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An Atomic Vacation in Chernobyl – Part 3

Our tour starts at what Dennis calls the vehicle museum. In reality it’s not much more than a couple of military trucks sitting in a grass field in dire need of a mow. Dennis places his radiation monitor a few inches from a vehicle and the reading skyrockets.

Chernobyl accident vehicle

Radioactive remnants of the Chernobyl disaster

Even though I’m aware of how deadly radiation is, it’s easy to forget because you can’t see the threat. But the warning signs and beeping dosimeter are a good reminder.

At the ship graveyard numerous rusting boats lie partially-submerged in the slow moving waters of the Pripyat River. Like the military vehicles, radiation made them far too risky to use and too dangerous to relocate. The scene of rusting hulks reflecting in the water is almost pretty. And if not for that regulations forbidding it – not to mention the radioactivity – this would make a nice spot for a picnic.

Chernobil accident ship graveyard

Rust never sleeps in Chernobyl's ship graveyard

Our tour group is quite boisterous most of the time – commenting, questioning and posing for pictures. Near the Monument to the Firemen, however, we become quiet. So far we’ve only seen things that were impacted by the Chernobyl disaster. The imposing sculpture reminds us of the human costs.

The memorial depicts the local fire fighters who were on the scene immediately after the reactor blew. They were equipped to fight the blaze but had little or no protection for the isotopes spewing from obliterated Reactor Number Four. They received huge doses of radiation and many were soon dead. The monument captures their anguish, likely at the very moment they realized that they were battling one of natures most powerful forces.

chernobyl accident firefighters monument

The Firefighters memorial at Chernobyl

A couple of kilometres down an empty road, unfinished cooling towers and frozen construction cranes welcome us to the remnants of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. We slowly pass by stagnant cooling ponds and a rusting grid of electrical towers before reaching the heart of the disaster: Reactor Number Four.  The massive building towers over us. It radiates evil.

Nearby is another moving tribute: The Monument to the Liquidators. After the disaster, the Soviets began an operation called “The Liquidation of the Chernobyl Accident.” Over the days and years that followed, 400,000 experts and civilians worked alongside 100,000 soldiers to stabilize the site and clean up the atomic mess.

These men and women became known as the liquidators and their dangerous and deadly work may have saved countless millions. But they paid the ultimate price: many were overcome with sickness. The lucky ones died.

chernobyl-diaster-reactor-sarcophagus

The sarcophagus covers Reactor Number 4 at Chernobyl

The Sarcophagus, a rapidly built containment building, encloses the remains of Reactor Number Four. Built as a temporary solution, it is the only thing standing between tons of highly radioactive dust and the outside world.

As I stand before the giant structure, Dennis says that it needs to be replaced as soon as possible. If it were to collapse, clouds of radioactive dust and debris would shoot into the air, resulting in a second atomic disaster.

I’m full of fear as I stare at the Sarcophagus. A dreadful sadness hangs in the air. I’m relieved when Dennis says it’s time to go.

READ THE FINAL PART OF AN ATOMIC VACATION IN CHERNOBYL