On April 29th, 2008 the Dutch ARDF Team arrived in Kiev in Ukraine to participate in the annual ARDF Europe cup competition “Kiev Spring 2008”. The team consisting of Dick PA0DFN, Jenny NL12125, Björn PD4BWD, Tommie NL13197 and me, Edwin PE5EDW had the option (or should I say privilege) to visit the Chernobyl nuclear disaster area around the Number 4 reactor that blew up in spring 1986 contaminating large areas on a global scale. Chernobyl is situated about 130km North of the capital city of Ukraine, Kiev.
Chernobyl city limits
As it is already 22 years ago the radiation levels on the road are down to an acceptable level so visiting the area was possible. While it is quit expensive for outsiders to get permission to go into the closed area in a 30km zone around the Reactor 4, our good friend and guide Igor US0VA managed to get us the required documents that allowed us to pass the checkpoints. It seems that it is more and more becoming a tourist attraction as we saw later on on the internet.
On the 30th of April, on our Dutch Queen’s Day, we set out from Kiev for Chernobyl. We had mixed feelings about the trip regarding the balance between safe and hazardous, but logical after 22 years most of the contaminated materials are flushed away in the soil or diluted into the earths atmosphere. It was safe ONLY on the roads, not to step into the side of the road as the radiation level was still too high. Also all materials found in the area were still contaminated. Keeping our hands firmly in our pockets seems to be the best advice. The half-life time of the radioactive Cesium material is about 30 years, so we were warned.
After a while we had passed numerous small villages and nothing indicated that we were getting near Chernobyl, but at a certain point live seems to be growing thin and we started to see deserted area, factories, farms and houses. We had not entered the 30km zone yet that was to be the first barrier around the disaster area.
As we approached the 30km Checkpoint we saw a small Chapel and Memorial next to the checkpoint. This was it. Igor went to meet a friend, Vladimir UT3UW, who is also a radio amateur, had lived in the city of Pripyat, just North of the Nuclear Power Plant. This city was evacuated just after the disaster. He was to be our special guide for the excursion.
After paying a small fee for entry-permits we set out on the road to Chernobyl. After a while looking at deserted houses we reached the city limit of Chernobyl and continued into the town area. It looked very well maintained and still lots of workers live there to take care of the town and surroundings as well as keeping the hospital, fire station and other public services operational.
We continued and passed the fire station from which 22 years the first firemen went to their doom in trying to fight the fire and find out what did happen, unknowingly that many of them would die shortly after or during their presence in the contaminated area. The men of the fire station made the monument themselves to honor the brave firemen and remember their terrible fate.
Fire Department monument
We went out of town and followed the road and passed the 10km checkpoint. From this point on there was very little activity around. At about 4km distance from the Reactor 4 we passed the ruins of a town called Kopachi. The only thing that was left after the liquidators did flatten the town covering all with an earth layer and leaving only the roads visible and small heaps of earths, sometimes with a radiation sign on a stick marking heavily contaminated areas. It was a sad sight to look at.
Kopachi, tragic remainders of a house
Then we drove towards the cooling water channels. The nuclear power plant and Reactor 4 was by then clearly visible on the skyline. I was thinking that we had reached the point where we could take pictures and turn back.
Unfinished cooling tower
To our surprise we kept on going towards the disaster area, closer and closer up to the point that we drove up to the administration building on the nuclear power plant area at about 800m from Reactor 4. We visited the monument and looked around.
Monument for those who gave their lives at Reactor 4
Still some people work there in the administration buildings and around the area to maintain the area. Seems to me a job not without any risk. They said that some very big and strange fish lived in the cooling water channels. And although we did not see any, I believed them right away.
Looking at the Reactor 4
We were advised by our guides to get back into the cars and go towards Pripyat. With some relieve we left the area, then we took a right turn that would take us even closer to the Reactor 4 and we stopped looking North towards the huge sarcophagus that covers the source of the terror that hit the world in 1986. We were at 500m distance at that point.
We could go out of the car for a few minutes, take some pictures, and get going again. We were instructed not to leave the road as the soil next to the road was still heavily contaminated. We were glad to be back in the cars and we all were very much impressed by the sight of the nuclear disaster site with the number four in the center of it all. It looked very tranquil and it was hard to believe that if you would leave the road and walk the 500m towards the reactor you were looking at certain death as the radiation levels near the reactor were still very high.
Power grid distribution station
We went on passing a brand new blue colored building that looked very strange amongst all the grey surroundings. It was not quit clear what kind of building that was, but it probably had something to do with the clean-up operation of the nuclear waste beneath the reactor.
When we reached the checkpoint at the city of Pripyat a very young soldier opened the barrage for us and he did not look very happy (we were not surprised). The city was completely deserted of course and Vladimir took us towards the city center. We saw nature taking over the city, with trees and bushes growing out of every hole and crack in the walls of the buildings. Remains of little shops and workers areas showed clearly the rush in which all left the city. The city was evacuated days after the disaster in some hours time. The people were told that they would be back in a few days. In fact they never came back. Vladimir stopped the car in a particular street, got out and pointed up at the top floor of a high building and said:”Look up there, my 80m ½ wave dipole antenna is still up there. There is (or was) my home…” This must have been still be very difficult for him as he left his home 22 years ago and did not come back ever since.
Pripyat, dead city
We drove on passing a big indoor swimming pool with broken windows thru which we could see the high jump platforms. We saw high buildings with old Sovjet signs on the rooftops. Some stray cats were spotted that were probably 3rd or 4th generation mutants sitting in the grass trying to survive. The whole tour through the city was very impressive. It seems that they have now a problem with looting and plundering, because still valuable things are in the houses and some people think that by stealing it they can earn good money, forgetting that they will be contaminated and the stuff they take will reach the markets also with radioactive contamination. An ugly thought. Better to make a Geiger counter next time we go to the radio market…
After leaving the city we drove on a main road out of the area and stopped to look at a big antenna array in the distant fields. This turned out to be the one of the three high powered “Woodpecker” radar stations for long distance rocket launch early warning that gave so much disturbance on the Short Wave frequencies during the Cold War and was closed down in 1989. It was NATO code named “Steel Yard”.
Steel Yard "Woodpecker"
We drove back to the city of Chernobyl where we stopped at the central cafeteria to have lunch. The is probably the only place where you have to wash your hand before AND after visiting the toilet. We had some potatoe soup and rice with fish.
Lunch in Chernobyl
When we drove out of the controlled zone the cars and people were inspected for radiation. We had to get out of the car and pass through a huge radiation detector where we had to stand in and place hands, legs and body against the detectors. All passed the test.
Clean? All passed the test!
We said goodbye to our guide and set out for home. It was a very intense and interesting visit, that will keep in our minds for a long time. It makes you aware that nuclear power is not to be handled lightly.