Monday was the anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which occurred on April 26, 1986 in the Soviet Union (in what is now northern Ukraine, not too far from Kiev). Dmitriy T.M. sent us a couple of links to pics of both the plant and the nearby city, Pripyat. I don’t have much to add in the way of commentary, so I’m just going to provide some images and basic info.

A photo taken of the damaged reactor soon after the accident, held by the man who took it (found here):


According to Environmental Graffiti, Pripyat was home to about 50,000 people. You would expect Pripyat to be entirely deserted, but it turns out it isn’t. Since 2002 people have been allowed to go there if they so desire; apparently it attracts some people who you might call “disaster tourists” who want to see it. And while no one can live in Pripyat itself now, “[about 500] people do live in Chernobyl, usually for a stretch of four weeks at a time before returning. That’s why Chernobyl today even has a hotel, two shops and a bar.”


Much of the destruction of buildings wasn’t due to the nuclear accident or natural processes (rain, wind, etc.). From Environmental Graffiti:

…some of the older residents moved back to the villages around Chernobyl quite early. There are also the guides who show people around and a surprising number of looters, looking for anything valuable among the rubble or generally for trouble. As Timm pointed out, looters have raided Pripyat not from day one but certainly from early on, so that the decay we witness in the city today is pretty much manmade; nothing or few places have been left untouched since 1986.

Pine trees in the nearby forest turned a rusty-red color as they died from radiation exposure, earning it the nickname The Red Forest:


The area isn’t a vegetative dead zone as you might expect, however:

Maybe not so surprisingly, the vegetation in the zone of alienation has flourished. Like a strange nature reserve, flora and fauna have made the best of the situation without human interference and claimed their space. Scientists found that since 1990, growth flourished and the ecological effect has been positive. Eighty percent of the zone is now forested; before the disaster, it was just 20 percent. A total of 240 species of animals have been counted within the exclusion zone, most of which were present only in low numbers before the disaster.

Soviet authorities were so stunned by the nuclear meltdown, and so unable to believe that one of the reactors at their model nuclear plant had been destroyed, that Pripyat was not evacuated for three days, and it took a while after that to get everyone out, meaning many local residents were exposed to extreme levels of radiation for several days. Many  members of the local firefighting crews who responded immediately died from radiation exposure.

Apparently the other three reactors weren’t shut down and were still in use until fairly recently. The entire plant is now slated to be decommissioned, a process that will take about a decade according to current plans. The cement covering used to cap reactor 4 and prevent further contamination is already showing some cracks and will have major repairs or be totally replaced at some point in the future.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
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