Thirty years after its fourth reactor exploded on 26 April 1986, an exclusion zone is still in place around the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. A fire raged at the plant for 10 days after the meltdown at the reactor, which sent huge amounts of radioactive material into the area which moved across large parts of Europe. Those hit hardest were Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, while the town and surrounding areas around the plant were completely evacuated. An exclusion zone – which extends for a radius of 30km around the nuclear plant – is still in place 30 years later, and the place remains completely desolate.
I visited the zone in autumn 2015 along with my camera, and was guided by two former employees of the nuclear plant who knew the area and the abandoned facilities very well. This project is the result of the few days I spent in the exclusion zone, exploring the remains of the ghost town Pripyat, and the nuclear plant in Chernobyl. It was the first time I have had to photograph with a dosimeter. The device was with me all times to check my exposure to the radiation.
Time has stood still at Chernobyl, but the Soviet world that vanished elsewhere decades ago still carries symbolism. The catastrophe contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Even now, after 30 years, in the post-Soviet World, a dreadful atmosphere remained. The entire zone is still guarded by Ukrainian uniformed security, equipped with automatic rifles. There is no way you can access Chernobyl without their permission. Every day we visited we would be checked by security, and before we left the zone I had to check in at the dosimeter station to see whether the daily dose of radiation I was exposed to had not reached dangerous levels.
It was a positive experience in one aspect.
However, I did see nature creep back into the zone, and overgrowth had developed fantastically in the zone. Despite there still being comparatively high levels of radiation around the site, it seemed that nature and many of species of animals had found an excellent untampered location to make home. When I went in autumn 2015, a new sarcophagus was being constructed to seal the source of the radioactive contamination in the fourth reactor, and it is still in the making.
The Chernobyl tragedy was the most dramatic nuclear disaster until Fukushima accident in 2011.
This story was published in BBC news in April 2016 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the 4th reactor meltdown.