After Kopachi, the second stop on our tour was a visit to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Known as the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station during Soviet times, the plant is located a few kilometers from the city of Pripyat, 18km northwest of Chernobyl town, 16km south of the Belarus border, and about 100km north of Kiev.
First, we took a drive through the plant and stopped to get a look at all of the reactors and some other features, including a cooling tower.
There were four reactors in all. Reactor #4 was the site of the meltdown. Surprisingly, the other reactors remained in use after the disaster. Reactor #1 was active until 1996, and Reactor #2 caught fire and was shut down in 1991, and Reactor #3 was shut down in 2000. A 5th reactor was under construction and 70% complete during the disaster but was never finished. The cranes tower above it in the same position since 1986.
We then made a stop at the famous Reactor #4. On Saturday April 26, 1986, at 1:23:58 am, during a system test, Reactor #4 exploded and had a meltdown. The entire area was contaminated in just 36 hours. The USSR didn’t admit there was a problem until Swedish authorities detected radiation in their atmosphere two days later. It took nearly five months and the work of over 500,000 people to secure the reactor with a sarcophagus, stop the radiation leak, and “save the world”. No accurate figure of deaths caused by the accident has been released, but it’s thought to have caused the premature deaths of over 1 million people over several years.
A memorial to the workers who “saved the world” stand in the parking lot in front of Reactor #4. It proved to be a popular photo op for all three of us on the tour.
Near the reactor we were shown the new sarcophagus that will cover it. Since the current sarcophagus covering Reactor #4 is only good for 30 years, a new one, called Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, was being built that will last 100 years. The new sarcophagus required the demolition of the 75m chimney that was used by both Reactor #3 and #4, so any future visitors to Chernobyl will see something much different than what appears in my photos here.
After the power plant, we continued to the city of Pripyat.