Three decades ago, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sent a plume of radioactive particles into the air.
The cloud spread over much of Belarus and Ukraine – then western USSR – and Europe. A spike in radiation levels was even detected as far away as Trawsfynydd near Blaenau Ffestiniog and Wylfa on Anglesey’s north coast.
The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties which is still felt today, 30 years after the catastrophic events in April 1986.
In the days following the explosion, more than 50 reactor and emergency workers died and authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the surrounding area, including over 50,000 from the city of Pripyat.
Pripyat was built in 1970 to house the workers at the nearby nuclear power plant. It was a model city of the Soviet government and features all the luxuries of a modern city – a railway station, port, multiple kindergartens and schools, a hospital and an amusement park.
However, three days after blast at the plant, buses arrived in Pripyat to begin its evacuation. Residents were told to only bring essentials and that they would only be away for around three days. Most never returned.
Today, a 30km exclusion zone still stands around the Chernobyl power plant although its size and shape has expanded over the years. Radiation levels have dropped considerably compared to the fatal levels of April 1986 and, while studies have found that mammals are thriving, the flourishing city is now a crumbling shell of its past life.
The supermarket is barely recognisable. If it were not for the abandoned shopping trolleys and the overhead signage still visible, this wouldn’t look out of place in a post-apocalyptic video game setting.
The hospital now consists of rooms littered with medical records, empty bottles and a maternity ward that hasn’t seen new life in over 30 years. The thought that this was once a place of promise and hope for the future is painful looking at what it has now become.
Schools sit hopelessly waiting for students who won’t return, with Soviet-era educational posters peeling off the walls and exercise books neatly piled on damp shelves. Grimy teddy bears with stuffing peeping through limbs and curly-haired dolls with missing eyes remain unclaimed.
And the amusement park, days away from its official opening ceremony on 1 May, has now become a different type of tourist attraction to what was originally intended. It is now the dull jewel in the crown of a ghost town.
Some 4km away from Pripyat, the arch of the New Safe Confinement dominates the landscape. It will be rolled into place in October to replace the old concrete and steel sarcophagus over reactor number four. The original structure is decaying and the international team hopes that once the €2bn structure is in place, work can then begin on dismantling the old structure and removing the waste inside.
A 2-day tour of the Chernobyl exclusion zone with ChernobylWel.com cost £240 including transport to and from Kiev, full board dining, overnight accommodation and an English-speaking guide. A personal Geiger-Müller counter is also provided if guests need additional reassurance!
This article was originally published on Resolven District News – Chernobyl: 30 Years On – A Report From Joanne Jones (6 May 2016)