The Chernobyl disaster is widely believed to be the worst of its kind in the history of nuclear power. The nearby city of Pripyat, which was built to house the plant’s workers, has become a well known ghost town in the wake of the catastrophe. But what became of the scores of military vehicles – helicopters, fire engines and tanks – that fought the burning nuclear fuel spewing out of the remains of the station’s fourth reactor?
The answer is that they are still around today. Several miles to the west of Chernobyl lies the rusting remains of the rescue and subsequent clean-up operation. Contaminated from top to bottom, the abandoned vehicles comprise a toxic graveyard that will linger for many years to come.
Rotting away in a field deep within the exclusion zone, rows of abandoned vehicles entomb the ten battered helicopters that were used to drop water on the burning reactor. Sadly, their operators were among the worst affected of the victims, with their role on the scene as primary emergency reponders guaranteeing them heavy exposure to the fallout.
Theft and Salvage
Unbelievably, the Ukranian police recently arrested a number of people attempting to steal a rusty Mi-8 helicoptor for reuse as a cafe. Whatever convinced them that people would want to eat and drink in such a dangerous place beggars belief although fortunately, the machine remains in the field. But alarmingly, there is some evidence the “fleet” has been decreasing in size, with people salvaging wreckage over the years. Considering the toxicity of the remains as demonstrated by the need for it to “quarantined” out in the wilderness, it is concerning that people can just wander into the zone, let alone take it with them. Most of the remaining hulks give off doses of 10-30 R/hr (0.1-0.3 Gy/hr) over 20 years after the disaster. To put it in perspective, 500 R/hr is the lethal dose – not something to be taken lightly.
If you are a Google Earth user, check out the vehicle graveyard at these coordinates: 51°09’16.16″N 29°58’57.41″E