I just returned to the United States after being in Ukraine the past five days over Easter weekend. The purpose of this trip was to explore the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and surrounding areas -- Kyiv, Pripyat, the Red Forest, etc. Contrary to some initial beliefs, it was not an April Fools' Joke. Due to the great interest in Chernobyl among those interested in science and technology whether it be due to the fascination with nuclear power or finding Chernobyl popularized by video games, documentaries, and the like, I have published my collection of these photographs of Chernobyl showing what the area looks like in 2010 -- just days prior to the 24th anniversary of this catastrophic disaster -- along with some of my thoughts and information collected from this journey.
As some background information on the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, it is located in Ukraine and just kilometers from the border with Belarus. The power plant is located around 110 kilometers (about 70 miles) north of Kyiv / Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine. Chernobyl was Ukraine's first nuclear power plant (but not the first for the Soviet Union) and its first reactor went into operation in 1977. Only four nuclear reactors were operational at the Chernobyl site, but an additional two nuclear reactors were being built at Chernobyl when the 1986 accident took place. I toured Chernobyl for two days on the 3rd and 4th of April. While most nuclear tourists spend only a day on the site, even when spending two days in the area you only begin to scratch the surface of this most severe nuclear accident the world has ever confronted. A week could easily be spent at Chernobyl simply touring the abandoned buildings. For those interested, I captured all of these photographs using a Nikon D40x with an 18~70mm Nikkor AF-S DX lens and a Nikon D5000 with a 55~200mm Nikkor VR lens. Clicking on any of the photographs in this article will give you a full screen version of the photograph (up to 1800px wide, but larger versions may be available upon request) along with a caption for each photograph and a longer description where applicable. For those interested in sharing these new Chernobyl photographs with others, you can simply pass along the link of Chernobyl2010.com.
While the nuclear accident of 1986 is what Chernobyl is known for, there were two other nuclear accidents of smaller magnitude that took place at this nuclear power plant before it was finally decommissioned in the year 2000. In 1982, there was a smaller accident within Chernobyl's Reactor #1, but it was not nearly as significant and the reactor returned to an operational state within months. In 1991, there was a fire in Reactor #2 that caused severe damage and ultimately led to the shutdown of this nuclear reactor. Reactor #4 is home to the infamous Chernobyl accident. The other reactors were not permanently shutdown immediately as Ukraine was dependent upon Chernobyl for its electricity production and for the country it would not make economic sense to prematurely discontinue the use of the other reactors. Reactor #1 was permanently decommissioned in 1996 and Reactor #3 was finally retired from operation in 2000.
The fifth and sixth reactors being built at Chernobyl are located across the cooling channel from the first four reactors. Chernobyl's Reactor #5 was roughly 85% complete at the time of the April 1986 disaster and would have been fully operational within one year, but as it followed the same design as Reactor #4 with its RBMK graphite-moderated reactor technology that was conceived in the 1950's, it was decided to never finish work on this reactor or any others; construction equipment is left still standing 24 years later.
For those unfamiliar with the events leading up to this appalling nuclear accident, it is actually the result of testing out a safety feature on this reactor that went horribly wrong. In late April of 1986, Reactor #4 was scheduled to be temporarily shutdown for maintenance, and during the shutdown procedure, it was decided by plant workers to test the emergency cooling capabilities of this reactor. Should the nuclear reactor need to be shutdown in the case of an emergency, the cooling system still needs to function in order to prevent the reactor from overheating and damaging the nuclear fuel that continue to generate heat. In order for the cooling system to work, power is needed for the cooling pumps and to provide such there were back-up diesel generators at Chernobyl in case of a power loss. With diesel generators not being able to power-up and scale to full power instantaneously, there is a gap of time (over a minute) following any emergency shutdown where the water pumps still need to function. Chernobyl's plant workers were testing the viability of using the reactor's steam turbine to generate the needed electricity until the diesel generators could begin providing sufficient power. This was the fourth time over the course of several years that this experiment was carried out -- with all earlier attempts having failed -- but this time it turned deadly.