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Trip to Chernobyl

Posted on 2016-09-19

I went to visit Ukraine and the Chernobyl exclusion zone in particular with some old and some new friends. It was awesome and I can wholeheartedly recommend the folks from Expedition Club, who kindly arranged the trip for us. I’ve wanted to do this way back since I first played S.T.A.L.K.E.R., probably about 9 or so years ago.

I have a bunch of photos on my Facebook.

Aside from Chernobyl, we also spent 2 days in Kiev. I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere and architecture too much - it’s full of socialist high-rises. Not saying Prague isn’t, but Kiev looks like 90% of it was built in the 80’s. The Statue of Mother Ukraine, which is slightly larger than the Statue of Liberty, has a pretty good museum of WWII inside. They also show off army vehicles (mostly tanks, and at least one helicopter) nearby. The statue and its surroundings are a pinnacle of socialist realism.

Then, we spent 2 days in the exclusion zone, and after that, we went to Neptun, which is a boat-turned-fishing base/hostel/restaurant in the delta of the Dnepr. The way there was really adventurous: let me tell you, you don’t know bad roads until you see the villages of Ukraine. When we finally arrived to the riverbank, a speedboat from Neptun took us and our things for the night and we sped towards Neptun. The ride there around all the tiny islands of the Dnepr delta under the moonlight was amazing. The next day, we said goodbye to Neptun and all its fuzzy kitties, doggies and puppies and headed back to Kiev.

On the way back to Kiev, our gearbox decided to kick the bucket - shifting gears was an ordeal for Ondra. Accidentally, we made a wrong turn at one point and headed toward a military facility and got stopped at a checkpoint. All right, let’s turn around and head back. Only the gearbox decided to not let us shift into reverse. So, we stood in front of the gate for like 20 minutes, Ondra frantically trying to shift to reverse and the guard getting more and more amused. Slowly, more and more soldiers from the checkpoint looked at the spectacle, until one hero went and helped us shift the gears, letting us leave a full squad of ~15 laughing servicemen. Fun times!

On our second day in Kiev (after Chernobyl and Neptun), we ziplined from one end of Dnepr to the other one, which was fun, if somewhat shorter than expected. We also saw some old churches, the Majdan and so forth.

More experiences: Ukraine is crazy cheap, which I’m saying having spent most of my life in Czech Republic, already a pretty cheap country. Once you figure out the alphabet, the language is very easy to read. Speaking in Czecho-Slovako-Polish is also a good supplement for English.

Radiation exposure

We couldn’t agree about how large the dose you get in Chernobyl actually is, so I decided to do a little bit of research. The second day of our visit in the Zone, I wrote down the value of the dosimeter roughly every 10 minutes plus every now and then.

Time μSv/hour Notes
08:47 0.15
09:05 0.21
09:26 0.21
09:47 0.48
09:57 0.30
10:08 0.18
10:29 0.32
10:38 0.18
10:48 0.30
10:53 1.00 Entering campground
10:57 1.24
11:14 1.53 Couldn’t find Petra, who had the dozimeter :)
11:18 0.95
11:22 0.95
11:28 0.27
11:35 0.44
11:39 0.32
11:42 21.7 Measured in hot spot around school by the village Kopachi.
11:43 2.65
11:49 0.91
11:51 6.79 Driving through Red Forest
11:52 12.6
12:00 0.30 Hospital
12:04 118 Measurement of highly radioactive glove in hospital (77 μSv/h a bit further by) - some idiots went to the basement where they kept and buried the first-response firemen and used the glove to hold one boot of the firemen. And then left the glove upstairs. And the glove is itself dangerously radioactive. Didn’t go nearby.
12:10 0.20
12:20 0.20
12:25 1.10
12:26 3.06 Small hot pocket by Pripyat river shipyard
12:26 3.06 Small hot pocket by Pripyat river shipyard
12:28 0.96
12:28 ~15 Random radioactive piece of wood our guide pointed out. (“Don’t step on this.”) Didn’t go nearby.
12:39 1.40
12:50 0.14
12:59 0.70
13:09 0.31
13:16 0.87
13:17 1.06
13:20 0.84
13:25 0.74
13:30 0.22
13:42 0.35
13:45 0.47 ~2 minute drive through Red Forest; next few entries show range of fluctuations.
13:46 2.68
13:47 1.58
13:49 0.27 Out of Red Forest
14:00 0.15 Lunch
14:24 0.27
14:33 0.35
14:35 58.8 Random piece of graphite from the cooling rods, laying in grass by unfinished cooling tower.
14:41 2.5 Radiation in unfinished cooling tower. It wasn’t yet sanitated, so the background radiation level is much higher than elsewhere.
14:43 3.40
14:54 0.39 Out of cooling tower
15:04 0.95
15:15 0.31
15:27 0.21 Coming back to Chernobyl town
15:40 0.15 Chernobyl town
15:51 0.15

The background radiation level in normal cities is (ballparking it) about 0.12 μSv/h. My idea was I would just look at the dosimeter every 10 minutes and then approximate the dose we received by representing each 10 minute interval by the value I measured by its end.

After seeing what the dozimeter did during the short ride through the Red Forest, I think that might be the wrong approach to go about it – the dose you receive in Chernobyl might not be dominated by the elevated level of background radiation (which is only 2×-4× higher than in uncontaminated areas, from my data) - the more important factor might be very short intervals spent in radiation hot pockets, which would be hard to pick up by 10-minute measurements. Look at the Red Forest ride: during it, the radiation levels were 20-30× the normal levels.

Next time, I’ll just bring my own dosimeter. With logging, and blackjack and hookers.