Monday, June 4, 2012

View from the Bridge of Death

C H E R N O B Y L - 2 0 1 2 

This is the view of the Chernobyl reactor as seen from the so-called “Bridge of Death”. To the immediate right of the reactor you might see 2 white cranes. These cranes are part of the “new safe containment” project. The goal of this project is to create a new containment unit, and to replace the existing sarcophagus.

On the left side of the photo you will see 2 sets of railroad tracks. Notice also how the tracks on the left have obviously not been maintained in a very long time. The tracks on the right look positively new in comparison. That's likely because they are new. This train line has apparently been reactivated as part of the "new safe containment" project.

Now, after all of this, you just might be wondering how this bridge got the name “Bridge of Death.” In the early morning of April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl number 4 reactor blew a 1000 ton cover off the containment unit. Obviously, an explosion of that magnitude would be heard a good distance away. But no news was forthcoming from the Soviet authorities or the power plant managers. So, some people wandered out the following morning to try to figure out what happened. This bridge was the 1st place they could get a clear view of the reactors. Unfortunately, the night before, a good deal of radiation had fallen in this area. It is said that everyone who viewed the explosion from this vantage point died. Whether death happened in one month, one year, or 5 years, I have not seen reports clarifying in any way.

It is not surprising that people who viewed the reactors from this vantage point received a high dosage of radiation. From the point where I took this photo, off to the right and behind me, is an area called “the Red Forest.” It is said that the Red Forest received such a high dose of radiation that the trees glowed red. Or maybe it was only the needles on the pine trees that glowed red. This is one of the more frustrating legacies of Chernobyl. If you read 3 different reports on any aspect of Chernobyl, you may likely get 3 very different stories of what actually happened that day. The Red Forest, to this day, remains one of the most radioactive areas within the Chernobyl "exclusion zone" or "zone of alienation."

For those who may be wondering, during the 30 hours I spent in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, my radiation exposure was roughly equivalent to what I would receive in Kiev over a seven-day period. And roughly equivalent to Detroit, USA, but less then places like Denver.  And it was less than the typical radiation exposure one would receive on a New York to Los Angeles round-trip flight.

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