Amazing un-seen photos from the Chernobyl disaster (Page 5)
The residents of Pripyat knew there had been an accident, but had no idea how severe it was, and went about their day as usual on the Saturday of the 26th. Word spread throughout the day that something serious had gone wrong. In order to prevent panic, no information was provided about what had happened at the plant. Those who tried to leave town soon discovered that police had set up roadblocks to stop anyone going into or out of the area.
On the morning of the 27th, as the radiation levels in Pripyat peaked, Legasov remarked that, “mothers could be seen pushing prams and children were playing in the street – just like any other Sunday.” The order to evacuate was finally given at 11am on April 27th, 34 hours after the accident. These two photos are from shortly after the evacuation.
As seen in the previous photo, all the radioactive cars were gathered together at the edge of the city.
Pripyat was then fenced off.
Since pieces of the reactor had landed on the roof and radiation there was far too intense for people to work around the plant, remote control machinery was brought in from throughout the Soviet Union (and later Germany and Japan – America offered equipment specially designed for this sort of situation, but were turned down by the USSR as they continued to think it was easily managed).
This included the STR-1, a rover the Russians had designed to land on the moon.
Some machines succumbed to the radiation. Hardened vehicles like the STR-1 survived it, but then became tangled in the debris.
Tractors were customized with lead paneling and used on the roof of the turbine hall, but they were too unwieldy to be used on the highest parts of the building.
Tractor On the roof pushing debris
There was no alternative – men would go in their place.
Using suits with lead panels sewn into them, men dubbed ‘Bio-Robots’ ran up to the roof to shovel debris into the breach.
Each man was only able to work for 40 seconds before their radiation dosage became too high. Only around 10% of the work on the roof was accomplished by actual machines – the rest being done by 5,000 men, according to Yuri Semiolenko, the Soviet official responsible for the decontamination of the plant.
Here you can see the radiation eating into the camera’s film from below. This is very important to note as the radiation decay is directly hitting the camera from the plant.
The Bio-Robots’ sacrifice allowed work to begin on erecting an enormous enclosure – soon to become known as the Sarcophagus – to seal Unit 4 off from the world. One of the largest and most difficult civil engineering tasks in modern history, there had never been such an important building designed and built in such a short time, under such extreme conditions. It was to stand 170 metres long, 66 metres tall, and envelop the whole of block 4. The Sarcophagus needed the strength to withstand Ukrainian weather for an estimated 20 years – time to develop a more permanent solution – and contain the astronomical levels of radiation within
While this was ongoing, pilots flew Mi-26 helicopters (the largest helicopter ever built) around the clock, spraying a special coagulant chemical across the area.
This sealed radioactive particles to the ground, enabling quick removal and burial. In total, 300,000m³ of earth was dug up and buried in pits, which were then covered over with concrete.
Construction continued for months. Once people reached their dosage limit, they were paid and sent home.
Heavy machinery, specially customized with radiation resistant cabs, like the one seen here and previous, were brought in to help with the construction.
There was a huge concern that the molten reactor core could melt its way into the flooded basement. On May 4th, three incredibly courageous volunteers in wet suits dove into the basement together. The divers were an engineer named Alexei Ananenko, who knew the location of the venting valves, and two soldiers named Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov, one of whom held a light. They were aware of what was at stake, and apparently knew it was a suicide mission, but were promised that their families would be well taken care of. The light failed and the poor men had to swim and find the valves by hand in pitch darkness. The valves were successfully located and opened, and the bubbler pool was drained of its 20,000 tons of water by the fire brigade, but all three men were suffering from radiation sickness even as they climbed out of the water, and each later died
This is a view from inside the damaged turbine hall.
All vehicles entering and leaving the 30km exclusion zone were meticulously cleaned and measured for radioactive particles.
The poor firemen who had first battled the flames on the night of the explosion were dying of radiation syndrome one by one. They had been flown to a specialist radiation hospital in Moscow, called Hospital No. 6
It’s often stated that radiation has no taste, but the men who absorbed the highest doses at Chernobyl all reported a metallic taste in their mouths immediately upon exposure, so it seems that if the dose is high enough to kill you, you will definitely taste it. While every person’s body reacts slightly differently, the following is a good general indicator of the consequences of extreme doses of radiation.
You’ll begin to vomit and feel nauseous almost immediately, and within a short space of time, your tongue and eyes will swell, slowly followed by the rest of your body. You’ll feel weakened, as if the strength has been drained from you. If you have received a high dose of direct exposure – as in this scenario – your skin will turn dark red within moments, a phenomenon often called nuclear sunburn. Within an hour or two of exposure, you’ll gain a pounding headache, a fever and diarrhoea, after which you’ll go into shock and pass out.
After this initial bout of symptoms, there is often a latent period during which you will start to feel like you’re recovering. The nausea will recede, along with some swelling, though other symptoms will remain. This latent period varies in duration from case to case, and of course it depends on the dose, but it can last a few days. It’s cruel, because it gives you hope, only to then get much, much worse. The vomiting and diarrhoea will return, along with delirium. There will be an unstoppable, excruciating pain throughout your body, from your skin down to your bones, and you’ll bleed from your nose, mouth and rectum. Your hair will fall out, your skin will tear easily, crack and blister, and then slowly turn black.
Your bones will rot, forever destroying your body’s ability to create new blood cells. As you near the end, your immune system will completely collapse, your lungs, heart and other internal organs will begin to disintegrate, and you’ll cough them up. Your skin will eventually break down completely, all but guaranteeing infection. One man from Chernobyl reported that when he stood up his skin slipped down off his leg like a sock. At high doses, radiation will change the very fabric of your DNA, turning you quite literally into a person other than the one you were before. And then you’ll die, in agony.
The official USSR figures state that 30 men and one female security guard died as a direct consequence of the accident. That list only covers the people who were at the site within the first few hours of the explosion and who quickly died of acute radiation syndrome or burns, and ignores all military personnel who died due to exposure from the clean-up operation, civilians living in the surrounding area, and many others outwith the military who entered the zone shortly after the accident (journalists, doctors etc). Those whose bodies were recovered are buried in welded zinc coffins, to prevent their radioactive remains from contaminating the soil.
The Chernobyl zone had by now transformed into a huge clean-up operation, involving hundreds of thousands of people, who came to be called Liquidators.
Passenger ships were sailed up the Dnieper River and moored nearby, to provide accommodation for the more lucky and higher ranking Liquidators.
The less fortunate were billeted in vast fields of tents, a few kilometers from the plant.
One of their tasks was to dig up and replace all of the topsoil in Pripyat.
The cars from the city were gradually buried in vast pits of other radioactive machinery.