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Unique is an over used word  but a  visit to Chernobyl, or more precisely Pripyat and the surrounding area is really unique in a  very accurate  way . 

First of course there is the history. 26th of April 1986 and the greatest civilian nuclear disaster the world has experienced, then there is the cover up and the final realisation of what had happened and the true scale of it .

What you see

I would guess that everyone takes a slightly different experience  away from a visit to Pripyat.

There were some on our trip, unaffected, it was just another form of tourism, but for those of us who were around when it happened it was perhaps more poignant. 

You walk on the very necessary asphalt , radiation cannot permeate asphalt so the ground you are walking on is safe for the first six inches or so, careful not to stray into areas that sent the Geiger counter insane .

You see rapidly deteriorating tower blocks, a sports stadium, an old port on the river Dnieper. The swimming pool and the supermarket, these are all very well known symbols of Chernobyl. There are remnants of old Soviet era celebrations because they were preparing for May Day as the disaster hit. But you see more than that . 

The bottle left on shop counter, the children's' toys   the Lada cars rotting , the abandoned kindergarten For me it was possibly the grotesquely abandoned dolls and toys in the streets, the music left open to be played by another perhaps wiser generation. Elements of the people that the disaster displaced or destroyed .

What is not there that is just as touching. Just over 30 people are officially recorded as losing their lives to this disaster .

However we now know just over 500, 000 were involved in making Pripyat " safe" ( will it every be safe?) It is estimated that 10% of those people have died, recorded as " oncological complications." 

An inconvenient statistic.



You can't really ignore the extremes. The arrogance and stupidity of some of the senior scientists, administrators and politicians on the one hand and the brilliance of the problem solvers of every kind from every walk of life who worked to contain the disaster.    

Nor can you avoid another cliched and  overused word, the heroism of those men and women who put their lives at risk some to suffer the most appalling deaths in saving their fellow citizens.

Citizens not just of Ukraine and the Soviet Union but of course much much wider than that . Had the reactor not been secured the outcome for the West as well as the Soviet Union would have been catastrophic.

Most of those involved in sealing the reactor have died. The Cold War did not tutor us to see the "opposition" in a heroic manner. 

Seeing into the lives of those who lived in Pripyat is made the more affecting because they were so ordinary, so much like ours. The same hopes for their families the same frustrations the same emotions. While Chernobyls experiences and our are as different as the can be the people they affected were not. 

I can't say that my personal approach to nuclear energy was challenged by this visit, I long ago made the choice that renewables are by far the safest way forward and I long ago learned to be sceptical of scientific claims on safety, but the enormity of the disaster Chernobyl could have been is hard to avoid . Bad enough as it is, but bar the actions of some very brave people it could have been far worse. 

To say that a visit to Chernobyl/Pripyat should be on your " bucket list " sounds crass, but it should be, not as tourism but as an act of remembrance 

Click on any of the small images to the left to see the full picture 

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