Day 4

The weather is perfect; this is exactly how you'd imagine a blown-out nuclear reactor to look, right?

Apparently there's a little memorial around the side, which is as close as we can go without paying a heavy bribe. Only Arekadiusz and Bill (the photographer from Atlanta) are going in to #4 - for $800 I don't need to see what I predict is going to be a stripped control room and a huge concrete wall. Not to get ahead of myself, but when we sync back up with Bill and Arekadiusz it sounds like they got some cool geek-creds by getting to dress in disposable paper suits, then were taken to see a stripped control room and a huge concrete wall. I nearly bite my tongue off trying to avoid saying "I told you so" but it slips out anyway.

(Gaudy logo from a more optimistic time)

Those of us who aren't going on the control-room tour head straight in to Pripyat. Our targets for the day are twofold: the claw and the Jupiter plant. After that, Arekadiusz has arranged a helicopter trip - everyone chipped in $500 but me; I am not getting into a helicopter that I know nothing about, to fly too low over an area studded with gigantic things
that stick up into the fog. I plan to demonstrate my superior intelligence by photographing the helicopter as it crashes on landing and selling the pictures to FAILblog to recoup the cost of my trip. For some reason the other guys in the group don't think I'm as awesomely clever as I do; probably because they didn't think of it.

Now, I have to admit something really embarrassing. There's this cool ass thing that I completely forgot to photograph. It's "the claw" and it is one of the original devices that they tried to use to scoop out pieces of the burning core to dispose of them. The attempt failed and the claw was discarded without being properly cleaned or sent to the truck graveyard. It's just sitting in the motor pool behind one of the buildings, radiating quietly.

Picture a 6 foot-tall device that looks like a jury-rigged tree uprooter. You know those huge devices that they use to snatch a whole tree and root ball out of the ground? It's like one of those except instead of 2 half-cone blades it has 4 quarter-cone blades. And it's made out of seriously jury-rigged heavy duty stuff. I've been told that if you walk up to it with a rad-meter, the rad-meter will begin to spin like crazy the closer you get. So I put the 5D in movie mode and focus on the radmeter and walk up to the claw, cleverly photographing only the radmeter and not the claw. I'll email one of the other guys and see if I can get a picture of it for posterity's sake.

Amazingly, the rad-meter starts to climb like crazy. By the time I am 30 feet away the radiation level is at 32 millisieverts. And, those of you who are in the know will know that, by
jingo, it increases with the inverse of the square of the distance! Every step, the meter jumps and jumps until it's up to about 150 millisieverts. I'm impressed. But apparently one of the blades wasn't as clean as the other, or had graphite up in the joints or something and is hotter than the others.

That means it's time to leave.The rad-meter makes a pathetic little feep-feep noise and that's it. It could at least provide proportional feedback. Not that I'm complaining. It worked.

From there, we go to the Jupiter factory. I won't post a lot of pictures from this because it was too mind-blowing to handle. Jupiter apparently made electronics of all sorts, and was also used as a staging ground for some of the crisis response. It's a facility the size of a small town consisting of a dozen buildings each the size of 2-story (i.e.: 8 story) 6-up warehouses. It would be easy to get lost if I didn't have a wonderful sense of direction. We wander for 3 hours.

I manage to find huge rooms full of electroplating tanks, a glass smelter, annealing furnaces, metal machining (all the big tools are gone) and room after room of parts bins, all dumped on the floor - all the parts having evaporated.

(In the Jupiter Plant) (Google Map)


(electroplating room)

It goes on and on and on and on. I finally get tired of looking at shattered technical stuff and head for the executive square. It turns out to be hard to find the CEO's office but finally I start hitting rooms with wall safes and private bathrooms and stuff.

(a view up the annealing furnace-line)

(Engineer's office)

Eventually, I just petered out and gave up and went back to sit by the van. I'd seen enough wreckage.

The other guys appeared and we motored off to collect Bill and Arekadiusz, then head to the helipad.


(I'm sure it's a very expensive piece of shit. But it looks like a piece of shit.)

I am growing more confident that I'll collect FAILblog hits.

There's no APU at the field, just a pair of puppies, Sergei, us, and the pilot. So Sergei and the field officer gang together a bunch of batteries and are able to fire the helicopter up. They take off, and I crawl into the back of the van for a nap. I awake to Sergei offering me a) vodka  b) a pastry. The pastry is pretty good with a vodka chaser; I thank Sergei. We make gestures at eachother, him trying to ask why I didn't get in the helicopter and me trying to explain that it was a frightening piece of shit and the pilot smelled of vodka.

Of course, they land just fine, radiant with smiles, having shot loads of photographs that won't turn out because they were taken through scratched perspex with autofocus turned on. But they had a good time and I had a good time with my vodka and pastry and we shake hands with Sergei, pass the hat and assemble a pretty good goodbye-bribe for him, pile into the van, and head back to Kiev.

I get to Kiev and camp in the lobby of the Rus Hotel, uploading tons of huge emails and crushing all your puny in-boxes, then have some excellent curry pork and rice and an unofficial beer (a Heineken actually) then catch a limo to the airport where I write this.

I hit 'Send' and that's the end.