Chornobyl Power Plant & Prypiat

The Chornobyl Power Plant and the city of Pripyat were the final stops on our tour. 

Where are we?

It was incredible to just be there. That’s the only way I can put into words the way it felt to stand at the place where everything happened. If you were just randomly driving near the plant–which is still in use today–you’d never know that the worst nuclear accident in history happened there.

Pripyat, once coined “The City of the Future” is frozen in time. Originally built to service the Chornobyl Power Plant, the city included almost 50,000 people–men, women, and children–before being evacuated following the explosion of reactor four. With over fifteen schools, an amusement park, pools, cinemas, hospitals, and parks, Pripyat was meant to be a shining example of Soviet life. 

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Only three kilometers (less than two miles) from the plant, Pripyat was forced to evacuate in just three hours, a day and a half after the explosion. Supposedly the clocks in Pripyat are frozen to 11:55, the moment electricity was cut off in the city and right before the announcement to evacuate was made. 

Чорнобиль (Chornobyl Power Plant):

Originally covered by a sarcophagus (Ukrainian: Укриття and interestingly in Russian called Объект “Укрытие”, which means not sarcophagus, but rather, “covering”) made of concrete and steel that encased the exploded reactor, the structure was deemed beyond repair in 1996. Construction on the “Chernobyl New Safe Confinement” was started in 2010 and finished in 2019. Funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the new confinement cost a total of €2.15 billion (an interesting note is that the EBRD, an international financial institution, ceased providing funding to the Russian Federation after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014).

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Construction for the original covering began just 24 days after the explosion and was completed in 206 days. Reactor four is currently covered by the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, which also contains the original sarcophagus, a structure in use from 1986-1996.  The new structure was called “the new tomb for the most dangerous waste in the world” and is taller than the Statue of Liberty and is bigger than Wembley Stadium.
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Monument to the Reactor 4 and Builders of the Sarcophagus with the new NSC in the background. Higginbotham notes that this structure also serves “as a final monument to the last resting place of Valery Khodemchuk–a radioactive mausoleum to memorialize for generations to come the first victim of the accident” (366).
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For reference, workers walking past the old sarcophagus and behind the same monument.

City of При’п’ять (Prypiat):

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Now an abandoned city, Prypiat was founded in 1970 to serve the Chornobyl Power Plant.
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Nature has taken over the city.
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Avanhard Stadium (Стадіон «Авангард») was built just for Prypiat but unfortunately was never used.
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The explosion of reactor four happened before the stadium’s first match.
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Prypiat’s amusement park was also never used. Scheduled to open on May 1st, 1986, the city was evacuated before it could be enjoyed by the inhabitants of Prypiat.
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There are rumors (and photographic evidence to support) that the park briefly opened ahead of schedule on April 27th to distract those who lived in Prypiat from the nuclear disaster occurring nearby.
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The Ferris Wheel of Prypiat has is one of the famous symbols of the Chornobyl disaster.
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Bumper cars 
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The amusement park (known in Russian at the time as a “Park of Culture and Rest” (“Парк культуры и отдыха”) also includes a mural drawn after the city was evacuated.
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Walking through the city.
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The Polissya Hotel (Ukrainian: Готе’ль Полісся) was used in the 1970s to house visitors to the city and is one of the tallest buildings in Prypiat.
The hotel before the evacuation of the city.
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The Hotel as it stands today.
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This building was used by Valery Legasov and Boris Shcherbyna as a command center after reactor four exploded at the power plant. They were tasked with investigating the accident and limiting the impacts of the radiation.
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Prypiat’s Cinema
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The Palace of Culture Energetik (Russian: Дворец культуры Энергетик).
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The Palace was built for Prypiat in the 1970s.
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Prypiat supermarket–considered a luxury for a Soviet city.
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Residential buildings
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Now abandoned apartment buildings.
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One of the many dogs that visited us on our tour. Nature is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) flourishing without humans. These dogs however, are given beds and warm blankets during the winter and there are organizations that provide medical care for them as well. Many of the dogs here are descendants of the pets left behind by their evacuated owners and were not found by Soviet soldiers ordered to kill any animals in the city to stop the spread of the radiation.
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I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to travel here. My hope is that, rather than frame the explosion of reactor four as the past, we understand that the decisions that led up to the most disastrous nuclear accident in history, as well as the resolutions made in the aftermath of that event, are still impacting us today. The amount of radiation and contamination of Ukraine, Belarus, and numerous other places not only killed people, but are still ongoing issues for those living in these areas, now, in 2020. For me, this was not a simple understanding of a decision gone-badly, but a study into place, justice, and science wrapped into a human-made disaster. 

Sources:

Higginbotham, Adam. 2019. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. Simon & Schuster: New York.

 

Currently:
Reading: The Atlas of Unusual Borders (Zoran Nikolic)