30 years ago on 26th April the Chernobyl disaster shook the World with what was and still is the worst ever nuclear accident in history. As we commemorate this event and those that lost their lives trying to protect the rest of us from a life of nuclear catastrophe, I recall some key discoveries I made when I visited the nuclear exclusion zone in April 2016.
The Abandoned City
The abandoned city of Pripyat has the status of city of Oblast significance within the larger Kiev Oblast (province) administered directly from Kiev. Named after the nearby Pripyat River, the city was founded on 4 February 1970. There are plans to use the areas immediately surrounding the Chernobyl reactor for activities such as radioactive waste processing or the further development of nature reserves.
As the ninth nuclear city in the Soviet Union to house workers and their families for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant it had a population of 49,360 by the time it was evacuated, a few days after the 26 April 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The average age of the population was 26 years old, and the city had a total living space of 658,700 m2 (7,090,000 sq ft), made up of 13,414 apartments in 160 apartment blocks, 18 halls of residence accommodating up to 7,621single males or females and 8 halls of residence for couples. The city has 15 primary schools for about 5,000 children, 5 secondary schools, 1professional school.
Health of the people – riches of the country
The hospital could accommodate up to 410 patients and had a further three clinics. It is made of five interconnected buildings of 6 stories each. The building sits on Druzhby Narodov street (Friendship of the People street) and occupies most of Microdistrict 1. The large letters on the roof read “Здоров’я народу – багатство країни” or “Health of the people – riches of the country”
A world on its own
For a small city, it has a large service system, made up of 25 stores and shopping centres,27 cafes, cafeterias and restaurants which could serve up to 5,535 customers simultaneously and 10 warehouses could hold 4,430 tons of goods.
Soviet life is important with a culture palace, a cinema and a school of arts, and 8 different societies for members. Sports were popular in Soviet culture, so there are 10 gyms, 3 indoor swimming-pools, 10 shooting galleries, 2 stadia.
With 1 park, 35 playgrounds, 18,136 trees, 249,247 shrubs, 33,000 rose plants planted in the city, it has combined harmoniously with the return to nature.
Led by the nuclear power plant and a further 4 factories, the total annual turnover of 477,000,000 rubles was significant for its time.
A disaster for 1,000 years
The Chernobyl disaster remains the only Level 7 Incident on the international Nuclear Event Scale (INES) making it the biggest man-made disaster of all time.To this day 97% of the radioactive material remains in the crumbling sarcophagus equating to around 200 tonnes. Between 600,000 and 800,000 men risked their lives by exposing themselves to radiation in order to contain the situation. 25,000 of these have died and 70,000 are disabled. 20% of these deaths were suicides. To this day, more than 5 million people live in areas still considered to be contaminated with radiation from the disaster.
Nature without man shall flourish
Over 63,000 square miles of land has been affected, and rural areas have been severely devastated. Even though much of this land should never be used to grow food again, 4.5 million people are still living on and growing food on contaminated land, and as a consequence the food they are eating is also contaminated.
The region has become one of the world’s most unique wildlife sanctuaries with thriving populations of wolves, deer, bears, wild boar, beavers, eagles, and other animals.
The radiation leak caused the nearby forest to turn a bright ginger, since then it has been known as the “Red Forest”.