More than 30 years ago now in April 1986 the world witnessed its biggest nuclear disaster ever with the Chernobyl power plant meltdown. The accident occurred after a failed stress test was performed on one of the reactors. It has since been recognized that the design of this reactor was flawed and another heavily contributing factor was that the staff in the facility were inadequately trained. As a result of the catastrophic meltdown, the steam explosion and fires that burned along with it released more than 5 percent of the radioactive core into the atmosphere. 31 workers died as a direct cause of the accident with the majority from such a heavy dose of radiation poisoning.
After a lengthy construction period a huge steel structure has finally been finished and shifted into place to cover up and in theory stop anymore radiation escaping from the disaster zone into the atmosphere. This mammoth building weighs a whopping 36,000 tons and is reported to be the size of three entire football fields. The arch shaped structure is 110 metres tall, 165 metres long and spans a distance of 260 metres. It was built in an empty area beside the disaster site and was slid into place using a huge amount of hydraulic machinery to make it happen. Engineers had predicted the move would take around five days but their estimations were way off with it taking two whole weeks to shift the building. It now holds the title of the largest moveable land-based structure ever to be built.
The sealed building now rests over the failed reactor 4 and will allow the engineers to dismantle the reactor inside and somewhat safely try to remove the fuel and radioactive materials. They will be packing them for disposal elsewhere and is an extremely important step in finally removing the nuclear hazards from the site. In 2011 the cost of the shelter was approximated at a staggering €1.5 billion which was donated by more than 40 governments all around the globe.
Even though this might look great to the world it doesn’t eliminate the fact that so much radioactive material over the years was already able to escape. Rain and winds carrying the waste product of course have landed across many miles of land contaminating a wide area around Pripyat and the surrounding Chernobyl lands. Their has been a definite increase in thyroid cancer rates specifically among people who were living in nearby areas with contamination. It is unclear and almost impossible to tell just how many deaths are directly attributable to the radiation caused by the reactor meltdown.
Tourism has increased exponentially since 2011 when Chernobyl was officially declared to be a tourist attraction with tour operators taking people into the old exclusion zone and ghost town of Pripyat. One particular tour company SoloEast, has reported to be taking an approximate ten thousand people into the area each year. They say that once their customers are near the exclusion zone they are not to touch anything within the area and they are not to eat or drink food or drinks that haven’t been brought in from outside. They are told not to try and take any souvenirs from the zone back out with them as it is highly likely to be contaminated.
You might be thinking these people are absolutely crazy for wanting to visit this devastated area but radiation levels have dropped significantly since the accident occurred. People are definitely not safe staying in the area but many are willing to take a little extra dose of radiation to see the fascinating ghost town with its lifestyle shown stuck in time. Radiation levels have been measured at 10 times higher than normal but the government now allows people into the zone as it’s not seen as a significant risk.