розпливчасті уявлення про час і місце 27/11/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
Tags: bechtel, chernobyl, chornobyl, european union, exclusion zone, hostel yaroslav, journalism, kiev, kyiv, nuclear power, podil, pripyat, radiation, shelter implementation plan, slavutych, travel, ukraine
Tourist trap but I don’t care. Stella Artois on umbrellas and English on menus are comforting when you’re far from home, battered by logistics and suffering humiliating defeats. The waitress running this high-rent cafe smiled through our mangled ordering and let us stew on the terrace in peace.
In celebration of our nation’s birth the American ambassador was hosting a backyard weenie roast somewhere in the surrounding blocks. I suppose that banal banter and sacrificial animal innards in the name of freedom isn’t much worse than our foiled dancing through the poisoned landscape of Chornobyl. No ethical dilemma, dietary or political, was faced. As quickly as I learned of this BBQ I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to attend.
Not that Our Man in Kyiv had issued a direct decree. A project manager with Bechtel, in-country to oversee work on the multimillion dollar effort to contain, conceal and dismantle the crumbling remains of Chornobyl, had. Using sketchy and possibly illegal information we had positioned ourselves near the official diplomatic residence to receive a post-soiree phone call.
Bechtel’s is a subcontracted firm to a French company who had picked up the contract from a German company to spend UN and EU funds. Engineers are constructing a 30-story tall metal hanger which will slide over the stricken concrete sarcophagus. Work to rip apart the power plant will be carried out by remote robots and contaminants will be stored on-site in a purpose-built, temporary vault. Projections for the workforce suggested up to a thousand laborers spending their days in one of the most feared pieces of real estate in the entire world.
All of this is being run out of Slavutych, a modern city built for the displaced residents of Pripyat. Operators traveled daily by tram into the exclusion zone until the plant was finally decommissioned in 2001. The national nuclear authority and several institutes of radiology are all in Slavutych. Two hundred kilometers north of Kyiv. Where I was busy getting nowhere.
Running with vague ideas of time and location Janice and I balanced beer with potato pancakes, mushrooms and olives. The afternoon wore on, the scales began tipping towards beer, and nerves were becoming a little frayed. Bechtel suggested he was heading home in the early evening and it was four o’clock.
Perfect time to break the French cellphone with the Ukrainian SIM. And the Polish phone with the German SIM.
We were as prepared as ever. Janice couldn’t remember her phone’s password and I’d left the paperwork for the Ukrainian SIM back at the hostel. Sidewalks cleared as we pretended not to be running through the frenzy of Kontraktova Ploscha, past derelict trams listing on worn rails, past the restored relics of the Chornobyl Museum.
The hostel keeps all the keys in the office, presumably to prevent theft. Janice waved her arms in the air and shoved broken phones in the receptionist’s face while I pounded up flights of concrete to grab my laptop and little bits of paper covered in Cyrillic. The two girls painstakingly repaired our gear while I wrote Bechtel to explain the situation.
Maybe we had screwed ourselves one last time. Maybe Bechtel had never intended on keeping his appointment. He wrote back to say he was already headed out of town, back towards Slavutych with its nuclear authority and institutes of radiology.
With his retreat went conversations on worker safety in conditions of continuous, low-dose exposure.
With his retreat went contingency planning and preparedness.
With his retreat went information on existing levels of ground contamination and efforts at environmental remediation.
With his retreat went my questions about the ability of robotics to withstand the corrosive environment of a nuclear zone.
With his retreat went the only person I could possibly speak with who lived and worked in the exclusion zone, the very centerpiece of my supposed article.
I asked the receptionist if she wanted a beer which she declined because, um, she’s working and please go away now. Janice and I locked our freshly fixed cell phones and computers and cameras and tape recorders in our room then backtracked towards the metro where we had seen a beer kiosk.