If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
This is the first blog post in a series showing the highlights from cities I traveled to or experiences I had while I studied abroad in 2015 and 2016. I’ve adapted these blogs from my original study abroad blog. When I booked my tickets to Europe, I realized I had a chance to do something purely selfish. I was travelling by myself, and I realized I didn’t have to fly straight to Germany. If I could go anywhere, and no one could stop me, there was one thing I wanted to see: Chernobyl.
I quickly learned that there were two general reactions when I told people where I was going. There were the “WHY?!” people and the “that is so cool, take me with you” people. Chernobyl interests me both socially and biologically, and I wanted to see the Exclusion Zone and the original sarcophagus of reactor #4 before the new sarcophagus was slated to be completed in 2016. I knew it was a now or never kind of opportunity, and I am glad I seized it. Here are a few facts that stand out to me:
- The accident happened on April 26, 1986. An error in operation caused an explosion, and withu
- If a wildfire were to break out in the forests in the zone it would kick up so many radioactive particles that there would be another widespread nuclear disaster.
- The radiation exposure I got in two days in the zone was about the equivalent to a long-haul flight.
- It is possible to get contaminated with radioactive particles, but you would have to be doing something dumb like rolling around in the brush where the particles linger more easily.
- The first responder firefighters to the disaster went to fight the fire without any protection against radiation, and many suffered fatal cases of Acute Radiation Sickness.
- The disaster was not disclosed by the USSR for several days, until pressure grew from scientists around the world who noticed increased levels of radiation and pressed for a cause.
- There are a few elderly people who still live in the zone, and we got to meet two of them.
- The original structure encasing the reactor was only designed to last 30 years, and deteriorated faster than expected. The new sarcophagus was assembled on rails next to the old one, and was completed and slid into place in 2016.
- Workers on the new sarcophagus spend only 1-2 weeks in the zone and then a mandatory period of time outside of it so that their bodies can process the dose of radiation.
- The new sarcophagus is strong and built to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters, but if the old structure were to collapse inside it would tear the new sarcophagus apart and result in Chernobyl disaster #2. For this reason the next step is to slowly dismantle the old sarcophagus inside of the new structure.
I booked my tour through SoloEast, and I spent two days and one night in the Exclusion Zone. I had an amazing time, and I definitely recommend doing the two day tour instead of the one day if you can. My group was composed of a tour guide, a government appointed guide, and six tourists including myself. Our guides were really friendly, funny, and knowledgeable. You can even request certain guides who are radiologists, scientists, botanists, or biologists. And please, spare yourselves and don’t rent a Geiger counter unless you are a full blown scientist and want to take readings of every object. The guide has one and will show you any hot spots, and no one wants to listen to two Geiger counters clicking and croaking away. I do however advise bringing two clif bars.
Chernobyl, and Ukraine in general remains in my top five favorite places that I have visited. Feel free to comment below with any questions you may have! Here are thirty of my favorite photos from my tour of Pripyat and Chernobyl.
Photos taken by Sandra Lyn Walker, or fellow tourists, or the tour guide. Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine. August 2015. Post updated from previous blog.