On 26 April 1986 about 100 kilometres from Kiev, Chernobyl's Number Four reactor exploded during a safety test triggering what is to date, the worst nuclear accident ever. Radioactive fallout from the power station contaminated up to three-quarters of Europe, according to some estimates, with Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, all then part of the USSR, the worst-affected.
A 30-kilometre radius around the power station is still classified as an exclusion zone where people are not permitted to live in safety. We visited this amazing place during our trip to Ukraine in the summer of 2018.
We walked from the Hilton Kyiv to Independence Square at 8 am to meet our tour group for an 8:30 am departure. Normally for something like this we would go with a private driver and tour. But we decided not to be Princesses this time and joined a small tour run by Solo East. It was recommended by a close friend of ours, Andrew MacLeod and you can watch his video here.
We met our tour outside the McDonalds store on Independence Square. There was a passport and paperwork check before those who had paid the extra few dollars for a Geiger Counter were given their equipment.
The tour guide had everyone take a radiation reading there in the center of town. The average reading was around 0.3 millisieverts which are apparently normal for a modern city. Man-made things such as buildings, cars, roads, electricity lines as well as naturally-occurring things like soil, water, rocks and cosmic rays all emit small amounts of radiation. Humans have developed immunity to these base levels of radiation as a survival mechanism over the eons. The tour guide advised us that a lethal dose was anything over 1,000 millisieverts and if we saw anything approaching that, we should run! Paperwork and safety briefing done, we climbed aboard the minibus and headed out from Kiev towards Chernobyl.
From Kiev, the 100km drive takes around 2 hours, heading roughly parallel to the Dnieper river northwards to the border with Belarus. The drive itself is not so exciting, so Solo East took the opportunity to show a documentary film about the disaster itself. As it happens, this was the perfect way to bring us to speed with or refresh our memories about what happened back in 1986. The meltdown in reactor 4 at Chernobyl happened when a safety test went horribly wrong. I can’t help wondering thoughts when through the mind of the engineer who triggered the test – I guess it was “oops” or something to that -effect. The first responders who tried to reinsert the reactor rods and extinguish the fire all died quite soon afterward of acute radiation sickness. It was then decided to try and extinguish the fire by dropping 5,000 tons of sand, lead, clay, and boron onto the reactor from helicopters. What happened is that these became molten and joined together with the nuclear fuel to create a lava-like mass which began melting into the earth.
This created another extremely serious problem. If the molten mass were to melt down to the water table below, the resulting explosion would have blown half of Europe clean off the face of the earth! The solution to this was to bring miners from Siberia to tunnel under the molten mass and fill a cavern underneath with concrete to halt the descent of the mass. With this situation contained, attention was then turned to building a structure (the Sarcophagus) over the remains of the reactor in order to contain the remaining radioactive material and stop it escaping into the surrounding area.
The second documentary that Solo East showed us was about the sarcophagus itself. Hastily built in extremely dangerous circumstances in 1986, the original structure lacked proper foundations and was given a useful life of “about 30 years”. By 2016, the original structure had decayed so much, that birds could be seen freely flying into and out of the Sarcophagus at will. Given the degradation of the old sarcophagus, it was unsafe for workers to build a new structure directly at the reactor 4 site. So engineers had to devise a way to construct the new sarcophagus at a safe distance from the reactor, but then be able to manoeuvre it into place over the old structure.
In September 2010, construction began on the new structure and it was projected to take 5 years to completion. Things never go to plan of course, but in November of 2016, the new sarcophagus was slid into place over the old structure, making the Reactor safe for another 100 years. The new Sarcophagus also contains robotic arms that will be used to dismantle and store parts of the old Reactor along with the original radioactive materials still inside.
You can view Andrew MacLeod’s review of Solo East https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g294474-d2372209-r160833350-SoloEast_Travel_Chernobyl_Day_Trip-Kiev.html#REVIEWS
The story continues. Read what it was like inside the exclusion zone here
Lynn and Andrew Mitchell are 50-something travellers who enjoy travelling in comfort through some pretty interesting places. We started Einhorn Travel Accessories because of our passion for travelling the world, seeing amazing things and enjoying unique experiences together. We believe our extensive travel gives us a unique perspective, and we understand how important it is to have the right gear. We source travel accessories from around the world and offer them on one site. We would really appreciate you visiting our store and making a purchase or two.
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Travel date: 20 July 2018