In the first of its kind, a filmmaker from Devon in England used a drone to capture the remains of a city near Chernobyl, Ukraine which was left abandoned and radioactive after a nearby nuclear power plant exploded in 1986. Danny Cooke sent a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter equipped with a Canon 7D camera to capture still images of the city of Pripyat, which once had a population of 50,000, which fled the town after the disaster, which left radioactive fallout over much of Ukraine and Belarus. The quadcopter drone also had a GoPro camera fitted to capture moving images of the eerie and overgrown streets of the once bustling industrial town. A Geiger counter to measure the radiation levels of the area where the drone was to fly was also fitted.
In a slickly designed video entitled “Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl“, a frozen Ferris wheel, poisoned forests and paint peeling off from an empty swimming pool are clearly visible, reported the Daily Mail website in the UK. Rusted bumper cars in the city’s fairground and trees growing right next to buildings are also visible in the footage. The area is still off-limits to onlookers because of the radioactive environment, although a few hardy explorers have managed to enter the restricted zone, taking pictures of abandoned schools with textbooks still opened up on desks and derelict houses overgrown with weeds.
The footage first shows the drone flying over an abandoned dock, red with nearly three decades of rust, with not a single person to be seen. It then takes in the fairground, whose tarmac is almost completely covered with trees. Viewers are then shown a drone’s-eye-view of central Pripyat, with grey and decaying concrete edifices still standing among forests where streets used to be. Many of the buildings still carry signs depicting Soviet-era coats of arms and in one scene, there is the ironic appearance of an office complex which housed an atomic research facility connected to the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The video finishes with close-ups of murals of the typical USSR art style in still good condition and water-damaged children’s books and blank postcards scattered over a floor in a disused school.
Writing on the drone flight and the resulting video, the Daily Mail reports Cooke as saying “Chernobyl is one of the most interesting and dangerous places I’ve been,
‘The nuclear disaster, which happened in 1986 (the year after I was born), had an effect on so many people, including my family when we lived in Italy.
‘I can’t imagine how terrifying it would have been for the hundreds of thousands of locals who evacuated.”
Cooke prepared “Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl’ as part of a filmed segment for the Canadian broadcaster CBS’ “60 Minutes” programme for their current affairs channel, CBS News.
Cooke then went further and actually visited Pripyat and Chernobyl and met fellow visitors there. Scientists have said that it is now possible to visit Pripyat for short periods of time as the radioactive isotopes discharged during the disaster have decayed sufficiently to be less of a hazard for human tourists.
“During my stay, I met so many amazing people, one of which was my guide Yevgein, also known as a ‘Stalker’, Cooke said.
‘We spent the week together exploring Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Prypiat (sic). There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place.’
‘Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.”
Currently, tourists who wish to visit the area which offers an eerie snapshot into life in the final years of the Soviet era can apply for day passes from the Ukrainian tourism ministry. Workers are rebuilding parts of the Chernobyl plant but are only allowed to perform tasks there for a few hours each month to limit the carcinogenic effects of the radiation. Nuclear experts have said that the Pripyat area will not be safe for permanent human habitation for around another 20,000 years, but many residents refused to evacuate at the time and chose to remain in the city. Others, mostly older people, have moved back into the city post-evacuation, to be close to family graves or because they cannot afford to live anywhere else.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred in the early hours of the 26th April 1986. Chernobyl was considered a showpiece of the Soviets’ nuclear muscle and one of a fleet of indigenously designed nuclear plants constructed all over the USSR to meet the nation’s high energy demands. That April morning, one of the four reactors operating at the site went into meltdown and then exploded, pouring radioactive material into the surrounding landscape. The incident was believed to have been caused by an engineering experiment which involved the lowering of control rods to test the capabilities of the reactor’s cooling pump system. The engineers made the error of lowering too many rods causing the reactor’s output to fall dramatically and it went into shutdown. It began to malfunction and overheat. With the reactor’s power running at one hundred times the normal capacity, it exploded, destroying the building housing it and throwing out tonnes of radioactive debris.
Radiation spread as far as the western USSR and much of Europe. Thirty-one people died in what was later regarded as one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents. Thousands have been diagnosed with cancer with casualties still reported to this day. The Soviet government was accused of covering the scale of the disaster, even when reports of radiation levels spiking in other parts of Europe began to come in, and did not begin evacuation of the plant workers’ town of Pripyat until three days after the reactor explosion. It has been reported that engineers in Pripyat were not fully aware of the scale of the disaster, despite being in communication with the plant. Government officials then threw up an exclusion zone of more than 1,000 square miles around the stricken plant, after evacuating Pripyat’s inhabitants.