Chernobyl – a human disaster leaves room for natures survival

Though I was too young to remember the news of the Chernobyl accident I still remember the triggered fear of nuclear power which the accident resulted in. Sweden was the first outside country to realise the magnitude of reactor number fours meltdown and it was a Swedish politician who phoned and informed Moscow when Kiev sat silently hoping for less severe consequences. The post Chernobyl fear of nuclear power was very prominent in Sweden during my upbringing and it was on the news on a quite regular basis. After studying history at uni, the cold war and the fall of the Soviet union enchanted me even more, and the role the accident actually had in the end of communism was quite large. The idea of visiting Chernobyl and the town of Pripyat, closest to the nuclear power plant had always allured me, and during this, my first time in Ukraine, I of course decided to see it with my own eyes.
The area of exclusion, which they call it today, includes the power plant, though decommissioned by now it kept on producing electricity up until the early 2000s; the city of Chernobyl some 20 km from the power plant and the smaller town of Pripyat, right next to the power plant, built especially for housing the workers of the ChNPP with at the time of the accident about 50 000 inhabitants. There are also about 90 evacuated villages in the area, a dead pine forest and the artificial lake/cooling pond right next to the power plant. On the Belarus side of the border, also about 90 villages had to be evacuated. All this within a 30 km exclusion zone.
Taking a tour from Kiev to the area is easily done in a day trip and going there by yourself is not possible or allowed though irresponsible adventurers and looters sometimes tries to do so. The levels of radiation varies greatly around the zone and though people still are working in and around the power plant, still building and perfecting the covering sarcophagus over reactor number 4, they can only live in the area for a maximum of 15 days. During a one day visit to the area you won’t receive more gamma radiation than what you get from one hour of flying. In other words, today it is completely safe for tourists on a short tour.
Hearing the story of the days when the reactor blew up made my skin prickle. Most of the official staff or the authorities did not want to realise the magnitude of the accident and therefore kept silent for a few days, letting people in Pripyat go on about their lives as usual, under a rain of radioactive waste. The town was evacuated after two days, and the people were told just to take with them their most necessary belongings since they would be able to move back in a couple of weeks. They sat waiting outside for the buses to pick them up, and where then driven to Kiev right through the area with deadly doses of radioactivity. Meanwhile firemen and nuclear power plant workers were starting to realise how severe the accidents actually was. I will not go into details about how mine workers had to manually dig a path underneath the reactor to solidify the ground and prevent another explosion under the heat of the melting nuclear reactor. Or how the machines used to collect and bury the waste underground stopped functioning due to the radioactive waves and they had to use bio-robots, i.e. human beings, instead. 100 000 troops and 400 000 volunteers ended up showelling radioactive waste from the roof of reactor number three, down to the ground, to bury in the soil. With the high levels of radiation close to the core, each bio-robot could only work for 45 seconds at the time, running up and down. The same when, after filling reactor number 4 with led, the whole plant needed to be covered with a sarcophagus, each person could only work for maximum one minuet. The magnitude and complexity of such an accident during the dying days of the Soviet Union still affects the people not just living in the area, but all around Ukraine and Belarus. Many people still remember the evacuation and political rhetoric surrounding the accident. The government confirms 31 victims as a direct result of the nuclear meltdown, but with radiation sickness being a slow death, numbers collected from all over the Soviet Union indicates about 20 000 deaths and around 200 000 people affected with disabilities as a more likelier estimation.
Enough said, you can watch the documentary yourself and get all the facts you need about this immense tragedy, and when you visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, you will have the full appreciation of what powers we are dealing with, what damage we are able to inflict on ourselves and mother earth. Walking around the abandoned villages, the town of Pripyat with its amusement park, cultural activity centre, hotels, football stadium, pool and plenty of primary schools, sends shivers down your spine with the resounding echo of a human catastrophe. But the truly remarkable thing is that the exclusion zone is today something of a wildlife sanctuary, with thriving animal life, green wild forests and catfish as large as small whales. Once human life withdraws from an area, nature have time to recover and in only 30 years, trees and animals have equally grown resistant to the radiation in the area. Animals have already evolved to survive and thrive in an area smitten with nuclear radiation.
Consider then the effects of a nuclear war where the number of humans would be largely decapitated and give space for mother nature to recover. Would she be able to evolve and build resistance, hence surviving and give all the species on the brink of extinction a chance to survive? A nuclear war would maybe mean the end of us, but would maybe do the planet a favour.

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