загиблих солдатів і вчених 26/05/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
Tags: biorobots, chernobyl, chornobyl, chornobyl museum, exclusion zone, history, journalism, kiev, kyiv, liquidators, nuclear power, podil, pripyat, prostitution, radiation, tourism, travel, ukraine
Cracker… Cracker. Looking for Cracker, the closest approximation to whatever Cyrillic Janice had carefully researched and copied down. City planners in Kyiv never saw the need to litter corners with street signs, leaving you to wander in the shadow of luck. One or two buildings a block boast plaques with addresses and the name of whatever you’re standing on. This makes it marginally more navigable than Japan.
Emergency vehicles from bygone days were lined in a tidy row, polished to a shine. Vehicles that responded to Chornobyl absorbed such doses of radiation graveyards of trucks, helicopters and buses were left behind. In the 25 years since a thriving scrap metal trade has flourished, impoverished Ukrainians and Belorussians slipping through porous borders into the exclusion zone. Adi Roche, founder of Chernobyl Children International, speaks of dead village encounters with people stripping houses. The French photographer Guillaume Herbaut— who I would later court back in Paris– shot an essay on smugglers. But these were probably replicas.
The Chornobyl Museum is a two-story house of horrors tucked away in Kyiv’s historic Podil district. A year after independence the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened it with a 200 piece collection. There are now for than 7,000 artifacts with work being done to create a database of research papers, government reports and eyewitness accounts.
Step inside and you’re on the set of a movie. Plastic props from 50’s B-Movies clash with garish paintings of end times. Signs hang from the ceiling, each bearing the crossed out name of an abandoned town.
An aging security guard stirred behind his desk. Between pointing at placards and his limited English we worked out admission. A docent arrived to assist our purchasing rights to take pictures, but stalled at audioguides. Confusion was quelled by a third employee, a young woman named Liuba who spoke fluent English and who explained that deposit was required. Was the director in? Today is her day off, and she only speaks Russian and Ukrainian. She wrote the director’s name and phone number down in my notebook just in case.
The audioguides were fashioned after dosimeters and made geiger-counter sounds between stops.
It begins with a model of Reactor 4 where an experiment conducted in the early hours of April 26th, 1986 resulted in an explosion and dispersal of radioactive materials. Pushing buttons led to nothing. Later a Ukrainian family convinced a docent to turn the exhibit on.
Crews worked in darkness to shut the reactor down while fires raged and pipes burst. Chunks of graphite superheated by isotopes had been flung throughout the grounds and left to smolder. Fuel rods hung suspended from containment shafts while cooling water rich with radiation gushed out of the building. If the situation was not brought under control the remaining three reactors would be lost.
Of the people present during the accident 237 were evacuated to Moscow suffering acute radiation sickness. Ambulance drivers and doctors on site would also eventually become hospitalized. Members of the power plant staff who died within the first months are officially recognized but records from Russian military hospitals are otherwise scarce. Transparency did not exist. The Soviet Union publicly acknowledge the explosion after alarms were triggered more than six hundred miles away at a nuclear facility in Sweden.
Five stations from surrounding towns sent firefighters. Crews arriving assumed they were fighting an electrical fire and set to work with no protective gear. Men dragged radioactive graphite and other debris throughout the grounds and battled blazes until dawn. Acute radiation sickness hospitalized 54 first responders and resulted in six attributed deaths.
Three kilometers away the city of Pripyat had been built for workers and their families. Soviet authorities met within 12 hours of reactor breach and decided to issue a temporary evacuation. The following day the town’s 50,000 citizens were bundled into buses and shipped south towards Kyiv. The city remains abandoned today.
Three days following the explosion Kyiv, 80 miles south, was hit with a cloud of radioactive smoke. The Russians hadn’t bothered to disclose anything to their Ukrainian counterparts, leaving local scientists to discover elevated levels of background gamma radiation in the capital. Rumors were spreading about mass evacuations in the north. By May 2nd a ten kilometer perimeter was established around the plant, which would grow to the 30 kilometer exclusion zone of today.
Russian soldiers (200,000-600,000 depending on who you believe) arrived for clean-up, or liquidation. A hole had been blown through the roof of Reactor 4, exposing highly radioactive debris and fuel rods. Supposed volunteers, referred to as biorobots, were given thin chemical suits and sent sprinting across what remained of the roof to push chunks of waste back through the crater. Each biorobot had forty seconds to achieve their mission or they would exceed the permitted lifetime radiation dosage.
Helicopters suspended overhead taking readings or working to bury the exposed core. All attempts to dump sand failed, and some reports suggest all pilots involved have since died from exposure.
In May 388 coal miners from Russia and Ukraine were sent tunneling to reinforce the plant’s foundation. Immediately following the explosion the core slipped to the floor of the reactor building, a pulsating molten mass threatening to sink into the ground itself. Laborers dug through 140 meters dressed in cotton masks, coveralls and leather gloves. There are no records of what happened to them once the tunnel was filled with concrete.
The area surrounding Chornobyl received copious quantities of heavier elements, notably Caesium, Strontium, and Plutonium. Radioactive contamination over 100,000 hectares of trees registered at twice the amount of open land, with highly combustible coniferous forest comprising the bulk of wooded terrain. A team of six fire spotters stationed in the now abandoned town of Chornobyl worked 14 day shifts through the summer. There’s no mention of what happened to these people.
I walked between glass cases of personal effects, sheltering my recorder. Groups wandered the hall staring at replicas of liquidators suspended from the ceiling. Photographs lined the walls: dead soldiers and scientists; teams of hazmat suits clearing fields; old women and children preparing for evacuation. Grainy films played and dioramas whirled. Janice tried to ignore my orders while shooting rolls in near darkness. A group of American kids were led around by a translator, and I listened as she explained how her mother was pregnant with her during the disaster. My ears salivated as she spoke of her sister’s poor health all through childhood. But she’s okay now, no problems. My pen almost stabbed through the notebook.
There’s something wrong with me.
Some American guy in a tight t-shirt showed up with a private translator wearing six-inch spiked heels and some approximation of a skirt. He peered into display cases and marveled at Cyrillic documents while she walked aimlessly, the sound of her heels clattering across the floor. Neither of them could figure out how to operate the videos until a docent intervened.
The final exhibition hall collects every donation the museum has ever received. Poorly constructed props hung from picture frames, emotive sets lay buried in stuffed animals, international organizations had sent sympathy cards written in crayon. The back wall was a solid collage of monochromatic faces, little boys and girls. Even the IAEA and WHO don’t bother denying over 6,000 instances of thyroid cancer directly caused by iodine-131, spread either by clouds of radioactive smoke or contaminated milk distributed in the following days.
My shoe scuffed the ground until Liuba settled her tour group in for a video. It turned out that she had supervised document translation and would be happy to help my research except that she was leaving the next day for a two month Carpathian vacation. I asked her to write her e-mail in my notebook.
We returned our audioguides to the aging security guard and collected our bags. Sunlight beat down on the polished emergency vehicles parked out front.