Jul 19 2007

Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part II: Liquidators Memorial / Kopachi / Catfish / Reactor 4

by in Chernobyl Tour 2007, Eastern Europe & the Caucasus, Ukraine

In the city of Chernobyl there stands a simple memorial to the liquidators who rushed to reactor number four in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.

Chernobyl liquidators monument
“To those who saved the world.”

Chernobyl liquidators monument

The firefighters who initially responded to the disaster on the morning of April 26, 1986 were unaware that they were entering a radioactive environment, and rushed to the plant without donning protective suits and respirators. While they labored to extinguish the fires, their bodies absorbed lethal doses of radiation, and many of them later died of Acute Radiation Sickness. Overall, some 600,000 workers, including scientists, miners, and Soviet military conscripts, participated in the Chernobyl cleanup efforts. To this day, many of them continue to experience a variety of health problems stemming from their time spent in the zone.

We passed another checkpoint and entered the 10km exclusion zone that surrounds the V.I. Lenin Memorial Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. Our driver stopped the bus and we soon found ourselves standing on the road staring at large mounds of dirt skewered with radiation signs. Our guide explained that this was the village of Kopachi. Shortly after the Chernobyl disaster, liquidators arrived with bulldozers and dismantled the town, burying the radioactive houses underneath tons of dirt.

Kopachi village

Kopachi village

Kopachi village

Chernobyl-2 radar station

Off in the distance is Chernobyl-2, a now abandoned radar station formerly used by the Soviet military.

Further down the road we had our first glimpse of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. Across a small canal stand reactors five and six, both abandoned in mid-construction after the explosion at reactor four.

Chernobyl nuclear power station
The power station

Chernobyl nuclear reactor four
Reactor four

Chernobyl nuclear reactor five
Reactor five

Chernobyl water cooling tower
Water cooling tower

As our bus entered the grounds of the nuclear power station, our guide warned us that photos were not permitted here for “security reasons.” He led us towards a disused railroad bridge that spanned one of the cooling pond’s adjacent canals and hopped onto a rail in order to avoid walking on the dirt. Recalling his previous warning to “stay off the dirt”, we followed his example, hopscotching from the road to the rails to the wood planks of the bridge. Looking into the canal directly below us, we could see hundreds of catfish swimming in the water. A loaf of bread was passed around (ah, so that’s what that was for) and we took turns throwing chunks into the water, watching as the pieces were devoured by the largest catfish I have ever seen in my life. If I were telling you this story in person, I would spread my arms as wide as I could – they were literally the size of sharks. We were soon joined by a group of plant workers who had brought along their own bread to feed the monsters. I guess there isn’t much to do on your lunch break at Chernobyl.

Bridge near Chernobyl nuclear power station
Workers feeding the fish (snuck this pic once we got back on the bus)

While feeding giant fish was entirely thrilling, we had more interesting places to go, namely closer to reactor four.

Chernobyl nuclear power station memorial
Memorial to the heroes who contained the disaster

Situated on the westernmost perimeter of the nuclear power station, reactor four is a massive structure surrounded by decrepit concrete walls lined with barbed wire. Following the 1986 disaster, a sarcophagus was hastily constructed over reactor four to contain the radioactive material that lay inside. Some twenty years later, the damn thing just looks like it could collapse at any moment. Sets of yellow “braces” were recently added to provide a bit of structural integrity, but the sarcophagus is plagued with holes of varying sizes that allow moisture to collect inside the structure, further weakening it. Fortunately, however, plans are currently underway for the construction of a so-called “New Safe Confinement” structure that will more effectively contain the radioactive material that remains in reactor four. From the material that has been released, it looks to be an impressive feat of engineering.

Chernobyl reactor four sarcophagus
The sarcophagus

Standing in that parking lot, with reactor four a mere 100 meters ahead, was intensely surreal. If you’ve read other accounts of Chernobyl visitors who stood in the same spot as we did, this is where you would see the sentence “Our dosimeter was registering 470+ microroentgens per hour!” But, as I previously mentioned, our guide apparently didn’t find it necessary to carry one of those around (instead taking a loaf of bread for the monster fishies), and so we hadn’t the slightest idea how much radiation we were exposed to at that moment. Brilliant, I know.

Chernobyl reactor four
Ryan and I, with reactor four in the background


We spent a few minutes here taking photos and then returned to the bus. Our next stop would be Pripyat, the model Soviet city of 50,000 that housed the Chernobyl plant workers and their families.
Read more about the tour:
1. Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part I: Dude, where’s your Geiger counter?
3. Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part III: The ghosts of Pripyat
4. Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part IV: Chisto?

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22 Responses to Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part II: Liquidators Memorial / Kopachi / Catfish / Reactor 4

  1. From austin:

    wow nice pics
    i get cold chills looking at the memorials

    Posted on May 8, 2008 at 11:02 pm #
  2. From pablo sigismondi:

    Hi, I go now to Ucraina and, meaby, Chernobyl…please, it is possible to help me about the best way to visit this place?
    Thanks very much,

    Posted on July 26, 2008 at 8:19 pm #
  3. From Frank:

    Those pictures are really great, I love all the wonderful information you included it was very intresting reading all this.

    Posted on December 10, 2008 at 10:33 pm #
  4. From lesley underhill:

    Hi Lindsay,

    Many thanks for your blog, tis information is just fascinating. There was an irishwoman who went to Chern a while back, she was with one of the children’s charities, and she wrote a book which might interest you if you have not read it, although I forget the name. I could go through a library catalogue and find it if you were interested.
    You are very brave…I found your blog through searching for mention of the giant catfish – I had heard of them before.
    I am very interested in this type of thing as I am vitally concerned that nuclear power not be seen as a “green” alternative !!!! and collect information on effects of radiation when I can.
    All the best, Lesley. If there is anything you want to know that you think I could help with, feel free to ask…

    Posted on August 13, 2009 at 10:51 pm #
  5. From Florencia:

    I wonder how did you do to go there, is that the chernobyl reactor?
    wasn’t it full of radiation? :/

    Posted on October 1, 2009 at 6:54 pm #
  6. From brandan:

    we are learning about chkernobyl

    Posted on March 10, 2010 at 11:20 am #
  7. From RyanG:

    Hey thanks a lot for taking these pictures. They’re a surprisingly incredible amount of help for a highschool project.

    Posted on March 26, 2010 at 1:11 pm #
  8. From Janelle:

    What are you smiling about in that last photograph of you and Ryan? Maybe you always smile in every photo, even if it were the Nazi concentration camps behind you.

    There’s nothing to smile about in Chernobyl. You tourists are sometimes unbelievable.

    Posted on November 18, 2010 at 2:28 am #
  9. From Joe:


    A trip I would like to take some day.

    Awsome pictures!

    Remember – Technology improvements make Nuclear a safer option…it’s kinda like airplane travel. No one remembers how many flights make safe landings, they remember the one that crashland in the Potomac with just scrapes and bruises on the passengers or the Concorde jet with ZERO(100 passengers, 9 crew and 4 on the ground)survivors .

    If we research 3 Mile Island we would realize that it was an example of a reactor problem shutdown in the correct manner…unlike Chernobyl.

    Posted on December 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm #
  10. From luka:

    is this really????i cant belive !!are u get a cancer?or something?ohh im scared 😀

    Posted on March 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm #
  11. From Marvin:

    Hi, now that the reactors are close to meltdown in Japan I wonder if it is still something to smile about like you do in your pictures, or the fact that the half-life of the radiation is over thousands of years. You and everyone else who goes to Chernobyl will certainly get cancer. But hey, be and idiot and ignorant to the fact that the area is full of radiation and that it is still an abandoned city.
    Nuclear power is not safe, the technology has become better, but as you can see now in Japan an earthquake was enough. The meltdown will happen, there is nothing that can stop it. I can only hope we will stop using such primitive type of power source.

    Posted on March 13, 2011 at 9:15 pm #
  12. From Joe Young:

    Marvin, what a hate filled person you must be in order to hope someone gets cancer after visiting Chernobyl. It looks like they were making the best of vacation.

    I think you need to study up on what is happening in Japan and not believe everything you see on TV or the NET.

    Once the earthquake hit Japan the nuclear chain reaction stopped at the 40yr old reactors and the fuel rods were contained in the containment vessel. The cooling of the rods started to occur just like the reactor was designed to do. The true problem occurred when the tsunami flooded the cooling pump generators. This is what started the overheating of the ‘core’. Now we may or may not have a radioactive issue; but that is yet to be seen as they are working on cooling the balance of the reactors. What we have seen so far is a small amount of radioactive steam being released (these radioactive elements has a half life of 8 days, 3 minutes, to seconds).

    I’m not an engineer nor do play one on TV, but I’m smart enough to listen to more than just the excitable newscast to gather information….please do more research before condemning a proven safe form of power generation…..just remember these power plants were designed 40yrs ago to survive an 8.2 earthquake and they surpassed that surviving a 9.0, only to be taken out by a tsunami!!

    Posted on March 15, 2011 at 10:11 am #
  13. From me:

    you are creepy. don’t hope you get cancer like marvin but stop being a sick creep and glamorising this sort of disaster

    Posted on March 16, 2011 at 9:25 pm #
  14. From Joe Young:

    No glam here just figured that once all of the Tree hugging anti capitalist is done this world will need something to create energy.

    After all the ban on oil, coal, and natural gas will give us with glass houses to harvest the suns energy so we can light our houses with the mercury filled french-fried curly Q light bulbs. Then we will all have wind turbines in our back yard to charge our super sized lead filled car batteries.

    Let’s think about this
    Germany uses Nuclear for 60% of its energy
    United States uses Nuclear for 19% of its energy
    UK uses Nuclear for 19% also
    France well they would half to surrender all modernization if they give up the 78% of its Nuclear energy

    So if you have a viable energy source let’s here about it; keep in mind I don’t mind fossil fuels, after all they are more cost effective when compared to windmills and solar panels.

    Posted on March 17, 2011 at 12:48 am #
  15. From blank:

    you must have some serious issues if you are able to just stand there and smile dumbly, in front of the ruins of the reactor that caused God knows how many people’s death…

    Posted on March 19, 2011 at 2:50 pm #
  16. From x_007:

    JP is now Chernobyl on steroids. Tokyo may not be the capital anymore. The radiation is huge. I do not think the liquidators and firemen that are now deceased would want people to go ‘tour’ Chernobyl.

    * Don’t follow the official story and lies – no wonder the JP people are pissed off (rerun) – like Joe Young says.

    Marvin has something, perhaps emotive, yet very valid to say.







    Follow for all the updates:


    Posted on April 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm #
  17. From Kim R:

    I was only about 12 when this horrific disaster took place. Living in the USA my entire life, I could never imagine how those poor people of Pripyat and the surrounding areas were effected or how this completely devistated their families and friends lives. Although this even was horrific, I do have to say that the hate comments left here for the writer of these articles on Chernobyl and Pripyat were just uncalled for and very upsetting. I could also never “down” or degrade another human being for “smiling” in a photo, regardless of the situation.

    For those of us who have not (luckily) been part of, witness to or have been effected by such horrible disasters, natural or otherwise, well, we simply cannot process the magnitude. Instead of making some of us sick or afraid, we are curious. It’s not wrong. It’s how we, as human beings learn…and that my friends is human nature and doesn’t discriminate.

    Disasters of all kinds are studied and visited for various reasons every day. If I were standing in New York and saw someone taking a photo at the site of the WTC where the memorials lie and they happened to smile, I wouldn’t question it. That was horrible too, obviously not of the same magnatude, but horrible in it’s own way.

    The writer of these 4 blog posts did a fab job or informing and taking photo’s to give those of us a glimpse of what it’s like inside that area. Me, myself, I am too afraid to go there. Even though my roots of of Russian decent, I couldn’t bring myself to visiting that place.

    I won’t lie, it intrigues me and I am curious but not enough to go there. But I will look at pictures on line. The writer of these blog posts didn’t run into Pripyat like the gypsies did and steal things that don’t belong to her/him and deface the now deserted city. They visited bravely, viewed it’s destruction and witnessed what is left of something that cannot be inhabited for many, many years to come.

    Let me remind you, if you are hear reading these articles/blog posts, it’s under your own free will. You don’t have to read them. If you don’t like what is being written, just simply go to another webpage or go browse Google or Bing for another article or picture to view. But please leave your ridiculous comments and ill wishes to yourselves and move on.

    How upsetting and how horribly inconsiderate is it of you to wish something like that on any human or creature knowing how many people were effected by such things because of the disaster there. How disrespectful is it of you to wish that upon someone knowing that so many were struck by this disaster…

    Posted on May 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm #


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