In 1986, the worlds worst nuclear disaster occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine. An experiment aimed at testing the safety of nuclear power plants has caused problems, triggering a radiation fire lasting 10 days. Clouds carrying radioactive particles float for thousands of kilometers and drop poisonous rain throughout Europe. Residents near Chernobyl were immediately evacuated and the damaged reactor was surrounded by a 30-kilometre isolation zone.
Photo 1: the worst nuclear disaster in the history of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine.
Almost everyone left in a hurry. Some were given only a few hours to pack up all their things. Others were told to leave in a few days, but were never allowed to return. The nuclear disaster left a ghost town around Chernobyl, but now many people choose to live in shaky houses on the edge of the quarantine zone. Many of them are women, who are still farming the land left by their ancestors at the age of seventy or eighty. And outside the quarantine area, there are still new people coming.
On a warm summer night, Maryna Kovalenko and two teenage daughters played football in the backyard. Iryna and Olena laughed and their dogs joined in the scramble to scare the frightened chickens around. But outside the back wall of the family, everything is silent.
Photo 2: Kovalenko and two daughters play football in the backyard.
In Steshchyna, an abandoned village in northern Ukraine, there are many houses, shops and libraries crawling with plants. The Kovalen family lives here, and she has several neighbors, but they are almost seventy or eighty years old. Despite the lack of amenities and opportunities, Kovalenko took his daughters to pack up their belongings four years ago and traveled hundreds of kilometres across Ukraine - only 30 kilometres from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Kovalenkos house is badly in need of repair. The floor is rotting and the metal radiator is cracked. Heating is a big problem in winter where temperatures can drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius. They have basic living facilities, such as gas, electricity and cell phone signals, which means they can access the Internet. But they only have outdoor toilets, and water is also a problem. Their only source is a polluted well, which is connected to the house through a pipe. They need to boil water before using water.
A house with slightly better conditions in the village may cost 3500 dollars, but such a house is rare. Most of the vacant houses were sold by the original households for less than a few hundred dollars, and many were built of wood. When Kovalenko got here, he was so poor that he could not afford to buy any house. To this end, the management committee gave her and her family an unusual housing contract. As a reward for getting accommodation, the family is responsible for caring for an old man suffering from Alzheimers disease. After he died two years ago, Kovalenko inherited the ownership of the house.
Fig. 3:Steshchyna the deserted houses in the village are crawling with plants.
Outside in the courtyard, Irina and Orena showed off other members of their family -- hens, rabbits, goats, and even guinea pigs. When they were not in school (walking 5 kilometers), the sisters often helped their mother grow vegetables and take care of animals in the garden. The only source of income for the family is to receive state benefits - $183 per month. In their budget, it is essential to grow their own food and raise livestock for milk and meat.
Since the nuclear disaster, scientists have continuously monitored radiation levels in soil, trees, plants and animals around Chernobyl, even outside the isolation zone. Dr Valery Kashparov of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology (UIAR) said that radiation in the atmosphere was no longer dangerous. But in some places, soil pollution can pose a threat to peoples health.
Photo 4: Kovalenkos mother and daughters warm new home
Kashparov and his team recently found radioactive cesium-137 in milk at potentially dangerous levels in parts of the area outside the quarantine. Cesium particles were absorbed by grass roots and passed to cattle grazing. Adequate cesium intake can damage human cells and in some cases lead to serious diseases, such as thyroid cancer. But these risks are limited to specific hot spots, Cash Parov said. For more than 30 years, his team has been working on mapping such hot spots so that they can estimate the potential risks faced by people living and working around the restricted areas.
On a map, Kashparov shows the distribution of cesium-137 released from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and observes the village of Steshchyna, where Kovalenko is located. He said there is a very low risk of growing vegetables or drinking goat milk in such a place. But the area is currently investigating the radiation risks of wild foods such as forest mushrooms or wild berries. Kovalenko said she had considered the potential risks of radiation, but her family was fleeing the more dangerous thing, the threat of war. Radiation may kill us slowly, but it doesnt shoot or bomb us. Its better to live in radiation than in war, she said.
Business opportunities are also hidden in the quarantine area.
Less than two hoursdrive from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, along the edge of the quarantine zone, there are not only families who come to these ghost cities to look for opportunities, but also entrepreneurs. Every day, Vadim Minzuyk takes his dog for a walk along the barbed wire fence in the quarantine area. This is his favorite place to enjoy bird songs and forest tranquillity. Its like living in the north of Finland or Alaska, Vadim said. This area is the lowest population density in Ukraine, with only two people per square kilometer.
Photo 5: Vadim restarts business in the quarantine area
In his home town of Holifka in eastern Ukraine, Vadim is a businessman who earns $1 million a year. But when the town was eventually bombarded by artillery, his once prosperous factories and warehouses were destroyed, some of which are now left with craters. He is still at war. Wadim remembers looking out the back window and seeing the rebels building a roadblock against the fence of his garden. Sometimes the distance between the two sides of the conflict is only 100 meters.
For more than a year, his family had to undergo multiple identity checks at military checkpoints throughout the city every day. They even saw bodies lying on the roadside. After removing the children, Vadim and his wife followed closely. After leaving the car, they almost have nothing. For several months, Vadim has been living on his savings, traveling around Ukraine in search of ways to get his family back to life.
One day, Vadim got a piece of news. A relative heard that cheap property was being sold near Chernobyl. Vadim went to see an abandoned granary in Dytyatky village. Located on the border of the isolation zone, it is cheap, but close to the capital, Kiev (115 kilometers), it has hidden business opportunities. Vadim said: the local residents have stripped all the metal on the roof and the roof is leaking. I met the owner and finally reached a bargain.
Vadim bought the warehouse for $1,400 and three houses for $240, then connected them all to the grid and started the smelting business. My strategy is to start a business by producing a product made of waste, he said. The first year is the most difficult year, but I feel much better in the past two years. Vadim even rehired seven of his former employees in Dumbas to accommodate them by converting one of his apartments into a hotel.
Vadim said, I can make a living here, or help my workers make money. I am the most tax paid person in the village. After all, I am a Ukrainian and I want to help my country. Vadim said he sometimes thought about the dangers of radiation and even bought himself a hand-held Geiger counter. But he is not worried that the level of atmospheric radiation is safe. Vadim said: after you have witnessed the war, what radiation is no longer terrible. It is a miracle that we survived. He enjoys life here, not only without war, but also with a special atmosphere of peace.
Photo 6: life in the quarantine area needs to be exposed to radiation hazards, but there is no need to worry about war threats.
Kovalenko and Vadims family say they like to take a quiet walk in the forest. Life may be tough, but neither family wants to move to a bigger town, even if it means more friends or opportunities. After escaping from the chaotic war, their demand for Quietness is amazing. I dont care about radiation, I just care about whether there are shells flying over my childrens heads, Kovalenko said. Its very quiet here. We sleep very well. We dont need to hide everywhere.
Vadim said his wife, Olena, sometimes compared abandoned restricted areas to their war-torn homeland, Holifka. But there is a clear difference between the two: on the edge of the forbidden zone, she believes her family has a better future. Vadim said, I think we have lost everything. But now, life is improving here.
More than 2000 people took part in the clean-up work.
In addition to the civilians seeking refuge, there are now more than 2,000 people working in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to clean up. Esther Hessing, a photographer who has been to the Chernobyl quarantine in person, explained: Many of todays workers are children of nuclear power plant employees at the time of the disaster. The main reason for their entry into the nuclear power plant is the lack of employment opportunities in Ukraine, the high unemployment rate, the prevalence of health insurance and child facilities. Its very bad. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant pays a high salary, nearby schools and kindergartens are also very good, it is a good choice to raise children.
Chart 7: at present, more than 2000 people in Chernobyls nuclear power plant are engaged in the clean-up work.
Hessin also took the abandoned town of Pripiat, which was originally built for Chernobyl nuclear power plant employees. Today, Pripiat has become a desolate ghost city, although it was once designed by the Ukrainian government as a city of hope in the hope of a future powered by nuclear technology. Without the adverse effects of manual intervention, nature has regained control of the gray buildings and suburban streets occupied by weeds and animals in most parts of Pripiat.
Heather said, There is no fear, no death, no loss. What we see is a beautiful place with flowers, trees and rich soil. Every time we visit suddenly, the good and hospitable people here will welcome us warmly. Those who work at the nuclear power plant are full of hope for the future. They have enough courage to work in this dangerous area, just to make the world safer. They show us the infinite power of humanity and the strength of nature.
The radiation problem lasted for 1 million years.
In 1986, when the steam broke through the top of Chernobyl four reactor, it took 5% of the enriched uranium. This meant that 10 tons of enriched uranium had disappeared, and that 95% (190 tons) of uranium remained there to date. After the partial collapse of the explosive reactor into the nuclear fuel, it produced radioactive uranium, concrete, steel and various kinds of waste, weighing about 2,000 tons. Ideally, Ukraine would remove these materials, but nobody knows what to do, and there is no technology to do so.
One of the problems is that these materials are rotting and becoming quite fragile. When they are cut and transported to the dustbin, they are likely to leave radioactive dust in the air. Therefore, all tools must be able to work in a radioactive environment, and humans responsible for controlling and eliminating radioactive dust are not entirely safe.
Although 5% of the problems caused by radioactive materials will continue in more than 30 years and will continue to cause problems in the coming years, the other 95% may cause problems tens of times more serious than this. For example, if errors occur, brittle materials will be released into the atmosphere, and they will return to their origin. If these substances enter the Lippi River, it will flow into the river niaD. The river is the source of Kiev, and is also the main source of water in most parts of Ukraine.
Photo 8: scenario after the explosion of nuclear reactor No. 4 in Chernobyl nuclear power plant
Thats why Ukrainian officials expect to wrap the place in what they call sarcophagus. The huge building looks like a semi-circular arched mobile building, designed to prevent the release of decaying radioactive materials from nuclear power plants. After completion, the surrounding ground will be covered by crushed stone concrete to further seal the dangerous reactor. The project is expected to be completed in 2018, but this is only speculation. It may also last for 100 years.
Todays reactor 4 is essentially an unplanned dumping ground for nuclear waste, and its role may take 3,000 years. This means that in 4986 years, residents in the surrounding areas of Chernobyl will be able to live safely. However, some geologists have pointed out that 3000 years may not be long enough, and it will take 1 million years for radioactive waste to recover to a safe level.
Local officials are very proud to talk about the new sarcophagus, but its completion date has been repeatedly delayed, and there is no guarantee that the completion date of 2018 will not be changed. Disasters can still occur: hastily built nuclear power plant covers may collapse after the accident, crushing the fragile mixture of radioactive materials below, and sending nuclear dust into the atmosphere, mixing with rainwater to fall. There may be an earthquake, and the whole site is fragile.
Olga Kosharna, chief scientist of Ukraines energy and nuclear security department, recalled walking on the roof of the damaged reactor during his safety supervision work at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the 1990s and was horrified to find many burnt-out holes in concrete. The shoes she wore that day were badly polluted and had to be destroyed.
Alexandre Polack, a spokesman for the European Union, wrote: The date of starting the removal of radioactive materials has been postponed to 20 to 30 years later. In recent years, the destroyed bunker No. 4 has been reinforced and looks stable. However, it was built hastily after the accident and never intended to be maintained as a long-term solution. The quality of uranium fragments in reactor No. four has exceeded human clean-up capacity.
We have no problem-solving technology, no process to develop problem-solving technology, and no funds to support the development of problem-solving technology, Pollack added. The solution to the Chernobyl nuclear accident can only be sealed. I hope our wise future generations will know how to deal with it.
Greenpeace also said in its research report: The Chernobyl disaster has caused irreversible damage to the environment, which will last for thousands of years. Never in human history has such a large number of long-term radioisotopes been released into the environment through an event. Although the disaster has passed for more than 30 years, the town of Pripiat is far from recovering to a level suitable for human survival. Some even believe that certain areas around Chernobyl must remain vacant for at least 3,000 years, because the dangerous level of pollution proves the long-term danger of nuclear energy.
Photo 9: Chernobyl becomes a paradise for wildlife.
However, nuclear experts who are cleaning up nuclear facilities say that the 3000 year recovery period is still optimistic. Because many of the isotopes released in nuclear accidents remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years, cleaning up is not only the work of the first reactor, but also a challenge for future generations. When asked when it would become habitable again, Ihor Gramotkin, head of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, responded,At least 20,000 years.
Not only did Lozbin and her neighbours return to the scene of the disaster, but wildlife also reappeared in this desolate area. A new study of the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant recently found that animals in the area could still live normally despite high levels of radiation. Jim Smith, an environmental scientist at the University of Portsmouth, UK, said: When humans are removed, they will naturally prosper, even after the worlds worst nuclear accident. The number of wild animals in Chernobyl is likely to be much higher than before the accident.
Similarly, why do people in Nagasaki live in Hiroshima?
If nuclear dust takes thousands of years to dissipate, how did the Japanese return to Hiroshima and Nagasaki three months after the atomic bomb exploded? Does the radiation in this area last for thousands of years?
The nuclear bomb attack in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is quite different from the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. In terms of the nature of nuclear explosions, the explosion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is rather clean. In fact, in the weeks after the explosion, the U.S. government tried to cover up the truth by describing the damage caused by the atomic bomb as the impact of conventional weapons, but more powerful. Those who have died of atomic disease may be more aware of the inside story. Then, as time went on, the world realized that there was a nuclear bomb attack. Even if you can safely pass through the ruins of the bombed city in the near future, the impact of the nuclear attack will continue for years.
Photo 10: there are many differences between Hiroshima and Nagasaki in nuclear bomb attacks and Chernobyl nuclear disasters.
Atomic bombs that are put into Japan generate two types of radiation, namely, initial radiation and residual radiation. Initial radiation is the radiation released by the explosion itself, while residual radiation comes from subsequent radionuclides and radioisotopes, which are either produced by the explosion or caused by neutron bombardment released by the explosion in soil, building materials, objects and so on. The atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki produced residual radiation, but they did not last long for four reasons:
First, both bombs were detonated in the air over 500 metres from the ground, with the aim of causing maximum damage, because the surrounding buildings would block most of the force of the ground explosion. This is limited surface contamination, because most of the radioactive debris is carried into the air and dispersed by mushroom clouds, rather than into the ground. There are many lethal radioactive fallouts in the form of dead dust and black rain, but they spread widely. On the other hand, when reactor No. 4 melts on the ground, the soil undergoes neutron activation. Active neutrons in the burning fuel react with the soil, making it radioactive.
Second, most radionuclides have transient half-life, some for only a few minutes. The first few hours after the explosion of the bomb explosion site, the radiation is very strong, but then the risk decreases rapidly. The explosion occurred after 1 months, U.S. scientists have used the Geiger counter test in Hiroshima, to see whether the area for troops into, they only found a ruined city, but the radiation level is very low. By the explosion black lily has started to grow, which indicates that the radioactive material immediately after the explosion soon disappeared.
Thirdly, the area within 30 km of the Chernobyl nuclear accident isolation zone is seriously polluted by radioactive isotopes such as cesium-137, strontium-90 and iodine-131, so it is unsafe for human beings to live in. However, neither Nagasaki nor Hiroshima has suffered such a situation. This is because there is more nuclear fuel in Chernobyl reactor, Little Boy contains about 63.5 kilograms of uranium, Fat Man has about 6.35 kilograms of plutonium, and reactor No. 4 has about 180 tons of nuclear fuel.
Fourth, there is also a great difference in the scale of nuclear fuel reactions between the nuclear bomb and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Little Boys and Fat Boys had fission reactions on about 1 kilogram of nuclear fuel, while Chernobyl had at least 7 tons of nuclear fuel escaping into the atmosphere. As the nuclear fuel melts, volatile radioisotopes are released, including 100% xenon and krypton, 50% radioactive iodine and 20-40% cesium.
But these are not true. Although residual radiation is a relatively minor threat, many of the survivors of the explosion have absorbed the initial radiation, eventually leading to their death or disability. 1 weeks after the explosion, the number of radiation deaths began to rise, reaching a peak after three weeks. People with few obvious injuries suddenly develop terrible symptoms - hair loss, purple skin spots, various holes bleeding, and then die soon. After seven or eight weeks, the number of radiation deaths is decreasing, but the latent effect will last for a long time. Fetuses exposed to radiation in the mothers uterus have high rates of abortion, stillbirth and birth defects, and many children are stunted or have abnormally small heads (microcephaly), stunting or other diseases. The number of leukemia cases increased sharply in 1947 and peaked in early 1950s. Other problems include other cancers and blood diseases, cataracts, severe scarring and male infertility. However, no gene damage was found in children who had been conceived after the blast. Strangely enough, despite the catastrophe caused by the atomic bomb in Japan, two things that everyone feared did not happen, namely, children with genetic mutations and the ever-blue earth. Source: NetEase science editor: Wang Fengzhi _NT2541
Fetuses exposed to radiation in the mothers uterus have high rates of abortion, stillbirth and birth defects, and many children are stunted or have abnormally small heads (microcephaly), stunting or other diseases. The number of leukemia cases increased sharply in 1947 and peaked in early 1950s. Other problems include other cancers and blood diseases, cataracts, severe scarring and male infertility. However, no gene damage was found in children who had been conceived after the blast. Strangely enough, despite the catastrophe caused by the atomic bomb in Japan, two things that everyone feared did not happen, namely, children with genetic mutations and the ever-blue earth.