Back from Chernobyl

April 17, 2011

Dear Donors, Sponsors, and Friends,

Over the last couple of weeks, Brandon, my intern Tory, and I have been busy editing my new images from the Exclusion Zone. The three weeks I spent there with my cameras could not have been possible without your support, so first, let me extend my gratitude for your help getting me back into the field to continue my coverage of Chernobyl.

Today, the Exclusion Zone sits very much the same as it did six years ago during my last visit. The most obvious change is the Ukrainian government’s official opening of tourism into the Zone. Although largely unannounced, tourism has been going on for several years. However this year, the government has pushed to increase tourism as a way to bring in revenue. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Emergencies, which oversees the Exclusion Zone, hopes are to attract close to one million visitors for guided tours in 2012, the year of the European Football Championships in Ukraine. The spectacle of tourists with cameras and Geiger counters unloading from tour buses adds a whole new surrealism to the landscape. A small food market even sells Chernobyl merchandise!

While Chernobyl is opening up for tourism, access for journalists has only been made more difficult. Bureaucratic barriers have increased, prices are inflated, and today visiting journalists are not allowed to leave the hotel without their guides, confining them to their primitive lodgings like prisoners.

After pushing hard I was able to gain access to the deepest parts of the failed reactor #4 once again. For years, desperate efforts were underway to shore up the roof of the shelter to prevent it from collapsing. This work has been completed. Today, dimly lit, empty tunnels lead to haunting rooms strewn with wires, pieces of shredded metal and other debris. Walls have collapsed, and the rubble is covered with deadly radioactive dust, all waiting to be dismantled.

There is an upsurge of construction for the New Safe Confinement – the structure that is being built off-site and will eventually slide over the reactor to seal in the radiation to allow the final dismantling of the still highly radioactive reactor. At one point, the completion date was set as early as 2008, but has since been pushed back repeatedly. Actual construction for the NSC started only last September, and the completion date is now set for 2015. Officials on the ground however believe full competition is not likely until 2020, but say so only off the record.

As the project progresses, I will send out news announcements through the project website, Kickstarter, and Facebook.

Thank you again for all of your support.

Best, Gerd

Please check the Photos to view some new images, I’ll be updating the slideshow as the editing process moves along.

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