- The forgotten city
The town of
Prypiat, Ukraine, awaits deserted and decaying, a modern-day ghost town. It
may well be waiting for several decades, if not centuries- there are just a
few older residents still here, and on occasion people have ventured to take
photos, but that is all. Some former residents have driven through, just for a
chance to see the homes that they abandoned twenty years ago, when a small but
growing town was hit by one of the greatest disasters the world has ever seen.
On April 26th
1986, twenty years ago this week, not far away from Prypiat, an experiment
gone awry was compounded by human errors and operational faults at the nuclear
power plant a few miles north of the town of Chernobyl, a settlement founded
eight centuries ago. The series of events caused a power surge that resulted
in an explosion in one of the reactors.
No one will ever
know exactly what went wrong that April night, but the lack of a containment
building meant that the resulting plume of radioactive fallout spread over the
Northern skies and drifted over the former Soviet Union, Scandinavia, Eastern
Europe, the UK and even the US. Most landed in what is now Belarus.
Over a hundred
thousand people were evacuated over the next few days. The death toll over the
first few days was put at thirty-two. Estimates since have put the death toll
so far at between fifty and well over two hundred. It has been estimated that
as many as nine thousand people may still die as a result of radiation
poisoning. One recent estimate put the figure at several times that.
In 1986, the town
of Prypiat was booming. The population had reached over 45, 000. Today there
are only a few people there, all of whom live outside the ten kilometre
exclusion zone. Outside this dead zone, these old men and women refuse to move
out, squatting illegally in an area that may not be safe until hundreds of
years from now. According to a report by Andrew Osborn in the Independent,
most of the elderly people who have refused to leave “talk about the radiation
as if it were about as harmful as rain”.
But for the few
hundred people still residing there, Prypiat is a ghost town. There are
abandoned houses and apartments there, some of which were yet to be inhabited,
swimming pools and hospitals. Photos from inside the homes of the men and
women who used to make a living working at the plant, show records and books
still stacked on tables, toys left on chairs and sofas, signs of life. And yet
the area is mostly silent. In a children’s playground, birdsongs have taken
the place of children’s laughter.
Twenty years ago
the sound was that of crying, not laughter. And in some cases, in hospitals
around Europe, it still is. Two decades later, the radiation is still
Twenty years on,
as epidemiologists study the cancer rates in Ukraine and Belarus with alarm,
there are some signs that the area is coming to life again. The area is
springing to life again. Twenty years ago, nothing would grow around the
disaster site, but now the grass is green and the wildlife has returned-
bison, elk and wolves are roaming freely.
up a can of worms, raising questions as to the safety of nuclear energy and
the reliability of the people who produce it. Accidents can and do happen, but
they had never happened on such a scale before.
champion nuclear energy make some, often effective, arguments about how it
produces no greenhouse gases, how it can rescue us from our dependency on
fossil fuels, how efficient and cheap it is to produce and how rarely
accidents have happened.
nuclear power point out the health risks, argue against the economic and
environmental costs of decommissioning and suggest other ways of producing
energy cheaply and cleanly, such as by harnessing wind or solar power. Some
also suggest that nuclear power and research into such technology is likely to
help more nations develop still more powerful nuclear weapons, weapons which
could destroy the world.
- Sometimes arguing is
purposeless. There are nearly 450 reactors worldwide. All that is necessary is
to take a look at the modern ruins of Prypiat and of the long-term impacts of
the Chernobyl disaster for a sobering reminder of the risks of trying to
harness the power of the atom.
back to the Limassol Dispatch homepage