This is part seven of my travel photo journal to the Chernobyl zone of exclusion. Check out the Chernobyl Journal page for the full story, all pictures, videos and sounds.
On the next day we got up at about 07:30, got dressed and had breakfast at the agency. The meal consisted of two courses: First, a plate full of pickled vegetables (along with the same meat from the day before). Second, a big chicken leg with a huge serving of tasteless, overcooked rice, which made me feel like the protagonist in “Everything Is Illuminated”. Half an hour later, we drove off north again.
The first few hours of the day were reserved for the area around the nuclear reactor. The Chernobyl power plant consisted of 6 reactors, two of which were never finished building. Those two (reactors 5 and 6) were located on an artificial island east of the power plant. The dozen abandoned construction cranes around the reactors gave the red structures a paradox aura of permanent incompleteness. We stopped at a distance from them and got a couple of great shots of both the reactors as well as the huge concrete turbine exhausts on the east side of the island. We also met two guards with their black-and-white border collie Misha, who dutifully barked at us intruders.
One of our biggest disappointments of the trip was that we weren’t allowed to see reactors 5 and 6 up close – even though we had seen pictures on the internet of people standing right in the middle of them. Instead, we drove non-stop to the entrance of the main area, where the colossus of disaster reactor #4 stood brooding in its concrete sarcophagus. The entrance was very well taken care of, flowers, green grass, two monuments to honor the victims – all of which felt artificial in the light of the decay around us.
The reactor itself didn’t look like you would imagine a nuclear reactor, as there were no dome-shaped concrete structures that are associated with nuclear power. Instead, it was an unspectacular, long, rectangular building, its only two outstanding features being the chimney and the bluish-gray sarcophagus. For me it was a strange experience realizing that I stood just 500 meters from the site of
the world’s worst environmental disaster and the most radioactive place on earth.
The vast area around the power plant was surprisingly lively; of the original four reactors, the three surviving the accident remained operating until the year 2000. Since then, the reactors are slowly being decommissioned, which will take at least until 2020. For this reason, a lot nuclear workers are still employed in Chernobyl; considering the number of blue hard hats we saw, the area can hardly be called abandoned (nor easily accessible for urban explorers)
Shortly after our arrival at the plant, a bus filled with officials and reporters stopped; it was the delegation of the ministry of internal affairs, whose surprise visit had almost caused the cancellation of our trip during the planning stage. We saw some giant hats, shook some hands, got back into the van, and drove off towards Pripyat.
Map of this Journal Entry
Chernobyl Journal continues in part eight with a visit to the Pripyat hospital.