After spending the whole first day exploring Pripyat we started our second day by going to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to finally see the building where the tragic accident happened almost 25 years ago.
On the way to reactor 4, the one that blew up, we stopped at a water canal a couple of hundred meters away. From there we were able to have a look at reactors 5 and 6, under construction at the time of the accident, as well as their cooling towers. The original plan in the 70s and 80s was to have a huge power plant with up to 12 blocks, by far the biggest in the Soviet Union. After the accident the construction of the reactors 5 and 6 continued, but due the high levels of radiation in the area were put on hold on January 1st 1988 with most of the machinery left behind. When the Soviet Union dissolved a couple of years later and Ukraine became a sovereign state the plans of expanding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant were finally scrapped and so the construction site became another abandoned place in that area.
The stop was rather underwhelming and when one of the Swiss guys wanted to get closer I just thought “Really?”… But Maxim, after thinking for a couple of seconds since it wasn’t part of the schedule he planned for us, agreed and so we got back in the van, drove closer, crossed some railroad tracks by foot and walked towards the cooling towers. They looked interesting, but I still wasn’t impressed. Being in front of the almost finished cooling tower Sebi and Michi looked happier than ever before. After standing around for a minute or two I asked, without being serious at all, if we were able to get inside – usually the asphalt and concrete surfaces were not so much contaminated whereas the Geiger counter went nuts once we stepped on moss, grass or soil. To my surprise Maxim said something like “Yes, just make sure to walk this way!”, making a gesture with his hand.
I walked the 30 meters from the street to the cooling tower and entering the giant open hyperboloid structure almost was like entering a cathedral – even if you are not into the purpose of the building the architecture is still mind-blowing, especially when looking up. And then it hit me: I was actually standing in the half finished cooling tower of a nuclear power plant, only 2.5 kilometers away from where one of the biggest man-made catastrophe in history happened! A very humbling, fascinating and knee-softening moment.
Since entering the cooling towers wasn’t planned we only had about 20 minutes there, but given that the lighting was quite difficult it was actually enough – although Maxim told me on the way to the van that he once spent more than 3 hours with a photographer there. Just to shoot the cooling tower. And although I spent two days in the zone, seeing maybe a third of the interesting locations, I often had the feeling that I’ve spent maybe a tenth of the time it deserves at every building…
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)