Chernobyl: 2012

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Chernobyl has been getting a lot of attention lately after HBO’s excellent miniseries on the 1986 disaster that occurred here. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you take a look.) During the summer of 2012, I managed to tour Chernobyl and Pripyat, where most people working at the nuclear power plant lived. Below is a short photo essay of the trip.

The 2,600 KM exclusion zone is still a restricted area today. Nevertheless, thousands of scientists, engineers, and soldiers live and work here, typically on two-week shifts before spending another two weeks outside the zone.

Founded in 1970, Pripyat was a planned nuclear city. It was a highly desirable place to live and a showcase for the Soviet system and the “peaceful atom.”

Propaganda was a way of life in the Soviet Union, especially in schools. On the right is a series of posters glorifying the Great Patriotic War. But most propaganda in Pripyat was less militaristic; the poster on the right says, “There is no higher rank in the world than a worker.”

Not all propaganda was so on the nose. Some stain-glass windows still survive as well as this mural in the Palace of Energetic Culture.

Amusement parks were also a staple of Soviet life, and Pripyat had one of the best. The rusting Ferris wheel is one of the most photographed structures in the exclusion zone.

Hotel Polissya was built to house dignitaries coming to see the nuclear power plant. An important scene in the HBO miniseries, in which Legasov refuses to admit the seriousness of the situation to inquiring guests, takes place here.

On April 26, 1986, the number four reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. The reactor was entombed in a temporary concrete sarcophagus covered with a metal structure (pictured above). In 2016, a new confinement structure was created and placed over the existing sarcophagus.

Masks fill a cafeteria used as a staging area for firefighters at Chernobyl. Pripyat contains a number of rooms full of discarded radioactive gear.

Equipment used at Chernobyl was also left in the exclusion zone. The above is just one of several vehicle graveyards here.

Surprisingly, not all of Pripyat was abandoned. The swimming pool was used by people working in the zone until 1996.

View from the abandoned fluvial port that leads to the Pripyat River. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Pripyat.

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