Radioctive exposure in chernobyl

at the time of this being filmed, i had no idea I was standing in a black-zone.

KYIV, UKRAINE – One dreary Saturday morning a charter bus pulls up to the concrete as we wait alongside two dozen or so “Nuclear tourists”… Death metal blasts while the thirty six of us head from a Ukrainian metro station to the city of Pripyat on a Greyhound styled bus. The seats are filled with locals, Russians, Belarussians, and a few Canadians. Within sixty minutes we arrive at the site of Chernobyl. To my left and right people begin to reach for their cameras… and geiger counters.

Chernobyl and Pripyat: Then and Now

In 1986, a nuclear meltdown occurred in a reactor in the city of Chernobyl, Ukraine. The disaster forced the evacuation of nearly 350,000 people permanently. Some people still remain, especially older women, often referred to as teh “Babushkas of Chernobyl” who refused to leave, and continue to reside in the city semi-legally.

The radioactivity is mostly high inside the environment itself. The explosion that occurred spread nuclear material to the equivalent of 20 Hiroshima bombs’ worth of nuclear radiation. Much of this radiation covered about 25 miles within the blast zone, and even the capital city was affected.

The radioactive isotopes have mostly decayed since the disaster occurred over twenty years ago, as it has been washed away by rain, soil, and even passed through the food chain itself. Two particular isotopes, cesium-137, which is similary to potassium, and strontium-90, which is similar to calcium, have been circulated and filtered through living things.

Plants, animals, mushrooms and bacteria have all digested these byproducts.

You could say the radiation is no longer on the surface, but part of it as a whole…

An Unsponsored Journey

“If You Wish to Venture to Chernobyl, Your Do So At Your Own Risk”

While living and studying with the School of Russian and Asian Studies last year in Ukraine, I took it upon myself and a fellow classmate to organize once again a daring excursion into the unknown.

Our program covered much travel and historically rich excursions to museums, historical sites, culture based excursions, and lectures on conflictology. But one excursion they would not sponsor would be our greatest one – Chernobyl.

Abandoned buildings were retrofitted with LED displays that acted as radioactive meters; constantly updating and displaying the radiation levels in the city.

In our trip, we noticed the locaiton of us and the proximity of the nuclear levels were obscure. Random places peaked with high levels, like “pockets” of radiation was scattered about. You cannot see or feel the radiation, but you know it is there.

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Glimpse inside an Abandoned  Daycare

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Our arrival was quite surreal – while excited and strangely unworried, a fellow student and I glanced out of our windows under the cold grey skies and crushed autumn leaves. Amidst our drivers’ megaphone, we tried to decipher a mix of Ukrainian/Russian warnings, introductions, and witty commentary.

Sporting a mullet and not-so-ordinary charisma, our tour guide began an unforgettable trip into one of the world’s most infamous city.

The Chernobyl Pool

It is no surprise that our adventure in Chernobyl landed us in some familiar places. For those who have played such games as Activision’s Call of Duty, you will see the stunning resemblance is uncanny. The videogame developers quite accurately captured the essence of the abandoned nuclear zone.

Most of the buildings in Chernobyl and Pripyat are severely deteriorated. A water leak stemming from the ceiling nearly resulted in me slipping into a patch of rusty nails and twisted floorboards. The building previously housed a gym, but currently features a basketball room with wooden floorboards that are severely warped, and peeling off from the surface. We continued our exploration into abandoned buildings, while urged not to venture too far, or for too long.

One building I explored on my own, I was using my feet to push open the doors of abandoned rooms. It was a preschool, and on the second and third floors of the buildings, I found trees growing inside. The deteriorated iron doors and metal infrastructure crushed beneath my feet, carrying with itself a sound similar to dead autumn leaves. Some crumbled and cracked like glass.

All I heard was silence, and crunch, crunch, crunch.

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Trevor Gets Exposed to Radiation!

Our guides took us to another landmark of the Chernobyl disaster – an abandoned water tower. We exited our bus and wandered through a junkyard of debris and useless trash. Upon passing piles of rusted nuclear infrastructure and machinery, our guides lead us single file towards the massive cooling tower. But then I was separated from the group.

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While separated from the group, a strong warning was relayed to all tourists, “Do not enter that area of the cooling tower.”

To my amusement and upon my return to the group, I noticed that area was riddled with black colored moss. How awesome, I thought! Black moss! Whoo hoo!

I kicked around the moss and tried to capture some unique photos of the journey. A friend of mine in Ukraine was interning at an Embassy, and he told me of his trip to Chernobyl. “Be careful of the moss, the radiation tends to be absorbed in it.” Whether or not this is true, when I was returned the group, I was greeted with jokes, a geiger counter scan, and a scolding from my friend for violating a warning I never heard. Typical experience for Trevor.

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Radiation still leaks from the reactors core, and a steel sarcophagus was created in 1986 to prevent further radiation from exiting into the surrounding areas. The ‘shield’ as it may be called, has been replaced twice since it was first installed. It was said to be able to have lasted fifty years, but a new arc, the “NOVARKA” is currently being constructed to cover the dying reactor core once again. What was supposed to last fifty years is slowly destructing from the inside.

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