Ghost Town - Introduction
My name is Elena. I run this website and I don't have anything to sell. What I do have is my motorbike and the absolute freedom to ride it wherever curiosity and the speed demon take me. This page is maintained by the author, but when internet traffic is heavy it may be down occasionally.
I have ridden all my life and over the years I have owned several different motorbikes. I ended my search for a perfect bike with a big ninja, that boasts a mature 147 horse power, some serious bark, is fast as a bullet and comfortable for a long trips.
I travel a lot and one of my favorite destinations leads North from Kiev, towards so called Chernobyl "dead zone", which is 130kms from my home. Why my favorite? Because one can take long rides there on empty roads.
The people there all left and nature is blooming. There are beautiful woods and lakes.
In places where roads have not been travelled by trucks or army vehicles, they are in the same condition they were 20 years ago - except for an occasional blade of grass or some tree that discovered a crack to spring through. Time does not ruin roads, so they may stay this way until they can be opened to normal traffic again........ a few centuries from now.
To begin our journey, we must learn a little something about radiation. It is really very simple, and the device we use for measuring radiation levels is called a geiger counter . If you flick it on in Kiev, it will measure about 12-16 microroentgen per hour. In a typical city of Russia and America, it will read 10-12 microroentgen per hour. In the center of many European cities are 20 microR per hour, the radioactivity of the stone.
1,000 microroentgens equal one milliroentgen and 1,000 milliroentgens equal 1 roentgen. So one roentgen is 100,000 times the average radiation of a typical city. A dose of 500 roentgens within 5 hours is fatal to humans. Interestingly, it takes about 2 1/2 times that dosage to kill a chicken and over 100 times that to kill a cockroach.
This sort of radiation level can not be found in Chernobyl now. In the first days after explosion, some places around the reactor were emitting 3,000-30,000 roentgens per hour. The firemen who were sent to put out the reactor fire were fried on the spot by gamma radiation. The remains of the reactor were entombed within an enormous steel and concrete sarcophagus, so it is now relatively safe to travel to the area - as long as one do not step off of the roadway and do not stick in a wrong places.......
The map above shows all our journey through the dead zone. Radiation went in soil and now in apples and mushrooms. It is not retained by asphalt, which makes rides through this area possible.
I have never had problems with the dosimeter guys, who man the checkpoints. They are experts, and if they find radiation on you vehicle, they gave it a chemical shower. I don't count those couple of times when "experts" tried to invent an excuse to give me a shower, because those had a lot more to do with physical biology than biological physics
On the Friday evening of April 25, 1986, the reactor crew at Chernobyl-4, prepared to run a test the next day to see how long the turbines would keep spinning and producing power if the electrical power supply went off line. This was a dangerous test, but it had been done before. As a part of the preparation, they disabled some critical control systems - including the automatic shutdown safety mechanisms.
Shortly after 1:00 AM on April 26, the flow of coolant water dropped and the power began to increase.
At 1:23 AM, the operator moved to shut down the reactor in its low power mode and a domino effect of previous errors caused an sharp power surge, triggering a tremendous steam explosion which blew the 1000 ton cap on the nuclear containment vessel to smithereens.
Some of the 211 control rods melted and then a second explosion, whose cause is still the subject of disagreement among experts, threw out fragments of the burning radioactive fuel core and allowed air to rush in - igniting several tons of graphite insulating blocks.
Once graphite starts to burn, its almost impossible to extinguish. It took 9 days and 5000 tons of sand, boron, dolomite, clay and lead dropped from helicopters to put it out. The radiation was so intense that many of those brave pilots died.
It was this graphite fire that released most of the radiation into the atmosphere and troubling spikes in atmospheric radiation were measured as far as thousands of miles away.
These were inexcusable errors of design.
The causes of the accident are described as a fateful combination of human error and imperfect technology. Andrei Sakharov said, that Chernobyl accident demonstrates that our system cannot manage modern technology.
In keeping with a long tradition of Soviet justice, they imprisoned several people who worked on that shift - regardless of their guilt. 25 from the shift died.
Radiation will stay in the Chernobyl area for tens thousand years, but humans may begin repopulating the area in about 600 years - give or take three centuries. The experts predict that, by then, the most dangerous elements will have disappeared - or been sufficiently diluted into the rest of the world's air, soil and water. If our government can somehow find the money and political will power to finance the necessary scientific research, perhaps a way will be discovered to neutralize or clean up the contamination sooner. Otherwise, our distant ancestors will have to wait untill the radiation diminishes to a tolerable level. If we use the lowest scientific estimate, that will be 300 years from now......some scientists say it may be as long as 900 years.
I think it will be 300, but people often accuse me of being an optimist.
In Ukrainian language ( where we don't like to say "the") Chernobyl is the name of a grass, wormwood (absinth). This word scares the holy bejesus out of people here. Maybe part of the reason for that among religious people is because the Bible mentions Wormwood in the book of the revelatons - which fortells the end of the world....
REV 8:10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;
REV 8:11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
Also, in our language, if you break the name up, "chorno" means "black" and "byl" means "pain." If I tell someone that I am heading to Chernie... the best case response is; "Are you nuts?"
My dad used to say that people are afraid of a deadly thing which they can not see, can not feel and can not smell. Maybe that is because those words are a good description of death itself.
Dad is nuclear physicist, and he has educated me about many things. He is much more worried about the speed my bike travels than about the direction I point it.
My trips to Chernobyl are not like a walk in the park, but the risk can be managed. Sometimes I go for rides alone, sometimes with pillion passenger, but never in company with any other vehicle, because I do not want anyone to raise dust in front of me.
I was a schoolgirl back in 1986 and as soon as radiation level began to rise in Kiev, dad put all of us on the train to grandma's house. Granny lives 800 kms from here and dad wasn't sure if it was far enough away to keep us out of reach of the big bad wolf of a nuclear meltdown.
The Communist government that was in power then kept silent about this accident. In Kiev, they forced people to take part in their preciously stupid labor day parade and it was then that ordinary people began hearing the news of the accident from foreign radio stations and relatives of those who died. The real panic began 7-10 days after accident. Those who were exposed to the exceedingly high levels of nuclear radiation in the first 10 days when it was still a state secret, including unsuspecting visitors to the area, either died or have serious health problems.
Time to go for a ride. This is our road. There won't be many cars on those roads. This place has ill fame and people try not to settle here. The farther we go, the cheaper the land, the less the people and more beautiful nature.. quite the reverse of everywhere else in the world - and a forecast of things to come.
As we pass the 86th kilometer, we encounter a giant egg - which marks the point where civilization as we know it ends - and the Chernobyl ride begins.
Someone brought the egg from Germany. It represents LIFE breaking through the hard shell of the unknown. I am not sure if this symbolism is encouraging or not. Either way, it makes people think, and for us this is our last chance to stock up on edible food, drinkable water and uncontaminated fuel. Our journey from here is a gradually darkening picture of deserted towns, empty villages and dead farms..
Radiation fallen out uneven, as on a chess-board, leaving some places alive and other dead. It's hard to say where the fairyland begin.
To me it begin behind of this bridge. This is dead village that is located some 60 kms West of the reactor.
Roads that lead in places where no one lives are blocked.
The roads are blocked for cars, but not for motorcycles. Good girls go to heaven. Bad ones go to hell. And girls on fast bikes go anywhere they want.
This is what left of a fertile village with a population of 4.500. It lies 50 kms South of ground zero - the reactor
This old man lives in the Chernobyl area. He is one of 3.500 people that either refused to leave or returned to their villages after the meltdown in 1986. I admire those people, because each of them is a philosopher in their own way. When you ask if they are afraid, they say that they would rather die at home from radiation, than die in an unfamiliar place of home-sickness. They eat food from their own gardens, drink the milk of their cows and claim that they are healthy.....but the old man is one of only 400 that have survived this long. He may soon join his 3,100 neighbors that rest eternally in the earth of their beloved homes. It appears that the people with the most courage were the first to die here. Maybe that is true everywhere.
Here, we entering the area of Chernobyl. I check the fuel reserve and tire repair kit. I don't want to be marooned in the middle of nuclear desert.
Tank must be full, all gas/petrol stations in the area, look like this one.
This is one of the credential control point, that lead into dead zone. Special permission is required to enter the zone of exclusion.
This is where they used to give careless or unlucky visitors a chemical shower.
Each time I pass into the zone, I feel that I have entered an unreal world. In the dead zone, the silence of the villages, roads, and woods seem to tell something at me....something that I strain to hear....something that attracts and repels me both at the same time. It is divinely eerie - like stepping into that Salvador Dali painting with the dripping clocks.
Radiactive burrials are traces of our civilization. Several hundred of them make the desert of atomic wasteland, where radiation still measured in roentgens.
These are radioactive technics as far as the eye can see. They are a type of army truck. Most of these vehicles were full of troops on that days.
How many people died of radiation? No one knows - not even approximately. The officials still keep the death toll at around 30 people, while unofficial sources already put the figure of 300,000 and sometimes over 400,000.
The final toll will not be known in our lifetime, and not in our childrens either.
It is easier to calculate material loses. It was a crippling economic catastrophe for the region - from which it may never recover.
Click here to download video that shows radioactive technics.
Click here for video "Consumed Land"
The memorial to Chernobyl night. For the dead and the unborn....written in stone to the living.
These fire engines never returned in their garages and the firemen they carried never returned to their homes. They were the first on the scene and thought it was an ordinary fire. They did not know what they were really dealing with.
The "Liquidators" were recruited or forced to assist in the cleanup or the liquidation of the consequences of the accident.
As a totalitarian government, the Soviet Union provided many young soldiers to assist with the cleanup of the Chernobyl accident, but did not provide many of them with adequate protective clothing - or any explanation of the dangers involved.
Over 650,000 liquidators helped in the cleanup of the Chernobyl disaster in the first year. This group includes those who built the containment building over the destroyed reactor No. 4 which is called the SARCOPHAGUS
Picture: Liquidators on their way to Chernobyl.
Soldiers on the roof of Unit # 3 pick up deadly pieces of radioactive graphite after explosion and toss them down into the cauldron of the demolished reactor core.
First, they tried to use robots, but technics have been disabled either by high radiation or been entangled in debris, then they sent thousands of soldiers- biorobots.
Work on the roof was the shortest job of all, and lasted only two minutes. Many soldiers were offered a choice of how to fulfill the tour of duty requirement that was necessary for their retirement from Army. One lasted two years in a hellish rain of bullets, rockets and bombs in Afghanistan, and the other lasted two minutes in a tranquil, silent and invisible rain of gamma rays on the roof of Unit # 3.
Ruins of Reactor # 4
This hellish inferno became a sort of paradise for wild animals - at least on the surface. They thrive with no humans to prey upon them, but nobody fully understands how the nuclear poisons have altered their genetic makeup, the extent of their migration or their interactions with the adjacent "safe" areas. Grotesque mutations have been reported, but official science deny that.
Populations of wolves and wild boars grow rapidly. They occupying the abandoned houses and sheds. They are curiously unagressive here. Maybe that has something to do with the food supply which plentiful for all species except man, but contaminated. It's not unusual to see a wolf, a fox, a wild boar or a wild deer casually crossing the road.
These are Prejevalsky Horses. Someone brought a couple of them from Asia a few years ago, they liked it here and now there are 3 herds running in Chernobyl area. They are a sturdy breed and are always on the move. They have a prehistoric look about them. When they sweep by at full gallop, it feels like you might see a herd of ancient Eohippus next. Zoologists also brought two American Bisons to the area, but the idea to breed them didn't work out. The male bison run away. I don't know if he run away from Radiation or from his bride, but he was last seen in Belorussia, heading west. He may have decided to return to America.
This is the town of Chernobyl.
Geiger counter reading here now is 20-80 microroentgens, depending of where you stay. This place is what I call a zombie town, which means that all native population was evacuated in May 1986. Since then town was cleaned a lot and later it became the base for Atomic Power Plant workers.
During times of nuclear fallout, deposition by the wind becomes the major factor. Spreading death in some places, it randomly grants mercy over others. Town of Chernobyl is located just 12 kms on south from reactor if we travel by air. In the first days after accident the level of radiation here was not high. Remarkable, considering at this time the radiation from Chernobyl had already hit Northern Europe. This was still a secret and in Sweden they started looking for leakage from their own nuclear plants. Wind changed direction on May 1st and morning reading showed here 24 milliroentgen an hour. The radioactive clouds have drifted through this place, killed it and went to Kiev, to take part in our famous Labor Day Milliroentgen Parade.
We passing it through.
This is the village election house.
It was quite boring to participate in an election with one candidate from one party, so the turnout was very low. That is, until the local officials hit upon the idea of offering free drinks in return for a vote. This inspired the electorate to become very interested in politics.
The door on the right is free drink room and door on left is the election room. I don't know if the authorities came up with idea of making the day after the elections a holiday so the voters had time to sober up before returning to work. Old man who told me this story could not recall.
Usually, on this leg of the journey, a beeping geiger counter inspires to shift into high gear and streak through the area with great haste. The patch of trees in front of me is called red - or 'magic" wood. In 1986, this wood glowed red with radiation. They cut them down and buried them under 1 meter of earth.
The readings on the asphalt paving is 500 -3000 microroentgens, depending upon where you stand. That is 50 to 300 times the radiation of a normal environment. If I step 10 meters forward, geiger counter will run off the scale. If I walk a few hundred meters towards the reactor, the radiation is 3 roentgens per hour - which is 300,000 times normal. If I was to keep walking all the way to the reactor, I would glow in the dark tonight. Maybe this is why they call it magic wood. It is sort of magical when one walks in with biker's leather and walks out like a knight in a shining armor.
This is the territory of the Atomic Power Plant. The geiger counter reading here is also 500-3000 microroentgen per hour.
The plant was closed down for good in 2000. They must build a new sarcophagus soon, because the original one was hastily constructed and is disintegrating.
Only a very small amount of the radiation inside of there had so far escaped. Most scientists believe that more then 90% is still under sarcophagus. The remains of radioactive fuel inside has a name of "The Elephant Foot", it because of it's distinctive shape. About 190 tonnes of uranium and 1 ton of really dangerous Plutonium is still there, so if the big, bad nuclear elephant ever sets its foot out, we'll be in very big trouble...
This is the final checkpoint. Protective radiation suits, a special permission are required beyond this point......I am not that curious.
The sarcophagus will remain radioactive for at least 100.000 years. The age for the pyramids of Egypt is 5,000 to 6,000 years. Each cultural epoch left something to humanity, something immortal, like Judaic epoch left us Bible, Greek culture- philosophy, Romans contributed law and we are leaving Sarcophagus, the construction that going to outlive all other signs of our epoch and may last longer then pyramids.
With a 4 kilometer leap, we are at the gates of the Ghost Town. It was founded in 1970 and located 4 kms North of the reactor. 48,000 people lived here and loved their town. In 1986, it was a modern, green and cozy place to live.
Ghost Town- Pripyat
This town might be an attractive place for tourists. Some tourists companies have been trying to arrange tours in this town, but the first group of tourists found the silence unnerving and downright SPOOKY. And it is. They charged 1200 hryvnas for a 2 hour excursion and after some 15 minutes, they wanted to flee to the outside world. The silence here is deafening.