Touring the exclusion zone at Chernobyl was a day I won’t forget. It is overgrown, thriving with wildlife and vegetation and has an eerie beauty throughout. Hearing the stories of the people and seeing the abandoned areas is an emotional experience.
On 26 April 1986 a systems test resulted in a leak due to a flawed reactor design. The Reactor No. 4 steam explosion and fires released approximately 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere. There are many detailed explanations about the cause and the fallout published and available online.
Where were you on this date? I was in Grade 10, my first year of high school and I remember this accident very clearly.
I booked Chernobyl Tour for my one day tour in the Exclusion Zone. In hindsight, I should have booked the multi-day tour. If you are considering touring Chernobyl, I recommend this company and the multi-day tour.
The Exclusion Zone is divided into 2 areas: a 30 km radius from Reactor No. 4 and a 10 km radius from Reactor No. 4. There are military checkpoints in place before entering each zone and a permit and passport is mandatory for entry. Upon departure, you are checked for radiation exposure.
We entered the 30 km zone at the Dytyatky checkpoint and the 10 km zone at the Leliv checkpoint.
Now overgrown, the village of Zalissya had almost 3000 residents before the accident. There are abandoned houses and barns, a store and the house of the only self-settler Rozaliya Ivanivna.
The Doctor’s Office
The Red Forest is 10 square kilometres surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The name “Red Forest” comes from the colour of the pine trees after they died following the absorption of high levels of radiation. The site of the Red Forest remains one of the most contaminated areas in the world.
Kopachi is an almost fully buried village with only the kindergarten school remaining. As an experiment, all the houses were torn down and buried. The experiment failed as the contamination was also in the soil and vegetation and not only in the buildings.
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) and Cooling Pond
It was surreal to look upon the ChNPP and the sarcophagus. We were not able to take pictures of the NPP other than at the “Life for Life” memorial. Reactor No. 4 is contained within the sarcophagus below.
We viewed the NPP from the New Safe Confinement (“Arch”) which is an observation point from 300 metres.
The “Life for Life” memorial is located in front of the administrative building.
The NPP cooling pond where we fed giant catfish.
We had lunch in the Chernobyl State Canteen for the exclusion zone workers.
Town of Chernobyl
About 14,000 people used to live in the town of Chernobyl. Today, there are approximately 690 residents. People that maintain the other reactors and the administrative staff live in Chernobyl and rotate 6 weeks on and 6 weeks off.
The “To Those who Saved the World” memorial is located in Chernobyl beside the fire hall. The memorial is to the “liquidators”. Liquidator is officially defined as “participant in liquidation of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident consequences”. These liquidators are the definition of the word heroes. Men who selflessly and courageously did what needed to be done. Men who ran towards danger instead of running away from it.
The Fire Hall
The first firefighters on the scene were the Chernobyl Power Station fire crew, led by 23 year old Lieutenant Vladimir Pavlovich Pravik. Firefighters from Prypiat and the town of Chernobyl also fought the fires.
This portion of the memorial is the firefighters.
In May the meltdown continued and unless the water was drained below the reactor, there would have been a nuclear explosion of 3 to 5 megatons. For comparison, Hiroshima was 15 kilotons and Nagasaki was 20 kilotons. Engineers Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov went below the reactor to release a valve which drained the water. When they emerged, they were already showing signs of radiation sickness. I can’t imagine the bravery of these men.
This is an exhibition of the transport vehicles and robots used in the clean up activities. The circuitry of the robots quickly succumbed to the high levels of radiation and they no longer functioned. Young men, called human “bio-robots” were then used for the clean up. On the collapsed roof, they could only go outside for seconds to remove the highly radioactive graphite before running back inside.
St. Elijah Church (Eastern Orthodox Christian) is the only operating church. It has very low radiation levels.
A statue of Lenin remains in the town of Chernobyl. There is another one located in the railyard.
Duga-1 was a Soviet over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system used as part of the Soviet anti-ballistic missile early-warning network. It provided the efficiency of antennas and horizon tracking of the launching of ballistic missiles. Operating from July 1976 to December 1989, there were 2 Duga radars, one near Chernobyl and the other in eastern Siberia.
Broadcast in the shortwave radio bands, the signal would appear randomly and sound like a repetitive tapping and caused disruption around the world. It was nicknamed “The Russian Woodpecker”. There were outlandish theories such as Soviet mind control and weather control experiments.
There have been people who climb to the top of the radar. If I could have, I would have!
There is a military station beside the radar.
These are the images that we see on TV and in books. The abandoned ghost town of Pripyat with the ferris wheel that was never used.
The town of Pripyat had a population of 50 thousand people before the evacuation which took place the next day on 27 April 1986. The town was built to accommodate the workers of the ChNPP and the town was beautiful with all the amenities.
The hospital received the firefighters and NPP workers badly affected by the accident.
The river port and the most prestigious Pripyat café at the embankment.
The Amusement Park including the ferris wheel which was never used.
The Polissya Hotel
The Energetic Palace of Culture was the main recreational site for the Prypyat youth.
A lot of people expressed disbelief when I said I was going to Chernobyl and wondered if it was safe. It is safe. We were checked for radiation three times throughout the day. You stand inside a large dosimeter which indicates whether you are clean or not.
Radiation exposure depends on the strength of the radiation source, the distance you are from it and the duration of the exposure. One way to measure radiation is to measure the dose of radiation received by the effect it has on human tissue. The measurement is called sieverts (Sv).
As 1 sievert represents a very large dose the following smaller units are used:
- Millisieverts: mSv (1000 mSv = 1Sv)
- Microsieverts: uSv (1,000,000 uSv = 1Sv)
|Event||Radiation reading, millisievert (mSv)|
|Single dose, fatal within weeks||10,000.00|
|Typical dosage recorded in those Chernobyl workers who died within a month||6,000.00|
|Single dose which would kill half of those exposed to it within a month||5,000.00|
|Single dosage which would cause radiation sickness, including nausea, lower white blood cell count. Not fatal.||1,000.00|
|Accumulated dosage estimated to cause a fatal cancer many years later in 5% of people||1,000.00|
|Max radiation levels recorded at Fukushima plant 15 March 2011, per hour||400.00|
|Exposure of Chernobyl residents who were relocated after the blast in 1986||<100.00|
|Recommended limit for radiation workers every five years||100.00|
|Lowest annual dose at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident||100.00|
|CT scan: heart||16.00|
|CT scan: abdomen & pelvis||15.00|
|Dose in full-body CT scan||10.00|
|Airline crew flying New York to Tokyo polar route, annual exposure||9.00|
|Natural radiation we’re all exposed to, per year||2.00|
|CT scan: head||2.00|
|Radiation per hour detected at Fukushimia site, 12 March 2011||1.02|
|Mammogram breast x-ray||0.40|
(Sources: WNA, Reuters, radiologyinfo.org)
We carried individual dosimeters.
My day in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone was emotional, educational and fascinating. I was exposed to 0.002 mSv during my eight hours in the zone. Ukraine is a beautiful country and you won’t be disappointed touring Chernobyl.