Highly recommend a visit to the abandoned village of Pripyat and the surrounding villages. Especially this time of year. The tour itself was very well organized with Geiger counters and very little risk, according to the two English-speaking Ukrainian guides. Only on a few occasions – while passing a couple of hotspots – did my metering gadget jump from the normal background radiation of 0,2 to ≈16,000 microsieverts/hr.
We visited several smaller villages on the outskirts of the Exclusion Zone as well as the enormous Dugar Radar before exploring Pripyat, situated just two miles away from the nuclear power plant, and purpose-built to house its workers and their families.
Just 36 hours after the accident, some 43,000 people were evacuated from Pripyat in about 3,5 hours. The local government rented 1200 buses from Kyiv to perform the evacuation.
Most of the residential and commercial interiors have subsequently been looted and severely vandalized. So not much remains intact from 1986. Just junk, really.
Interestingly, officially, there are no tours of the Exclusion Zone or the Reactor 4 area. But since it’s Ukraine, as long as there are people willing to pay for something, almost everything can be arranged. I suppose that’s part of the attraction. Opportunism run amok.
One of our guides told us of how hundreds of the rugs and decorations stolen from apartments in Pripyat and other villages were later identified in bazaars and makeshift markets in as faraway places as Siberia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Apparently, carpets and fabrics easily absorb radiation and many of those from homes in the Exclusion Zone was saturated with odorless, lethal toxicity. So people that bought them several hundred miles from the potentially cataclysmic catastrophe at Reactor 4 eventually fell ill with serious levels of radiation sickness.
The size of the sarcophagus covering the Unit Four Reactor, which exploded in 1986, is just stupendously enormous and could easily house the Statue of Liberty underneath its metal, movable roof. While it was supposed to stabilize the site, which is still highly radioactive and full of fissile material, there are now some worrying signs that the remains could still heat up and leak radiation into the environment again.
Before returning to Kyiv, the tour group had to go through two separate scans to make sure we had not been exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity.
After returning to my hotel in Kyiv, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of exploitation. Which was something I also felt while at Auschwitz and Birkenau. I don’t know if I’m more enlightened or desensitized now than before either visit. But these tours have surely solidified my feeling that Man (primarily men) are endlessly capable of screwing things up, creating devastation upon each other, and fucking up the planet.