On 26th April 1986, Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, located near the town of Prypiat suffered from a nuclear accident during a systems test. It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 events on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
During the evening shift at the plant, the engineers planned a system test procedure intended to determine how much power was needed to keep the reactor operating during a blackout. Power levels surged to dangerous levels and the reactor began to over heat.
Two explosions occurred at the plant, which caused the reactor’s dome-shaped roof to be blown off and the contents to erupt outwards. As air was sucked in to the shattered reactor, it ignited flammable carbon monoxide gas causing a reactor fire which burned for nine whole days and large amounts of radioactive debris escaped into the atmosphere which spread over much of Western USSR and into Europe. The disaster released at least 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Following the explosion the Ukrainian government did not immediately start to evacuate. Prypiat, the town closest to the reactor is only 3 km away and was home to 49,000 residents. No one was made aware of the disaster. Initially, everyone was told that radiation level was minimal and that they were safe. People went on living normal lives, kid’s playing out in the radioactive dust, unaware of any danger. It was not until the radiation levels set off alarms at Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden which was over one thousand kilometres from the Chernobyl Plant, did the Ukrainian government admit there was a disaster.
The evacuation began and during the following weeks and months 49,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Prypiat and around the affected areas. In total about 200,0000 people are considered to have been evacuated as a result of the incident. Many of the people were told the evacuation would last only 3 days, and left all their personal belongings which are still there to this day. The people who were evacuated were eventually re-settled in existing communities or new communities built especially for evacuees.
237 people, mainly workers and fire fighters, suffered from acute radiation sickness after the blast, and it is understood to have directly led to the death of 31 reactor operating staff, emergency responders and firemen within three months of the incident. The official death toll has been disputed, and long-term effects such as cancer and deformities are still being accounted for.
An area extending to about 19 miles from the plant is known as the “zone of alienation.” This is mainly abandoned, apart from a few people who have refused to leave. Abandoned cars, buildings and homes lay empty, an empty fun fair untouched, which was due to open a few days after the disaster.
25 years on, Pripyat is just like looking at a freeze-frame of 1980s Soviet life. The town is open for tourism, the decades of neglect have resulted in a hazardous environment, including uncovered manholes in the middle of the barely-recognizable streets, open elevator shafts, flooded basements, decayed wooden floors, collapsed roofs, large amounts of broken glass, and quite possibly asbestos. Looters have stolen everything from the town that would have been of any value. Propaganda posters and writings on the wall remain, paint is peeling from the buildings and trees and plants are reclaiming the land.
Despite the contamination of the area, the location has had a dramatic revival of its wildlife, especially in ‘The Red Forrest’, named because of the gingerly red colour the forest turned due to the high levels of radiation. As humans were evacuated, animals moved in. Wild horse, boar and wolf populations are thriving, while lynx have returned to the area and birds have nested in the reactor building. The wildlife seems quite comfortable reclaiming the abandoned town. The nature feels good without humans, even though they left one of the world’s worst disaster after themselves.
The following photos were taken 25 years on in the town Pripyat: