Postcard from Chernobyl: vision of Apocalypse

Mon Apr 11, 2011 7:08am EDT
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By Richard Balmforth

PRYPYAT, Ukraine (Reuters) - Only a Hollywood doomsday movie can prepare a visitor for Prypyat, the ghost town at the epicenter of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

A poisoned corpse of a city, its crumbling, deserted buildings devoid of life stand as a symbol of human folly, lost dreams and broken childhood.

Just down the road from Prypyat, a short time after midnight on April 26, 1986, reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded, spewing radioactive debris into the air after a safety experiment went horribly wrong.

It was the Cold War. Within days, the name 'Chernobyl' had become a byword across the world for Soviet bungling -- and callousness, since Moscow, obsessed by secrecy, did not come clean about the disaster for nearly 36 hours.

As a cloud of radioactive particles billowed across parts of Ukraine and neighboring Belarus -- then both part of the Soviet family -- a death knell sounded for the Soviet Union. It collapsed five years later.

More immediately, it doomed the young model city of Prypyat to become a museum piece for generations and turned a circular area with a radius of 30 km (19 miles) into a vast no-go zone, now officially called the Zone of Alienation.

As the visitor rockets by bus to Prypyat along a pot-holed road, windowless abandoned houses peer out from a screen of foliage which is steadily swallowing them up.

As Japan fights to control radiation leaking from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the Chernobyl disaster remains the grim benchmark for just how badly things could work out.   Continued...

<p>Newspapers from March 1986 with a picture of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin are seen in an empty building in the abandoned town of Pripyat, in the 30 km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant March 31, 2006. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj</p>