Peter Morris photos
In the early hours of April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant caused unprecedented quantities of radioactive material to leak into the atmosphere, contaminating much of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. To this day, Chernobyl is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. Take a look at the photo gallery.
This April, 25 years later, Marblehead-based photographer Peter Morris traveled to the Ukraine to visit Chernobyl and document what he found there.
“I was really curious as to what had happened to it over the years,” Morris said. “Chernobyl actually bankrupted the Soviet Union and I was curious as to how they were going to present it.”
The short term evacuation is now in its 25th year, though some of the people were allowed to return and collect more personal effects. According to Morris, the insides of buildings were completely ransacked and anything of value had been taken. Sinks had been ripped off the walls and the copper piping was removed. The floors of buildings were covered in debris, gas masks, and forgotten items.
After the disaster, many towns and villages were declared uninhabited and more than 350,000 were evacuated.
“In the Chernobyl museum in Kiev, you go up the stairs and see all these names,” Morris said. “At the top you turn around and each name has a red band across. I counted 22 places that exist in name but not population.”
“All of the trees had only 20 years of growth,” Morris said. “The area was completely leveled.”
Although no one is sure how many deaths are attributed to the radiation from Chernobyl, 31 of the workers at the power plant died during the explosion. Chernobyl ranks as a Level 7 event, the highest level, on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The only other disaster to rank as a Level 7 is the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Incident that took place in Japan after an earthquake on March 11, 2011, according to the Japanese government's Nuclear Safety Agency.
At Chernobyl, portions of the contaminated ground are still highly dangerous and anyone who visits there must adhere to certain guidelines and remain within areas designated by signs. When Morris was at the site, a guide, who was placed with Morris for the trip, told him what areas were off limits. Morris’s radiation levels also were measured before and after walking the grounds at Chernobyl.
In the 25 years since the disaster, all working reactors on site have been shut down and Ukrainian authorities, along with The International Atomic Energy Agency, monitor radiation levels.
In a statement he made at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine, Amano said, “The crisis at Fukushima Daiichi is still continuing. This latest accident demonstrates that, despite the great progress made in the last 25 years, more needs to be done to ensure that a "Safety First" approach becomes fully entrenched among nuclear power plant operators, governments and regulators.”
Amano seemed hopeful while speaking to Ukrainian authorities that strides can be made to keep nuclear power a safe energy source and avert any future disasters.
“Safety First is the watchword that must underpin all of our work in the future, even more than in the past.” Amano said. “I ask all of you to give your unstinting support to the IAEA to help ensure that accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi never happen again.”