles on the pine trees that glowed red. This is one of the more frustrating legacies of Chernobyl. If you read 3 different reports on any aspect of Chernobyl, you may likely get 3 very different stories of what actually happened that day. The Red Forest, to this day, remains one of the most radioactive areas within the Chernobyl "exclusion zone" or "zone of alienation."

For those who may be wondering, during the 30 hours I spent in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, my radiation exposure was roughly equivalent to what I would receive in Kiev over a seven-day period. And roughly equivalent to Detroit, USA, but less then places like Denver.  And it was less than the typical radiation exposure one would receive on a New York to Los Angeles round-trip flight.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bumper Cars, Pripyat Ukraine

The bumper cars were a part of a small amusement park in Pripyat. They've been abandoned now for 26 years.