Chernobyl exclusion zone is one of the most mysterious places not only in Ukraine, but in the whole world. Radiation, abandoned villages and towns, limited access to the zone and many other factors cover this area with a lot of myths and stereotypes. However, how many facts do you know about Chernobyl and the zone?
Part 1 – Before the Accident
Having only 4 operational units, Chernobyl power plant used to be one of the most powerful in the Soviet Union. The aim was to continue construction reactors up to 12 to make the facility one of the most powerful plants in the world.
Construction of Pripyat began in 1970, and in 16 years the population grew up to almost 50,000 of inhabitants.
Third part of the population of Pripyat was children.
According to the plan, the first reactor had to be put in service in 1974. The deadline was postponed several times, and finally unit 1 started producing energy in 1977.
Cooling pond of the Chernobyl power plant was one of the biggest artificial lakes in Ukraine. Its area is 22 km² and maximum depth is 6 m.
In the 10-km zone, there is radar, Duga-1, which was built in late 70-ties to spot American missiles. This is one of three radars of this type that were built in the Soviet Union.
Duga-1 and military town Chernobyl-2 were marked as an abandoned summer camp on the Soviet maps (except for military ones).
Duga-1 never worked properly. There was a hope that it would work after the set of improvements and tests, which were supposed to come to an end in 1986. Unfortunately, the accident destroyed these plans.
Part 2 – After the Accident
In Chernobyl zone, the decay of the last radioactive element (Plutonium-239) will come to its end in 26248 (24,500 years after the accident).
More than 250,000 of people were evacuated from the huge territory around the power plant.
After the accident, all the inhabitants of Pripyat were evacuated in less than 3 hours.
The shape of the exclusion zone was changed for the last time in 1998, when people were evacuated from Poliske town and it was included to the zone.
Today, Chernobyl exclusion zone has more than 2,500 km² (Ukrainian part). Belarus has its exclusion zone too, and it’s two times bigger than the Ukrainian one.
Although it was prohibited to live in the zone, 1,200 came back to their houses in spring, 1987. Later, they were provided with an official status of re-settler. There were 118 of them still living in the zone in 2019.
Average age of the Chernobyl re-settlers is 79.
27% of the personnel of the exclusion zone are women.
After the accident, Chernobyl power plant continued producing energy. The last reactor (number 3) was shut down in December, 2000.
All the pipes in Chernobyl town are located above the ground. When rebuilding the system after the accident, the workers didn’t have to dig contaminated soil.
10 years are needed to transport spent fuel from the temporary repository store to the permanent one.
Chernobyl accident became known in the world because the radioactive clouds were spread all over the Europe. On 28th of April, increased radioactive was measured at Swedish power plant in Forsmark. Identifying the reasons of this case led to the Soviet Union and the accident at Chernobyl power plant.
Unit 4 – the one that exploded – was the “youngest” among all the reactors of Chernobyl power plant. It was built in 1983. In 1986, it was supposed to pass the design test which ended in a global catastrophe.
On the International Nuclear Event Scale, Chernobyl is rated at seven, which is the maximum severity. There are only two accidents in the world rated at seven: Chernobyl and Fukushima.
In 1986-1988, around 600,000 “liquidators” participated in the works aimed to reduce the consequences of the accident.
From 1986 to 1988, liquidators made 800 temporary burial sites in the exclusion zone.
There were three villages in the zone that were entirely buried under the ground because of high contamination.
3828 soldiers cleaned up the roof of the third reactor in a couple of weeks. Cleaning up was needed to be able to cover the reactors with a shelter – Sarcophagus. After the ruins of the exploded unit, the roof was the most contaminated location, so each soldier could work for 2 min maximum there. Because of the level of radiation and the complexity of work, these soldiers were called bio-robots.
Sarcophagus was built in 206 days.
The amount of steel which was used to build the New Safe Confinement is equal to the amount of steel needed to build the Eiffel Tower. Together with auxiliary equipment, the NFC weights 36,000 tons.
Despite the fact the power plant doesn’t produce any energy nowadays, there are up to 3,000 people working there. 3,000 of people more work around the zone.
Part 3 – Untold Before
Chernobyl town is the only settlement in the whole exclusion zone which can be legally inhabited.
Chernobyl town is a very old settlement with rich history. It was first mentioned in the Ipatiev Chronicle in 1193. Archaeological excavations are being carried out around the town even today.
In the beginning of XX century, almost 70% of the population of Chernobyl was Jewish. Many of them immigrated when the Soviet authority was established. However, even today Jewish signs can be found all over the town, like the former synagogue which was transformed into military registration and enlistment office.
There is a Lenin statue in the centre of Chernobyl town – the last one in Ukraine. According to the Law of Decommunization, which was passed in 2015, all the monuments were removed from the Ukrainian settlements. However, this law can`t be applied in Chernobyl zone as long as this place considered as a museum.
There is a curfew in Chernobyl: nobody is allowed to be on the street after 10 p.m.
In Chernobyl town, there is a prohibition of selling alcohol in the shops before 7 p.m.
Chernobyl power plant is not located in Chernobyl town. The distance between them is more than 10 km. Newly built city of Pripyat was the closest settlement to the nuclear facility.
When the city of Pripyat was evacuated, the power plant continued producing energy, the need of building new safe city for the workers arose. Construction of this new settlement – Slavutych – began in 1986, and in 1988, people started receiving apartments there. 8 Soviet Republics took part in the construction.
To deliver workers from Slavutych to Chernobyl, there is a special train. It crosses the border with Belarus twice. The station is located just in front of the power plant.
There are two active churches in the exclusion zone: one in Chernobyl town and the other in Krasne village. The second one was built in 1800.
According to the Law of Ukraine, it is absolutely prohibited to take anything outside the zone. Otherwise, it will be considered as a spreading of radioactive materials and the one who carries the object will be subject to criminal liability.
The New Safe Confinement was built in 2016 and to cover the unstable Sarcophagus till 2116. In the meantime, the first shelter will be disassembled and the radioactive waste from the reactor will be removed and stored in the special site.
New Safe Confinement is the biggest man-made movable construction in the world. It is 108 m high, 162 m long and 257 m wide.
650,000 screws were used in the construction of the New Safe Confinement.
Potable water in Chernobyl town has high quality. In Chernobyl, well is 1,500 m deep. With such a depth, there is no risk of drinking contaminated water.
Chernobyl natural reservation is one of two places in Ukraine where you can meet Przhevalski horses and where they live in the wildlife. The horses were introduced to the zone in 1998. 20 horses were brought to Chernobyl. Now, there are more than 120 of them living in the zone.
As long as the land in the exclusion zone can`t be used for agricultural purpose, there is a plan to build a solar power plant in the 10 km zone.
Despite the fact, that the exclusion zone is officially uninhabited, the roads there are one of the best in the area. It is made for the vehicles that transport radioactive waste from one place to another. Moreover, there is a speed limit in the zone: 40 km/hour.
In 2019, team of Ukrainian and British scientists releases “ATOMIK” vodka. It was made of the water from Chernobyl well and wheat grown in the zone.
There is a bus that goes from Kyiv to Chernobyl and back. Anyone can buy a ticket on the bus station. However, the bus crosses the checkpoint, and the passengers have to provide the police with the documents that allow them to enter the zone.
The amount of radiation got in one day tour is equal to the amount of radiation received during one hour of flight: 0,3μSv.
In 2019, Chernobyl zone was visited by more than 200,000 tourists.