Чорнобиль (Chernobyl) 21 November 2009

Чорнобиль (Chernobyl) 21 November 2009

Yes, that says Chernobyl. The Chernobyl where the nuclear disaster of April 26th 1986 occurred. Actually, the power plant is located closer to the, then larger, town of Prypiat, now abandoned. At almost an hour and a half after midnight on the 26th, reactor #4 exploded. More explosions and fires sent radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and across a large geographical area: western Soviet Union, Europe, and acid rain in Ireland. According to Yuri, our guide, the radioactive cloud traveled around the earth at least twice. This disaster released four hundred times more fallout than the bomb at Hiroshima. Unfortunately, 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are now responsible with continuing the substantial decontamination of the Chernobyl accident, as well as for health care costs.

If you wish to know more, check out the wikipedia article: chernobyl disaster, the intro of which I somewhat paraphrased. Although, our guide Yuri, says that there is no official record and story of what actually occurred that early morning in April and that we will not find the truth out for at least another 40 years. So read with a grain of salt, even though it is Wikipedia (the library of the truest truths, about most stuff).

It’s true that our group’s only motivation for going to Kyiv was to visit Chernobyl. Falling in love with Kyiv was a lucky plus. Anyway, the morning of, we woke early to meet our bus/van driver in front of Kreshatik Hotel. Just before he arrived, the rest of the tourists arrived as well: 7 more. Then we left.

In the van

In the van

On the left Nicolai from Berlin holding his Geiger-Müller meter, and the Brit (forgot his name :( ) up front. Oh, he wore a "I pwn n00bs" shirt. I gave him props for that.

On the left Nicolai from Berlin holding his Geiger-Müller meter, and the Brit (forgot his name 🙁 ) up front. Oh, he wore a “I pwn n00bs” shirt. I gave him props for that.

Christof & forgot the girl's name, friends of Nicolai's and college students from Berlin. Christof is an engineer specializing in waves and particles.

Christof & forgot the girl’s name, friends of Nicolai’s and college students from Berlin. Christof is an engineer specializing in waves and particles.

The Penzen's from Holland. Mario works in risk management, helping companies reduce their risk.

The Penzen’s from Holland. Mario works in risk management, helping companies reduce their risk.

1st checkpoint, 30km out from the exclusion zone.

1st checkpoint, 30km out from the exclusion zone. They checked our passports and made sure they matched our reservations.

The Ukrainian countryside is very beautiful. I think this whole country is beautiful.

The Ukrainian countryside is very beautiful. I think this whole country is beautiful.

First people we saw inside the checkpoint.

First people we saw inside the checkpoint.

Chernobyl! We made it.

Chernobyl! We made it.

Yuri, our guide. When the camo pants are worn by the man in charge, you know you're in good hands.

Yuri, our guide. When the camo pants are worn by the man in charge, you know you’re in good hands.

Yuri isn’t really a tourguide. He studied history and joined the agency above, with the long name, to help decontaminate and study the exclusion area. He has a very long important title which I forgot. He’s head administrator of something. About 4000 people work inside the exclusion zone studying the plants and wildlife, the soil, the air, you name it. The radiation levels are constantly measured and there is continuous work dealing with the reactor area and other hazardous materials. Workers live in hostels in Chernobyl and may only stay inside the exclusion zone 14-16 days at a time. Then they must spend an equal amount of time outside the zone. Yuri likes it because he leads 2 lives, one with his family where he is full-time father, and when he needs his alone time he comes here for 2 weeks. I was amazed at how much work is being done to clean up.

After we got a mini history of the Chernobyl disaster, the radiation levels, what is being done to clean it up, etc… we set off on our tour.

Our tour has now begun. We drove first to this monument memorializing the firemen who attempted to put out the fires of reactor #4.

We drove first to this monument memorializing the firemen who attempted to put out the fires of reactor #4.

Towards the reactor.

Towards the reactor.

Checkpoint 2: 10km from the zone.

Checkpoint 3: 5km from the zone.

Security Guard to check our paperwork.

Security Guard to check our paperwork.

The yellow signs are where buildings have been buried because they were radioactive.

The yellow signs are where buildings have been buried because they were radioactive.

The cooling tower for reactor #5. Construction for cooling tower for reactor #6 is next to this.

The cooling tower for reactor #5. Construction for cooling tower for reactor #6 is next to this.

Reactors #5&6 no longer in use.

Reactors #5&6 no longer in use.

Reactors 3 and 4 off to the right. Their shared chimney can be seen.

Reactors 3 and 4 off to the right. Their shared chimney can be seen.

Looking back at 5 and 6 reactors and cooling towers.

Looking back at 5 and 6 reactors and cooling towers.

Me standing in front of Reactor 4, about 1 mile away.

Me standing in front of Reactor 4, about 1 mile away. The meter reads 2.00 μSv/h. This is ten times the amount in Berlin.

A field of power lines.

A field of power lines.

A currently in use building for the scientists.

A currently in use building for the scientists.

20091121 чорнобиль 026

16.42 μSv/h measuring alpha & beta waves.

The meter rises fast.

The meter rises fast. 14.38 μSv/h. And like idiots people were getting excited.

The old <not in use> train route from Moscow to Kyiv.

The old train route from Moscow to Kyiv.

A building to the left of reactors 3 and 4. We are close now, about 500m.

A building to the left of reactors 3 and 4. We are close now, about 500m.

Me standing in front of the reactor and memorial, about 300m away.

Me standing in front of the reactor and memorial, about 300m away. The sarcophagus is visible behind.

16.42 μSv/h measuring alpha and beta waves.

16.42 μSv/h measuring gamma waves.

The sarcophagus: a makeshift covering of the destroyed reactor put together by many pieces of concrete. Wikipedia states that it is unstable because one of the main walls only remains verticle because of debri underneath. In the meantime, Bechtel, Battelle, Electricite de France are making the largest portable container in the world to eventually cover everything in 2012.

The sarcophagus: a makeshift covering of the destroyed reactor put together by many pieces of concrete. Wikipedia states that it is unstable because one of the main walls only remains verticle because of debri underneath. In the meantime, Bechtel, Battelle, Electricite de France are making the largest portable container in the world to eventually cover everything in 2012.

Most of our group.

Most of our group.

The memorial stone. We didn't spend much time here and left to see more of the exclusion zone.

The memorial stone. We didn’t spend much time here and left to see more of the exclusion zone.

Abandoned machinery

Abandoned machinery

Prypiat!

Prypiat!

And this is wear playing video games proves to be educational, and safe:

The main hotel in Prypiat to the right. The covered walkway leads to the City Administration Building.

The main hotel in Prypiat to the right. The covered walkway leads to the City Administration Building.

Anyone recognize this scene? If you have played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare you should recognize this. As the player, you snipe the Serbian Prime Minister from a high up floor in that hotel. The minister is holding out in a building to the right of this photo. Got to hand it to Infinity Ward to recreate this town in their game to very small details, according to a Chris who has played the scene before. So if you’ve played that game, you’ve already seen Prypiat. Without any radiation, or at least less than me.

The famous hammer & sickle.

The famous hammer & sickle.

The entrance to the Serbian Prime Minister's hideout.

The entrance to the Serbian Prime Minister’s hideout.

We were required to have masks to get in, but it wasn't necessary to wear them. I wore one now because we were going into the City Administration Building behind me.

We were required to have masks to get in, but it wasn’t necessary to wear them. I wore one now because we were going into the City Administration Building behind me.

The entrance to the Administration Building.

The entrance to the Administration Building.

It's dilapidating into ruins.

It’s dilapidating into ruins.

Turning around...

Turning around…

A trombone case, because there was a music hall in here.

A trombone case, because there was a music hall in here.

Entering the hall.

Entering the hall.

But first looking back out to the 'Serbian' building.

But first looking back out to the ‘Serbian’ building.

The music hall.

The music hall.

Behind the stage lay these masterpieces.

Behind the stage lay these masterpieces.

I'm very attracted to abandoned structures and places like these.

I’m very attracted to abandoned structures and places like these. I guess I’m fond of nature recovering what was taken. But moreso, I like them because they encourage my imagination to run wild, about what was here 35 or so years ago.

To a parking garage. But we didn't go in.

To a parking garage. But we didn’t go in.

And the famous photo spot:

The amusement park. Never used. It was going to open 5 days later on May 1 for a holiday in the Soviet Union.

The amusement park. Never used. It was going to open 5 days later on May 1 for a holiday in the Soviet Union. The crowd on the left are measuring the radiation of the moss. It was significantly higher, almost 30 μSv/h. So they got closer…

My broken reflection sort of represents how this entire place is: broken and almost incapable of becoming whole again.

My broken reflection is like the exclusion area: broken and almost incapable of becoming whole again.

Bumper cars

Bumper cars

I can't tell what this ride is, swings?

I can’t tell what this ride is, swings?

Once a fun ride, now rusty.

Once a fun ride, now rusty.

My favorite photo of the day. It says everything in my opinion.

My favorite photo of the day

Ah, the ferris wheel.

Ah, the ferris wheel.

The leaves almost posed for me.

The leaves almost posed for me.

An old photo booth. Cool designs on it.

An old photo booth. Cool designs on it.

Back under the walkway.

Back under the walkway.

A last shot of the hotel.

A last shot of the hotel.

All that's left of the residents here.

All that’s left of the residents here.

Now off to see the swimming pool. Chris bravely leading the way.

Now off to see the swimming pool. Chris bravely leading the way.

Up the stairs

Up the stairs

The swimming pool, apparently a must see on these tours. I wasn't that interested for some reason.

The swimming pool, apparently a must see on these tours. I wasn’t that interested for some reason.

But I did try swimming. And it's safer to dive in the shallow end than the deep end when there's no water.

But I did try swimming. And it’s safer to dive in the shallow end than the deep end when there’s no water.

Hey! These look like our showers in Moscow. (not really, well sorta)

Hey! These look like our showers in Moscow. (not really, well sorta)

The gym. Yuri stood here the whole time we looked at the pool. I wonder what he was thinking.

The gym. Yuri stood here the whole time we looked at the pool. I wonder what he was thinking.

Then we went some 100m to explore the school. We were given 20 minutes to go wherever we wanted. Naturally, we tried to go as deep into the school as we could.

The school entrance. Another cliche tourist spot.

The school entrance. Another cliche tourist spot.

Inside the Main Hall.

Inside the Main Hall.

The school gym

The school gym

The basement. We were curious to enter but scared out of our wits. So we tried using our camera flashes as flashlights.

The basement. We were curious to enter but scared out of our wits. So we tried using our camera flashes as flashlights.

We made it two rooms before we couldn't handle it anymore and turned around. If only I had a flashlight or candle. Then I could have had the fun I wanted to have yesterday.

We made it two rooms before we couldn’t handle it anymore and turned around. If only I had a flashlight or candle. Then I could have had the fun I wanted to have yesterday. The jitters were too intense without a light for me.

Up on the rooftop

Up on the rooftop

Gas masks. The government gave everyone gas masks in those first 36 hours. I wonder how effective they would have been. Not too much for the radation, except to prevent the inhaling radioactive particles.

Gas masks. The government gave everyone gas masks in those first 36 hours. I wonder how effective they would have been. Not too much for the radation, except to prevent the inhaling radioactive particles.

A large classroom, empty except for old desks and chairs, or what's left of them.

A large classroom, empty except for old desks and chairs, or what’s left of them.

We wondered what was in the gas tank on the ground. Helium? Oxygen? Or was it empty? No matter, we avoided coming in contact with it.

We wondered what was in the gas tank on the ground. Helium? Oxygen? Or was it empty? No matter, we avoided coming in contact with it.

Learning English

Learning English

Spooky room

Spooky room

The inner quad, which is naturally outdoors.

The inner quad, which is naturally outdoors.

A building we passed on the way to the school area that I wanted a photo of on the way back. Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend a lot of time here because we were in a rush to get lunch.

A building we passed on the way to the school area that I wanted a photo of on the way back. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time here because we were in a rush to get lunch.

Checking to see if we pass the radiation test. (I passed don't worry, or I didn't and they didn't tell anyone).

Checking to see if we pass the radiation test. (I passed don’t worry, or I didn’t and they didn’t tell anyone).

A 4 course meal, what a feast.

A 4 course meal, what a feast. Thanksgiving in Chernobyl?

Next we left to see a little of Chernobyl and the boatyard.

Old vehicles in Chernobyl

Old vehicles in Chernobyl

A monument signifying the end of Nuclear Power in Chernobyl area.

A monument signifying the end of Nuclear Power in Chernobyl area.

Stadium seats. A soccer field on the left and you already saw the other field to the right. Chernobyl really is quite a beautiful town.

Stadium seats. A soccer field on the left and you already saw the other field to the right. Chernobyl really is quite a beautiful town.

Soccer hooligans.

Soccer hooligans.

Down to the boatyard.

Down to the boatyard.

Abandoned boats.

Abandoned boats.

A whole fleet.

A whole fleet.

This boatyard reminds me of a few scenes in Half-Life 2. On another note, Yuri says 99% of the fish are safe to eat, after we saw a couple fisherman going down to the shore. There are a few hundred people who refused to leave the exclusion zone since the disaster and have been living here since. Back to the fish: Yuri justifies this saying the radiation molecules are heavy and attached to heavy matter and so have sunk to the bottom of the river and are lodged in the sediment. So as long as we don’t catch catfish we should be fine. We didn’t press our luck.

The bridge, pipeline, and opposing shore. For someone like me addicted to these types of buildings: ones that have been abandoned, rusted, reclaimed by nature—this was extasy. Honestly, this is what I expected Russia to look like. That was my main reason for studying here. In fact, it was my main reason for studying maths as I knew Moscow had this study abroad program. If someone

The bridge, pipeline, and opposing shore. For someone like me addicted to these types of buildings: ones that have been abandoned, rusted, reclaimed by nature—this was extasy. Honestly, this is what I expected Russia to look like. That was my main reason for studying here. In fact, it was my main reason for studying maths as I knew Moscow had this study abroad program. If someone would have told me back in 5th grade that Russia was more like America, wow I maybe would not have majored in maths. Nah, I probably would have. (Right click to view larger size)

Then we said goodbye to Yuri and got into the van to return to Kyiv.

Another monument in Chernobyl as we left the town for Kyiv.

Another monument in Chernobyl as we left the town for Kyiv.

The final checkpoint, where we all had to be tested for radiation before we could leave.

The final checkpoint, where we all had to be tested for radiation before we could leave.

We had some of the most serene views of Ukraine landscapes on the way home.

We had some of the most serene views of Ukraine landscapes on the way home.

Once in Kyiv, we spent a little time at the hostel and then got some inexpensive but delicious pizzas for a late dinner. Afterward, everyone went back to the hostel except me, because I wanted to try out the long shutter option on my camera and get some night shots. But I’m super tired right now so I’ll include them in our last day of Kyiv post, and not here.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do the Chernobyl topic justice with this post. I tried but I don’t think anything can replace the experience of being there and witnessing it. Most of these photos are on the web in some other place and form as Chernobyl is open to tourism now and it’s becoming quite popular. However, I think the main point of these tours is not to let people like me play explorer or experience a post-apocalypse world for fun, but to educate the public about what really is going on in Chernobyl. There are no two-headed fish, no weird mutant animals; there are several thousand people trying to decontaminate the area while at the same time learn as much about the radiation effects and anything else so that there would never be an intended reason to ever repeat this accident.

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