Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Time has passed, and I am still glowing

Reactor #4 and a radiation meter
Well, not like the glowing in the dark type glowing, but Chernobyl is still kind of haunting me over a week after my visit.  Germany has been my in between country.  Ukraine, Germany, Ukraine.  I didn't really have much time to process my visit to Reactor 4, as I was with Claudia, then immediately running off the Germany.  Really, I think I have been putting off this post for much too long.  I refused to really think about it too much.  Everyone, what happened on April 26rd, 1986 should never be forgotten.  It is a perfect example of what happens when a super-power possesses technology that it does not understand nor have in complete control.  After the reactor exploded, it took the officials almost two full days to order the evacuation, and by then most residents had already been exposed to large amounts of radiation.  It is said that the amount of radiation released is about 400 times the amount of radiation released by the U.S.' atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The Soviet's in Moscow did not even know there was a problem in their territory until the Swedish reported unusually high levels of radiation above their territory.  The Soviets were unprepared to handle an accident of this magnitude and when it happened, too proud to admit something so horrible could ever happen in the powerful USSR.  Generations to follow would suffer the consequences of this pompous pride and unwillingness to admit culpability.  To this day, the Former Soviet Union has done no studies to figure out the health effects this tragedy had on their people and those in continental Europe; 70% of the fallout is said to have landed on Belarus.  I find it unfair that hardly anyone ever talks about it to this day.  I wandered the ruins of the city of Pripyat less than two miles from the explosion site in order to help preserve its memory and spread the world.  It may now be a ghost town, but I endeavor to make sure its spirit lives on.

Tattered school books in an abandoned school
I went to an abandoned school and saw book after book for learning material for the boys and girls of Pripyat.  It was eerie to see the learning material.  Two things that were especially surprising to me: 1. They were learning English even back then.  The American children never even came close to even thinking about learning a word of Russian.  2. The children had a music room, art room, science room, and a war room... They learned about different types of warfare, important battles and other historical armament.  I found it very chilling to see an entire room devoted to war paraphernalia.

Platform Diving Boards at the public swimming pool

This platform diving board was especially interesting to me.  Did you know that this public swimming pool located in Pripyat was in use until 1996?  Actually, Reactor #1 (just around the corner from Reactor #4) was in use until 2001.  I can't believe that people still worked in the immediate area of Reactor #4, and still spent time relaxing that this pool.

Bumper Car

The city was built in 1970 to home the workers of the nuclear reactors and their families.  I am sure it must have been a lot of fun to come to this amusement park before the reactor went haywire.

The Famous Ferris Wheel

We continued our tour around the city and I found this bit of graffiti.  There were so many looters after the city was evacuated.  There is not so much graffiti littering the walls of what was once such a proud city.
Creepy Graffiti
Memorial to the Firefighters 

I feel so bad for the firefighters who were first sent in to put out the reactor's flames. Can you imagine showing up with all of your gear, putting water over the flames, only to realize that this is unlike any fire you have ever seen.  Water does nothing; the flames keep burning.  All 28 firefighters died shortly thereafter of ARS (Acute Radiation Syndrome).  The specific plan that was laid out by the officials to stop the spread of the radiation was tedious.  It involved many steps.  They started by pouring lead and sand bags (yes, sand bags) on to the gaping hole that was constantly spewing poisonous gas.  They later realized another huge problem: if the hot molten radiation lava would continue to burn down into the ground below the reactor and touch the water found there, another even larger explosion would surely follow.  To stop the follow of lava down, 600,000 "volunteers" sporting nothing more than a paint mask were ordered to dig a tunnel leading beneath the reactor.  Because they realized that one would get ARS from prolonged exposure, everyone would take 20 minute shifts.  The amount of radiation in the air was 15,000 more than the average humans yearly allotment.  After that tunnel was completed and the path leading to the water was built, it was decided that a sarcophagus would need to be built surrounding the reactor.  Radioactive solids would have to be removed from the roof first.  Robots but after only a few minutes, their computers would short circuit.  People were once again sent to the scene, only allowed to work a matter of seconds before being rushed back down.  Meanwhile, decontamination teams were sent to spray down buildings; cut down trees and bushes and bury them in concrete.  It was a sickening process, and I will admit I do not even remember ever last bit of their plan.  Many people lost their lives, or suffered for the rest of their lives.  Without them, Europe would have continued to have been plagued with this invisible enemy.

 I am still very emotional and passionate about my experience last week in Ukraine.  Although incredibly depressing and grisly, I am so glad I had the chance to see the city of Pripyat and Chernobyl.  Not only has it made me even more appreciative of my health and life in the United States, but also I feel like I am one step closer to figuring out what I should do with my life.

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