Miniseries from HBO and SKY and my impressions from what I just saw
Chernobyl is the name that is associated with the worst technological catastrophe in the history of mankind. But until April 26, 1986 at 1 p.m 23.58 this town “was a peaceful home” for thousands of people in the Soviet Union. Perhaps this controversy is the core of the drama, which is still under discussion.
Why go to the place where the worst environmental cataclysm caused by human manipulation occurred? Why fall into the scenario, the danger of which has not stopped? Working as a journalist is one thing, and the curiosity of a traveler is another.
I decided to visit when I learned about the existence of a mini-series from HBO and SKY, which attracts millions of viewers these days.
I had what I consider to be the best document to imbue myself with what was and remains Chernobyl after a catastrophe: the book “The Voices of Chernobyl” by the Nobel Prize Winner of Belarus Svetlana Aleksiyevich, what built on the basis of evidence of direct and indirect protagonists. ,
Thirty-three years later, conclusions and assumptions don’t stop. The cold data, such as the number of victims, vary in thousands according to sources. For the World Health Organization killed 9 thousand people. There were 90 thousand for Greenpeace. Why the explosion of the fourth reactor of the Vladimir Lenin nuclear power plant occurred was a matter of disputes, speculations on political strategy and even for scientific reasons.
The most common version indicates a fact not without fatal irony. They are said to have conducted an emergency test, voluntarily leaving several safety systems inoperative for the test. This would cause overheating, which would expose the core of the reactor, releasing a radioactive cloud that reached all of Europe and also reached North America.
The other versions indicate a bad design of nuclear power plants, which would never have been approved in the West there is also a version of operator inexperience or a combination of all versions.
Start the tour.
On Friday, May 3 at 7:20 we met with eight people who would be part of a group (four Poles, two Spanish and two Argentines), with our guide Sasha and interpreter Lena. The tour cost about 120 euros and lasted about ten hours, including travel. The meeting place was in close proximity to the central station of Kiev.
And now there are 135 kilometers to our goal and two hours of uncertainty about what awaited us, despite the introductory video that was projected inside the van.
In the town of New Petrovtsy we stopped to buy everything that was necessary for us at the service station.
In the first ring of the exclusion zone (also called the exclusion zone, dead zone or directly “zone”), we met workers with military equipment, who checked the links through a QR code already registered earlier.
The wait was long. We resumed the route and arrived at the entrance to the town of Chernobyl, there is a wall of greeting. They repaint it often to make it look like it was before the disaster. The hammer and sickle stands out in relief, in which an industrial plant is drawn. Is it a nuclear power plant?
Chernobyl isn`t even close to the reactor where the tragedy occurred. To him another 17 kilometers. But this is the head of the municipality of the same name. That is why the emergency complex is located in Chernobyl.
There are things in this place that are reminiscent of what happened, such as a sign, on which the names of the places that were exposed to radioactivity are marked.
Among the many abandoned houses and abundant vegetation are some people who work as “cleaners” of toxic waste and those few who despite the risk have returned to their homes. This is about a few hundred people. Before that 14 thousand lived there. All were evacuated one day after the explosion that is April 27, 1986.
In some buildings it says "The owner of this house lives here." Nearby on the Pripyat River are abandoned barges. Its waters are contaminated with radioisotopes, and the concentration of cesium-137 (which is mainly formed as a result of nuclear fission) in its sediments continues to increase.
But is it safe?
Before visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, consider how dangerous this visit can be. There are those who claim that radioactive contamination in areas close to the station will live for more than 300,000 years. Obviously, this is not the kind of information that calms you down.
The stories about diseases that appear much later or tips to throw away all clothes and even cameras saying that metal accumulates more radioactivities appear when someone says that he will go to Chernobyl.
The agencies that promote such trips report that there is no danger if tourists follow some instructions, such as not leaving the route indicated by the guide, wearing long sleeves and pants, wearing tight socks and shoes and, above all, not touching anything, especially if it's metal.
The fact that the authorities have allowed these visits for eight years now, by simple logic, suggests that they are not dangerous. But how to protect yourself?
Experts say that in the worst case you can get a dose from the environment of about 10 microsievert (a unit that measures radiation) per hour although most people say that radiation while staying close to the station is usually between 5 and 7. This is minor dose if we take into account the fact that a simple chest X-ray implies an exposure of 80 to 100 microsievert.
During a 12-hour flight by plane, for example from Europe to Argentina the dose is 60 microsievert.
These values are supported by monitoring conducted by Safe cast, an international organization that collects and disseminates information about radiation in the environment, which arose immediately after the merger of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima after the earthquake that shook Japan in 2011.
Visitors do not pass through the most polluted areas, such as the so-called Red Forest, and do not approach the fourth reactor more than a few hundred meters away.
You must be careful with building structures, as some of them are destroyed or in disrepair. This town has been abandoned more than 30 years ago. You can see glass, cables and masonry that are at risk of collapse.
The town of Pripyat was built for employees of a nuclear power plant, located just 3 kilometers away (today, the most restrictive exclusion zone is set 10 kilometers from the station). In a temperate region with very fertile soil, the town became one of the most hospitable places in the Soviet Union. There were the railway station, highway, hospital, sports clubs, schools, cultural centers and even an amusement park here. About 45,000 souls inhabited it.
The nuclear power plant of the name V.I Lenin brought only well-being: a peaceful atom; warm in every home. In late April, gardens were the main occupation of families.
In the morning of April 26, an explosion occurred in the 4th reactor. The vast majority continued to go about their business. Specialists have already there. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the town council made an announcement to the native inhabitants, in which it was said that temporary evacuation was necessary. Each apartment building will have a bus at its disposal, controlled by military personnel and representatives of the party’s executive committee. They told them to take the documents with them. The buses formed a line of 20 kilometers. They never returned. In less than three hours the town was completely devastated ...
After thistown they continued to evacuate villages and cities more than 30 kilometers from the epicenter of the disaster. Work on decontamination was carried out in 1840 settlements.
They did not understand why they had to leave.The authorities minimized the problem. The president Michael Gorbachev, who from the very beginning knew that nuclear emissions were equivalent to the Hiroshima 500-fold bomb did not change his pace and only a few days later he made an announcement about the event on television, minimizing the accident.
Circumstances were just as strong when it came to opposing the evacuation: there was no visible enemy, and everything seemed to thrive. Nothing bad could be seen in the eyes of innocent people. In wars there is an enemy, bombs and shots are heard, victims are visible. Radioactivity doesn't need any of this to kill. And you can happen with it many years later. Everything was poisoned; no one could understand or suggest that this is possible.
The jungle swallowed the town.
The first difficulty we encounter while walking along Pripyat understanding that there are houses, avenues, squares, monuments, clubs, schools, cinemas, supermarkets, hospitals in the middle of this jungle ... same place where we stayed. We doubt it is true. We convince ourselves little by little that this is so, we look at the details in the photo and around ...
In the most buildings, both in private houses and in public buildings, there is nothing more inside. They were looted or their owners secretly returned to pick up what belonged to them, and thus spread radioactivity in places that were not contaminated ..
What is left plays our imagination. The piano on the fifth floor, where the wooden floor creaks under our feet, causes a serious sound of one of its strings ... School, where there are still boards. Sports center with a foal for rhythmic gymnastics. Toilets in the bathrooms. Stadium stands, which look at what is now a forest in front of a football field ...
The absence of people led to the reproduction of wild animals. Foxes, wolves and dogs are noticeable in close proximity. Insects abound. There is a lot of talk about the effects of radioactivity on them and the plants, although not much is visible with the naked eye.
A place that leads us to many thoughts is an amusement park. Cars, swings, ferris wheels ... It’s hard not to imagine many children who since April 27, 1986, could
The cadaver which breathes.
Sarcophagus. This is what they call the shield in which the core of reactor number 4 is located. What was built less than three years ago, worth 1500 million euros, funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is the contribution of 28 countries. Its construction was completed by the French company Novarka.
It has a height of 110 meters, a width of 150 meters, a length of 256 meters and weighs more than 30,000 tons. It was made 180 meters from the reactor and delivered on rails to the place it occupies today.
It is curious that they call it a sarcophagus, since it does not contain corpses. The fact that there is very much alive. So much so that many claim that he will remain active until 300,000 years.
About 600,000 people including military, scientists, firefighters, doctors, nurses, technicians and other specialists who worked after the disaster in the process of cleaning radioactive waste scattered from the explosion of reactor number 4. Many were volunteers. And not a few people knew that they would die.
Were they ignorant of how they were affected? The state put pressure on them so that they would not be humiliated, pointing to them as cowards? Did the stoic Slavic temperament influence patriotic interests over individual ones? These are not unusual questions. But the monument to those who gave their lives in this area is absent in these intrigues. And it is good that it is.
New threat: tourism
Tourists arearriving in Chernobyl and they must be tested for radioactive contamination. You have to go through scanners that measure it, both at the entrance to the restaurant for station workers (now it is completely inactive since 2000 in the last shutdown reactor), and when leaving the exclusion zone. There was no radioactivity detected higher than usual, at least at the time when we were there.
But there is another pollution that would be wise to begin to control, especially now that the Chernobyl series should provoke the arrival of tourists. This is a trivialization of the tragedy.
A few meters from the border of alienation, the post disguised as an information bureau is in fact a souvenir shop: T-shirts with the symbol of radioactivity and the Chernobyl inscription or skull with the inscription “danger”, costumes imitating defenders, masks and other goods.
There are temptations that should definitely be discarded. Photographing the school’s corridor, a doll on the windowsill on the third floor of the destroyed building, clearly visible from the outside, a photograph of his grandfather, a gas mask on a small chair in the garden .., All this 33 years later.
You needn’t to dramatize the situation.This a big abandoned townneedn’t Photoshop. The impending tourist boom can encourage such a lie.
Tragedy does not reduce the stupidity of those who photograph themselves in bizarre poses, imitating the daily activities of residents in the midst of destruction, touches everything with their hands, sits on a car in an amusement park and, if successful, takes something for memory.
Tourism generates resources. And it also demeans. Chernobyl lit a new view of the world and its inhabitants. Idol worshipers suddenly became demons. Protective reaction to hide a lie. Rationality in fatalism. The state of a person in a riddle.