One of our Committee Members, Mr. Murray Scott, recently had a trip of a lifetime and has provided an account of his amazing trip.
Chernobyl – Nature Returns.
I booked my trip to Chernobyl many months ago. Some people might think that it ghoulish to visit such a tragic place. I disagree, the awful event that took place on Saturday 26th April 1986 has been well documented and I believe that people can learn and see for themselves the devastation that mankind can cause. The radiation levels at the time were around 400 times that of Hiroshima.
The Chernobyl accident happened during a safety check of the No. 4 nuclear reactor. The Soviet regime, at the time, was determined to keep the accident quiet. It was only through scientists detecting radioactive fallout in Sweden and consequently tracing the radioactive material back to Kiev that the disaster began to unfold.
We drove the 80 mile road trip from Kiev. The road cut through pine woods and a vast, rich expanse of arable land. There was no sign of any nuclear disaster. We arrived at the Chernobyl check point after a couple of hours, not far from the Belarus / Ukrainian border. Our passports were checked. Our clothing was also checked – long trousers and a long sleeve jacket or shirt. We were issued with a small Geiger counter. Off we went into the 1,000 square mile exclusion zone.
The atmosphere was rather eerie. A wilderness of forest clung to the side of the road.
We soon arrived at the abandoned village of Zalissaya. The inhabitants had left many years ago abandoning all their possessions including their iconic Lada car(s). We walked into the dense woods, our guide continually checking for adverse readings of radiation.
Back in the car, we stopped at various poignant sites including the Garden of Remembrance (in memory of those killed in the 1941-1945 Patriotic War), a memorial to the brave firemen who valiantly tried to extinguish the fire, an outdoor display of the many vehicles that tried to curtail this disaster, including ‘Roger’ a robot made in Germany that become inoperable after only 5 minutes, an avenue of plaques depicting the names of abandoned villages and most disturbingly the remains of the ‘Red Forest’, one of the most radioactive places on earth. This is a highly polluted swathe of pine woods that are still badly contaminated by the radiation.
Another short drive along the deserted road we came across the Prypyat River (Canal) and dotted along the horizon were Reactors 1, 2 , 3, 5, and 6 – all disbanded. It was, however, the huge stainless steel sarcophagus, encasing reactor 4, shimmering in the mid day sun that caught our eye.
We eventually arrived to within 250 yards of reactor 4. It was an awesome sight. The sarcophagus weighs 36,000 tons and took around 20 years to design and construct. It has a 100 year lifespan. My Geiger counter remained silent.
We continued our journey to the forsaken ‘show city’ city of Prypyat. This city, of around 50,000 inhabitants was finally abandoned 36 hours after the explosion. It has remained in an isolated time warp. The inhabitants have long gone but life in Soviet times is ‘frozen’ in time. We were left to wander through the abandoned apartments, the sports centre, the public swimming pool, the school of arts, a ‘supermarket’ (the first in Soviet Russia) and the amusement park that was due to open 5 days after the explosion. Up to 95,000 people died during and after this catastophere.
It was whilst standing near to the Ferris wheel that I realised how nature is slowly returning to Chernobyl. I was told that all the trees around me had grown since the disaster. There were bushes, wild flowers and grasses. A butterfly flew past and above a rather large bird flew across the open space into a copse of trees. It has been reported that large mammals, including deer, wolves, and dogs have been seen in the area. This is quite remarkable considering the very high pockets of radiation.
The afternoon was slipping by and it was time for us to leave this remarkable place. Before departing the exclusion zone we passed through 2 radiation detectors. Our radiation levels were normal and we were allowed to leave the exclusion zone. We travelled back the way we came, towards the city of Kiev. If the prevailing wind on that fateful night had been in the opposite direction then a city of around 2,000,000 inhabitants would have been totally contaminated by radiation. The radiation could well have spread all over Europe and beyond.
There is no other place like this on Earth. Without the brave citizens who gave their lives and courted inevitable death we might not have been here today. Civilization on Earth may well have been wiped out.
See opening picture of the stainless steel ‘sarcophagus’ that is built over the remains of Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Murray Scott – June 2019