When can we move back to Pripyat?
Pripyat, a town named after the nearby Pripyat River, was established as the ninth nuclear city of the Soviet Union. These new cities were created to service the ever-growing nuclear power plant demands of the state. By 1979 the city had a population in excess of 49,000. These people were here solely to maintain the local Chernobyl power station.
The town is located 62 miles north of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The original plans had been to locate the plant just 16 miles from the capital, in an attempt to reduce the costs of construction. Due to safety concerns this idea was scrapped, which would prove to be one of the best decision the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences ever made.
On 26 April 1986, during system testing, reactor four suffered a catastrophic power increase, leading to explosions in its core. All of the containment designed to manage this type of accident failed, and the resulting radioactive particles were released into the air, spreading over much of the western USSR and Europe. The government battled to keep control of the contamination, with over 500,000 workers drafted in to work around the clock. The resulting cost of the disaster is well in excess of $15 billion.
With officials working to contain radiation to the local area, the decision was made to evacuate the local area which included Pripyat. Within 2 days the town was left completely empty. People weren’t even allowed to take their personal belongings, due to the high levels of radioactive contamination. To this day the town remains exactly the same, like a snap shot of life in 1986. Much of the area is now overgrown, as vegetation has been left to run its course.
So when can we go back? Well you might be surprised to hear we could go right now. Despite the area being heavily guarded, there is a tour company that can take you there. Radiation has only been retained in soil and vegetation, so travelling on asphalt is possible. Sadly, the chances of us living there anytime soon is out of the question. The presence of background radiation will exist for the next 48,000 years, with safe levels for humans arriving sometime in the next 600 years.
Picture by: Keith Adams, February 2006