The nuclear plant's silent nerve centre and the abandoned town of Pripyat are monuments to a failed Soviet dream
Terry Macalister The Guardian, Tuesday 26 April 2011 Article history
The control room where Soviet atomic staff fought a losing battle to prevent a nuclear disaster is quiet and cold as a tomb. Even through a face mask, anti-radiation suit and large industrial boots one feels a deep chill – plus rubble underfoot.
The size of the space is hard to fathom. It is pitch black until suddenly illuminated by the flash on my camera. In the burst of light a huge V-shaped console desk looms battleship grey in the distance, its top pock-marked with dozens of tiny holes.
It is easy to imagine that a fireball swept through the nerve centre of the Chernobyl power plant's reactor No 4 on theday of the world's worst atomic accident, 25 years ago. In fact the instrument panel was not stripped of plastic switches by fire; rather more mundanely it has been raided by souvenir-hunters among the decommissioning staff.
The rest of this the room is badly damaged but there are still areas oddly untouched. There are complex diagrams on the wall that once gave the control room staff valuable information on how the 3,200 megawatt plant was behaving. There are frayed cables worming their way out of holes and crevices, and there is shattered glass.
The silence is broken by the sound of a Geiger counter crackling behind me. I am with an Italian journalist who has had the foresight to bring a handheld device to monitor his exposure to the radioactivity still emanating from this place a quarter of a century after it blew up.
We have already been furnished with our own official monitors pinned to our chests. Elaborate precautions have been taken by the staff here to reassure us we are safe.
Chernobyl was to have been the biggest nuclear plant in the world, with six reactors. The accident put paid to reactor No 4 while condemning the whole site to closure. Now the only workers here are very slowly dismantling the buildings and defuelling the reactors.
We are bundled into the same protective clothes when we enter the main administration building on the sprawling industrial site. Dark blue jackets – padded against the freezing temperatures outside – are donned last, along with bright orange hard hats and white masks. Underneath we are instructed to wear mint-fresh white cotton wraps complete with hoods. In the neon lights, with the hospital green walls and Cyrillic script signs, it feels like being sucked into a scene from Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward.
A Soviet nightmare might have been easy to imagine, but it is also not hard to envisage the central planners' dream a couple of miles down the road from the plant.
There the town of Pripyat was built for 50,000 Chernobyl workers and their families with everything that could be needed, including 15 primary schools, 10 gyms and a hospital. That purpose-built utopia – along with the myth of the USSR's industrial supremacy – was blown away that night of 26 April 1986.
Along with the plant, the city was abandoned within 48 hours of reactor No 4 going critical. Now as one walks down the tree-lined avenues all one can see is decaying apartment blocks and a rusting ferris wheel erected to celebrate May Day. The silence is deafening in this urban nuclear graveyard.
Carta da Terra
"Estamos diante de um momento crítico na história da Terra, numa época em que a humanidade deve escolher o seu futuro. À medida que o mundo torna-se cada vez mais interdependente e frágil, o futuro enfrenta, ao mesmo tempo, grandes perigos e grandes promessas. Para seguir adiante, devemos reconhecer que, no meio da uma magnífica diversidade de culturas e formas de vida, somos uma família humana e uma comunidade terrestre com um destino comum. Devemos somar forças para gerar uma sociedade sustentável global baseada no respeito pela natureza, nos direitos humanos universais, na justiça econômica e numa cultura da paz. Para chegar a este propósito, é imperativo que nós, os povos da Terra, declaremos nossa responsabilidade uns para com os outros, com a grande comunidade da vida, e com as futuras gerações." (da CARTA DA TERRA)