Before you read the rest of the article, and it will be a long read, please allow me to share a few thoughts with you. Visiting the abandoned city of Pripyat and the disaster site of Chernobyl was an experience that I was looking forward to for a very long time.
While I was there I had many mixed feelings. On one hand I was having laughs with my friends and found everything ‘amazingly beautiful’ to shoot, while on the other hand I realized I was in and nearby the place where the world’s worst nuclear disaster happened. A place of sadness and death.
You might have seen or read several other articles and photo reports about people visiting Pripyat. I was surprised to hear that last year around 38.000 people (read: tourists) visited the area and this year they expect a total of 50.000 visitors. The numbers have been climbing every year. I realize that my visit and photos might therefor not be unique in any way. However, after reading a couple of books and watching a few documentaries in preparation of my visit, I couldn’t wait to see and experience it with my own eyes. Two weeks ago I have and now I will take you with me in my experience of visiting Pripyat.
This article is divided into two sections. One covers the history of the disaster and one covers my experience while exploring. To put a summary of the history together I have read a couple of books and there is one book that was, in my opinion, the most helpful since it was so easy to read. I’m talking about Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster by Andrew Leatherbarrow. Since I won’t be covering everything in my article, for example I left out the ‘cleanup process’, I would advise you to order a copy of the book and read up on the rest. You won’t regret it and you’ll be amazed by what the ‘liquidators’ and ‘roof cats’ have been through.
Photos of my visit to Pripyat are found throughout the whole article. I was not able to match all of the photos with the text describing the accident.
In this chapter I will explain how the disaster in Chernobyl happened and share a couple of other important and relevant events and details. All related in one way or another to the incident that changed the world – forever. Because what you may or may not know is that before the Chernobyl disaster a couple of other incidents happened, one bigger then the other. I will highlight two in this blog, the Kyshtym disaster in Russia and the Three Mile Island disaster in the United States.
The world’s first electricity-producing reactor was the ‘Experimental Breeder Reactor 1’ which was in America and started operating at the end of 1951. Half a year later the AM-1 (‘Peaceful Atom 1’) became the world’s first civilian nuclear power station in Russia and this turned out to be a prototype for the reactor in Chernobyl. In 1973, the first high power reactor (RBMK-1000, the same that was used at Chernobyl) started up in Leningrad while most Western countries did not use this type of reactor.
Construction of new reactors stalled between the late 1970s until early 2000s. The main reason for this was the world’s reaction to the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island incidents. Next to that the existing reactors operated more efficiently. In 2002, there were 444 reactors in use. As of 2011 there are still 430 commercial nuclear reactors operating which provide over 11% of the world’s electricity. The country that is most dependent on nuclear power (75%) is France. Ukraine, where Chernobyl is located, still relies on nuclear energy for almost 50%.
The Kyshtym Disaster
In 1957, the Kyshtym disaster happened near Russia’s closed city of Chelyabinsk-65, 120 kilometers from the border with Kazakhstan. Closed cities were a well-guarded secret during the Cold War. They housed workers of nearby nuclear facilities, weapons factories and other significant industrial sites and did not appear on any map or road sign. Visitors were prohibited without express permission from the Government, and residents who left the city were forbidden from discussing where they lived or worked. Because of this secrecy, the disaster was named after Kyshtym, the nearest known town. The photo above, with the warning sign, is copyrighted by Ecodefense, Heinrich Boell Stiftung Russia, Alla Slapovskaya, Alisa Nikulina.
Chelyabinsk-65 was near to the Mayak nuclear plutonium producing reactors (for nuclear weapons) and reprocessing plant. This is the site where their first nuclear weapon was produced. Unfortunately, by the time of the disaster, the Mayak facility had already contaminated the surrounding area with constant dumping of nuclear and chemical waste into the nearby river system and lakes. It would later be regarded as the most contaminated place on Earth decades later.
The Mayak plant was used to cool some of its nuclear waste in steel and concrete storage tanks. At some point during September 1957, one of the tanks’ cooling systems failed. Even though the temperature began to rise due to decay heat to an approximately maximum of 350 degrees Celsius, nobody noticed this. On the afternoon of September 29th, built-up pressure caused the tank to explode with the force of 70-100 tons of TNT, throwing off the 160-ton concrete lid. This damaged the two adjacent tanks and it spewed twice the number of radioactive particles released in Chernobyl into the air. Wind carried the radioactive plume over an area of up to 20.000 square kilometers.
After an initial delay of a week, over 10.000 people were evacuated from their homes during the following two years. Doctors diagnoses those who fell ill with ‘the special disease’, because they could not refer to radiation as long as the Mayak facility was a secret. A Soviet scientist who had passed through the area in 1960 stated that: “about 100 kilometers from Sverdlovsk, a highway sign warned drivers not to stop for the next 20 or 30 kilometers and to drive through at maximum speed. On both sides of the road, as far as one could see, the land was ‘dead’: no villages, no towns, only the chimneys of destroyed houses, no cultivated fields or pastures, no herds, no people…nothing”.
The accident remained hidden until 1976 when a Russian biologist, historian and dissident exposed the event in an article. The event was then given a rating of 6 on the International Nuclear Events Scale, making it the third worst nuclear accident in history.
Mayak was the location of another serious radiation accident ten years later.
Three Mile Island
One of the other most well-known nuclear accidents is the one that happened at the Three Mile Island power station in Pennsylvania, United states. The accident happened on March 28th, 1979. Nobody got injured, however, it is considered to be the worst accident in the history of nuclear energy in the United States. Much like Chernobyl, it combined a complicated series of oversights and mistakes (both human and technical) to create a near-disaster.
An unlucky coincidence caused decay heat in the core to create a pressure build-up that was like Mayak, prompting the pressurizer’s pilot-operated relief valve to open, which stabilized the pressure level. Then things started to go wrong. The event was eventually saved from being catastrophically worse by the reactor’s pressure vessel – an enormous metal shield surrounding the core, containing its molten radioactive remains. The same vital containment that Chernobyl’s RBMK reactors lacked. You will read more about this when you get to the description of the accident in Chernobyl.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was considered to be the best and most reliable of the Soviet Union’s nuclear facilities. Construction started in 1970 in a remote part of Ukraine, at a safe distance but also at relative proximity to Kiev. River Pripyat provided water supply and there was an existing railway line. 3 kilometers away from the power plant, the atomic city of Pripyat was established to house the 50.000 operators, builders, support staff and their families. 35-year-old turbine expert Viktor Bryukhanov who previously worked as deputy chief engineer at the thermal power plant was appointed as Chernobyl’s Director.
There were many problems during the construction, from thousands of tons of reinforced concrete missing from orders to specialist equipment being either impossible to source or of poor quality when it arrived. In 1983, the last of four reactors was finished. All four reactors were RBMK-1000 (‘Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalnyy’, or ‘High Power, Channel-type Reactor’). It is a graphite-moderated, boiling water-cooled reactor deigned in 1960s. In 1986, fourteen of RBMK-1000s were in service, while another eight were under construction.
Nuclear facilities are built and operated with a safety strategy of ‘defense in depth’. Defense in depth aims to avoid accidents by embracing a safety culture, but also accepts that mechanical and human failures are inevitable. Any possible problem is anticipated and factored into the design with multiple redundancies. The goal is to provide several layers of depth to the safety systems. The first barrier are the fuel ceramic pellets, followed by each fuel rod’s zirconium alloy cladding. In a modern commercial nuclear plant, the nuclear core where the fission reaction takes place would be contained inside a third barrier: an almost unbreakable metal shield enveloping the reactor, called a ‘pressure vessel’. The RBMK forgoes a conventional pressure vessel and instead only uses reinforced concrete around the sides of the reactor, with a heavy metal plate at the top and bottom. Adding a proper pressure vessel was estimated to double the cost of each reactor. The fourth and final barrier is an airtight containment building. Nuclear containment buildings are very heavily reinforced, with concrete and/or steel walls often several meters thick. They can withstand an impact of an airplane crashing into them and contain the breach of a pressure vessel. However, the RBMK’s reactor building was insufficiently strong to be labeled a containment building. This lack of the crucial containment barrier is a glaring omission that should never have been considered, let alone built.
April 26th, 1986 is the date of the worst nuclear disaster in history. Just after 1am, Chernobyl’s Unit 4 reactor control room operators started testing a safety feature intended to allow the Unit to power itself for around a minute in the event of a total power failure.
In order to open the plant ahead of schedule, Viktor Bryukhanov, supported by various Ministries, signed off on safety tests that were never conducted, with the unwritten promise of completing them later. This was a common practice in the USSR, as completing work ahead of schedule entitled everyone involved to bonuses.
The test had already been conducted three times before on Unit 3 and all failed. Engineers made additional alterations so the test was to be attempted again. It was originally planned for the afternoon of the 25th, but was postponed until after the evening peak electricity consumption period had ended. The fully briefed staff went home and the relatively inexperienced night shift staff were left with the task of running the test. The test programme left for the night shift was full of annotations and hand-written alterations making operators unsure which instructions to follow.
RBMK reactors have the ‘online refueling’ ability, meaning spent fuel can be swapped while the reactor is at power. It was not uncommon for the reactor to contain both new and old fuel, which was usually replaced every two years. On April 26th, around 75% of the fuel in Unit 4 was at the end of its cycle. Old fuel accumulates hot and highly radioactive fission products, meaning any interruption in the flow of cooling water could quickly damage the fuel channels and generate heat faster than the reactor was designed to cope with.
At 00.28am, while reducing power to levels low enough to begin, a process which takes about an hour, Senior Reactor-Control Engineer Leonid Toptunov made a mistake when switching from automatic to manual control, causing the control rods to descend more than intended.
Power levels that were supposed to be held at 1.500 Megawatts thermal (MWt) dropped all the way to 30MWt. 30MWt is almost an equivalent of a complete shutdown, not making even enough energy to power the water pumps. At such a low power, an atomic process of ‘poisoning’ the reactor begins and the test was over before it began. Had this massive drop in power never happened, the test would have proceeded without incident. However, the man in charge of the test, Deputy-Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, frustrated about another test delay, ordered the operators to recover the reactor and bring it back up to power.
Toptunov and the unit Shift Chief Alexander Akimov considered Dyatlov’s decision to continue to be in a violation of safety procedures but they relented and the test continued.
By 01.00am, they increased the power to 200MWt but that was nowhere near the intended 700MWt. Xenon poisoning had seriously reduced the fuel’s reactivity. Since 200MWt was too low to perform the test, they overrode additional automatic systems and manually raised more control rods to compensate for the poisoning effect. At the same time, they connected all 8 main circulating pumps and increased the flow of coolant into the core, up to around 60.000 tons per hour. This volume of water was another violation of safety regulations. Very high water flow leads to cavitation in the pipes. Increased coolant levels meant less steam, which soon caused the turbine speeds to drop. To counteract negative reactivity from all the extra coolant water, the operators withdrew most of the fuel control rods still inside the reactor, until the equivalent of only 8 fully inserted rods remained. Normally, the absolute minimum allowed was 15.
At 01.22.30am, Toptunov noticed the computer readings demanding that the reactor be shut down. The reactor was unstable but Dyatlov continued.
At 01.23.04am, turbine 8 was disconnected and began to coast down. Within seconds of cessation of steam flow into the turbine, the main circulating pumps began to cavitate and fill with steam, reducing the flow of cooling water and allowing steam voids to form in the core. More steam is less water and less water is more power. More power is more heat which results in more steam.
At 01.23.40am, Akimov pressed the EPS-5 emergency safety button to initiate a SCRAM, causing all remaining control rods to begin their slow descent into the core. It was the worst thing he could have done. Within seconds, the control rods stopped moving. Akimov released the clutch on their servomotors to allow the heavy rods to fall into the core but they were jammed.
Akimov was unaware of a fatal flaw in the reactor’s design. While around 5 meters of each control rod was composed of the neutron absorbing element boron to halt the reaction, the ends of each rod were made of graphite. Between the graphite and boron was a long hollow section. The purpose of the graphite tips was to displace cooling water in the rod’s path, thus increasing the boron’s dampening effect on the fuel. The moment all those graphite tips began to move inside the reactor, there was a surge in positive reactivity in the lower half of the core, resulting in a huge increase in heat and steam production. This heat fractured part of the fuel assembly, distorting the rod’s tubes and causing a jam. When a control rod is fully inserted, the tip extends below the core, but now over 200 were lodged in the center.
Within 4 seconds, the reactor’s energy output had soared to several times its intended capacity. Runaway heat and pressure deep inside the core ruptured fuel channels, then water pipes, causing the pumps’ automatic safety valves to close. This stopped the flow of coolant, increasing the rate at which steam was forming from the core’s diminishing water supply. The reactor’s own safety valves attempted to vent the steam, but they ruptured under pressure.
At 01.23.58am, 18 seconds after Akimov pressed the SCRAM button, steam pressure overwhelmed Unit 4 reactor. A steam explosion blew the 450-ton upper biological shield clear of the reactor before it crashed back down. The core was exposed. A split second later, steam and air reacted with the fuel’s zirconium cladding to create a volatile mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, which triggered a second, far more powerful explosion. Fifty tons of vaporized nuclear fuel were thrown into the atmosphere to be carried away in a poisonous cloud that would spread across most of Europe. The explosion ejected a further 700 tons of radioactive material from the periphery of the core, scattering it across an area of a few square kilometers. The reactor fuel’s extreme temperature, combined with air rushing into the gaping hole, ignited the core’s remaining graphite and generated an inferno that burned for weeks.
A typical human is exposed to ordinary background radiation at a harmless dose of 23 micro roentgens-per hour, or 0.000023 roentgens-per-hour. A chest x-ray will give you a dose of 0.8 roentgens. The radiation in Chernobyl’s Unit 4 reactor hall was now at an instantly-lethal 30.000 roentgens-per-hour. 500 roentgens, received over the course of 5 hours, is a fatal dose. 400 is fatal in 50% victims. The volume and intensity of radioactive particles thrown into the atmosphere on that night was equal to 10 Hiroshima bombs, not including the hundreds of tons of reactor fuel and graphite that landed all over the plant.
Dyatlov was convinced the explosions had been caused by hydrogen in the Safety Control System’s emergency water tank, and that the reactor must still be intact. This version of events was reported to Moscow and was believed to be true for almost an entire day.
The Chernobyl plant staff were genuine heroes that night. They selflessly stayed at their posts and replaced the hydrogen coolant in the generators with nitrogen, avoiding another explosion; they poured oil from the tanks of the damaged turbine into the emergency tanks outside, and spread water over the oil tanks to prevent more fire. Had none of this been done, the flames would then have spread to Units 1, 2, and 3, which probably would have resulted in the destruction of all four reactors.
Bryukhanov returned to the power station around 2.30am. He called in for a meeting where he learned a hydrogen buildup had detonated in one of the emergency water tanks, but it was believed that the reactor was intact. Plant workers were preparing a water pump to supply more cooling water to the reactor, and firefighters were tackling blazes on the roof and in the turbine hall; the situation was under control. Bryukhanov reported to Moscow that the reactor was intact, and the accident was not as terrible as first feared.
The only functional radiometer they could find indicated 3.6 roentgens-per-hour, high but not immediately life threatening. Bryukhanov and Dyatlov assumed this was an accurate measurement, despite knowing it was the maximum measurement the device could display. In reality, radiation levels reached as high as 30.000 roentgens-per-hour in some parts of the plant.
The firemen, who didn’t comprehend the full dangers of radiation until they became weak and vomited, played a fundamental role in preventing the catastrophe from becoming even worse. The procedure for fighting fire at Chernobyl was almost identical to any other industrial fire, with no regard for the possibility of radiation exposure. By 6.35am, when all but the blaze within the reactor core were extinguished, 37 fire crews, comprising 186 firemen in 81 engines, had arrived to battle the flames. A few firefighters even ventured inside Unit 4’s reactor hall and poured water straight into the reactor. This only made the situation worse. Most water either split into a dangerous hydrogen / oxygen mix or instantly evaporated, while any remaining water flooded the basement. The radioactivity was so intense that firefighters received a lethal dose in under a minute.
The hospital in Pripyat was not well prepared to deal with radiation sickness. Initially, there was only one qualified doctor at the plant who raced there with no prior warning of a radiation accident. He soon noticed a pattern in the symptoms of the surrounding people: headache, swollen glands in the neck, dry throat, vomiting and nausea.
On the desk of the reception is lying a highly radioactive piece of cloth that was part of the suit of a fireman.
Once Unit 3’s shift chief Yuri Bagdasarov realized there was no backup water supply to cool the still operating third reactor, he asked chief engineer Nikolai Fomin for permission to shut it down but Fomin forbade it. By 5am, Bagdasarov distributed respirators and iodine tablets to his staff to prevent radioactive iodine from building up in the thyroid gland, and then disobeyed his superior’s instructions and shut down Unit 3. Along with the firemen, he prevented the possible destruction of a second reactor. The decision to shut down Units 1 and 2 was not made for a further 16 hours.
Time and time again Bryukhanov and Fomin were told that the reactor was completely destroyed, but they continued to disregard everyone who warned them.
It took a while before Bryukhanov gradually came to his senses and realized the reactor was destroyed. He contacted Moscow and requested permission to evacuate Pripyat, but Communist Party officials, unaware of the full extent of the danger, refused to consider it. An evacuation would cause a panic and spread word of the accident.
Saturday the 26th was a blazing hot spring day. Pripyat’s 15.000 children went off to school, while the rest of the city’s residents went about their normal day while being silently irradiated. Police had set up roadblocks to prevent anyone going into or out of the area. This caused suspicion and many people tried to escape by walking out of town through the surrounding forest. This later became known as the Red Forest, after pine trees turned red and died from exposure caused by the first, deadliest cloud of particles blown from the reactor. It remains one of the most contaminated places on Earth.
By 2pm on the first day, troops from a special army chemical unit began their journey to Chernobyl where they took the first accurate measurements of surface-level radioactivity. The readings were extremely high and increasing all the time. By evening, reliable measurements were finally taken at the Chernobyl power station itself: thousands of roentgens per hour – lethal dose within minute. Several leading members of the commission boarded a helicopter to view the plant from above and at last confirmed beyond doubt that Chernobyl’s reactor had been destroyed. The group agreed their best course of action would be to drop bags of sand mixed with boron, dolomite and lead to absorb neutrons and the heat from helicopters hovering above the reactor, straight into the core.
On the evening of the 26th it was agreed that the population within 10km of the plant should be moved to a safe distance. Nevertheless, the city’s residents were not informed until the 27th, at 11am. 1.100 buses drove overnight from Kiev to transport the evacuees out of the area. Officials forbade residents from leaving in their cars out of concern they would cause traffic jams. Six days later, Moscow ordered the exclusion zone’s initial radius of 10km from the plant expanded to 30km, after more extensive radiation readings revealed the severity of the contamination. In total, around 116.000 people were moved from 170 villages and towns during 1986. After 1986, a further 220.000 people from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were relocated.
The world remained ignorant of the accident at Chernobyl until the morning of Monday April 28th, when a sensor at Sweden’s Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant, over 1.000 kilometers away, detected elevated radiation levels. After a partial evacuation of the plant’s 600 staff, those that remained urgently tried to locate the source. It became apparent from isotopes present in the air that the source was a reactor. The Swedish Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology analyzed the trajectory of the radioactive particles in the atmosphere, which indicated that they were emanating from the Soviet Union. Soviet government claimed they had no knowledge of any accident. By the evening, monitoring stations in Finland and Norway had also detected the high radiation contents in the air and Soviet leadership was left with no choice but to admit that there was an accident.
At Chernobyl, concentration was on extinguishing the reactor fire and preventing any further release of poisonous fission products from the core. Helicopter were dropping sandbags into the molten crater. Sandbags caused the fire’s temperature to drop straight away, but radioactive particles in the air increased sharply because more and more dust and debris was kicked into the air from the heavy falling bags’ impact. After the first day, 150 tons had been dropped into the reactor. On May 1st, a total of around 5.000 tons of materials fell into the reactor.
It is now known that almost none of the neutron absorbing boron mix in the sandbags made it into the core. The sandbags had, however, partially sealed the open gap between the slanted Upper Biological Shield and the reactor wall below.
Immediate worry was that the reactor core could burn down through the lower biological shield to the pressure suppression pool below, and from there on to the building foundations. Two things were needed to minimize the risk. First, the pool had to be drained, but its two valves in the basement – which could only be turned by hand – were now submerged under radioactive water from the firemen’s failed attempt to extinguish the reactor fire. Second, the commission decided that the earth beneath the reactor building should be frozen with liquid nitrogen to harden the ground, support the foundations and help to cool the superheated core.
A team of highly trained firemen placed four ultra-long hoses into the water and started draining the basement. After the route was passable, the valves could be turned and the pool was about to be drained. Oil drilling equipment was set-up on the grounds and prepped to begin injecting liquid nitrogen into the earth beneath the foundations.
On May 10th, the temperature and radioactive emissions from inside the reactor started to fall. By the 11th, a team of technicians bored a hole through a wall below the core and poked a radiometer through. It confirmed their worst fears: the molten core had cracked the reactor’s concrete foundations and at least partially poured into the basement. There was now next to nothing stopping it from breaking through the foundations of the building itself and reaching the water table below. A better and more permanent solution than injecting liquid nitrogen from the surface was required.
Miners were recruited for an operation to cool the ground beneath the destroyed reactor. They were bused to Chernobyl and began work on the 13th. It took them over a month to dig a tunnel and a room to hold a refrigeration device for cooling down the reactor but the refrigeration machinery was never installed because the core began to cool on its own. Instead, the space was filled with heat resistant concrete. It’s estimated that one-quarter of the miners died before they reached the age of 40.
The situation stabilized and the cleaning process could begin. If this story got you interested read more about it in Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster by Andrew Leatherbarrow
Six men have been arrested by the KGB for their role in the disaster. They were:
- Plant Manager Viktor Bryukhanov, who spent almost a year in solitary confinement awaiting the trial;
- Chief Engineer Nikolai Fomin. Fomin delayed the trial because of an attempted suicide. Fomin had broken his glasses and slit his wrists with the shards, but they have saved his life;
- Deputy-Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, who wrote the turbine test program;
- Shift Supervisor Boris Rogozhkin, the man in charge of the night shift on the 26th;
- Yuri Laushkin, the government’s safety inspector at Chernobyl;
- Manager of the Reactor Workshop Alexandra Kovalenko, who approved the test along with Bryukhanov and Fomin
Akimov and Toptunov both died due to receiving a fatal dose during attempts to restart feedwater flow into the reactor. Viktor Bryukhanov, along with Nikolai Fomin were sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a labor camp and expulsion from the Communist party. Countless others paid for it with their health and lives.
Visiting the abandoned city of Pripyat and the disaster site of Chernobyl was an experience that I was looking forward to for a very long time. While I was there I had many mixed feelings. On one hand I was having laughs with my friends and found everything ‘amazingly beautiful’ to shoot, while on the other hand I realized I was in and nearby the place where the world’s worst nuclear disaster happened. A place of sadness and death.
One of the first things I noticed while getting closer to Pripyat is that in the area of Chernobyl people are rebuilding their lives. There is a supermarket, houses and apartments that are occupied, a hotel, a place to eat at and so on. I’d guess this is happening about 20km away from the abandoned city of Pripyat, within the secured zone (yellow).
At first we explored parts of the area nearby Chernobyl, which is now a village with monuments that were build after the disaster and still has a few abandoned small villages and for example an abandoned kindergarten left. This area was covered with tourists. Even though it was a weekday, minivans with people kept pulling up and tourists started having a look at the area of the monuments and abandoned places.
While getting deeper in the zone and eventually arriving at the abandoned city of Pripyat I was still surprised by the fact that many tourists are here. I’ve only seen them wandering on the streets and in the busses and not actually in the buildings. In weekends it’s supposed to be even worse and I’ve experienced that on a Saturday where tour busses full of visitors departed from Kiev and mostly dropped by for a one day-visit of the zone. It’s more and more becoming an attraction, a theme park. This is weird and doesn’t feel right, while on the other hand I realise that I’m also part of this.
My actual thought of seeing the abandoned city of Pripyat for the first time was how big it was. I was expecting a big city with many buildings but this was massive and there was so much to see. Most of the buildings were still in a pretty good shape and lots of details have still been left conserved (like the mural in the post office). I could easily imagine thousands of people living here. They had everything. Cinema, schools, kindergartens (15!), sports places, a post office, a super market, hotels, many shops, a barber and so on. While walking and driving around the city it felt very surrealistic. It’s such a huge area with so many abandoned buildings. It’s easy to imagine that over 50.000 people lived here.
The photos in this blog is the smallest selection I was able to make out of the photos that I’ve took during my trip. I literately came home with hundreds of photos and many of them haven’t even been processed yet. In the photos I’m showing you some of the most important buildings in Pripyat. The photos show the decay and abandonment of the buildings.
If you had to be treated because you were sick, like many of the first patients that were in or at the nuclear facility at the time of the disaster, you would be treated in Hospital 126. Alexander Akimov was one of the first patients to be treated here actually due to the effect of the radiation on his body. Exploring the hospital was the most bizarre building that I’ve explored holding a lot of emotions and history.
A couple of ‘urban myths’ have been introduced into the world regarding the evacuation and the time after the disaster though. Lets take the photo of the infamous ‘bridge of death’ for example. The story goes that residents of the city of Pripyat stood on this bridge and watched fire (in all sorts of fancy colours) coming out of the reactor (you can actually see the location of the reactor – where now the sarcophagus is – on the left side of the picture). Thus far the story is true. It has been claimed that the people that were standing on this bridge got a deadly dose of radiation and no one survived. Therefor referring to that bridge as the ‘bridge of death’. Now that part is actually untrue. People standing on this bridge got the same dose of radiation as the people did back in Pripyat, and not all of them died due to a deadly dose of radiation.
Another ‘urban myth’ is about the ferris wheel. Story goes that the ferris wheel has never functioned and has never been ‘loaded’ with people because it was built to celebrate activities that were about to take place after the disaster happened, obviously not knowing the disaster was about to happen. In fact the ferris wheel did function, with people in it, for one day on the day after the accident happened. Authorities tried to distract the residents from Pripyat from the accident that happened and therefor opened the ferris wheel for them to have a ‘good’ time with their family.
The photos in this post have been shot using the Sony A7Rii and a wideangle 16-35mm lens or standard zoomlens 24-70mm.
About the Author
Roman Robroek is an urban-obsessed photographer, born and raised in the enchanting South of the Netherlands. He shoots unique photos of undisclosed abandoned places. You can find out more about Roman on his website, follow his work on Instagram, or reach out to him through Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission.