The Zone of Alienation, which is variously referred to as The Chernobyl Zone, The 30 Kilometer Zone, The Zone of Exclusion, The Fourth Zone, or simply The Zone (Ukrainian official designation: Зона відчуження Чорнобильської АЕС, zona vidchuzhennya Chornobyl's'koyi AES, colloquially: Чорнобильська зона, Chornobyl's'ka zona оr Четверта зона, Chetverta zona) is the 30 km/19 mi exclusion zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. Geographically, it includes northernmost parts of Kyivs'ka oblast' and Zhytomyrs'ka oblast' of Ukraine, and adjoins the country's border with Belarus.
Purpose and status
The Zone was established soon after the Chernobyl disaster
in 1986, in order to evacuate
the local population and to prevent people from entering the heavily contaminated
territory. The area adjoining the site of the disaster was divided into 4 concentric
zones, amongst them the fourth (actually the nearest, within a radius
of 30 km/19 mi) being the most dangerous.
The territory of the zone is polluted unevenly. Spots of hyperintensive pollution were created not only by wind-spreading of radioactive dust at the time of the accident, but also by numerous burial grounds for various material and equipment. Zone authorities pay much attention to protecting such spots from tourists, scrap hunters and wildfires, but admit that some dangerous burial sites remain unmapped and known only by recollections of the liquidators.
Any residential, civil or business activities in the zone are legally prohibited and punishable. The only officially recognized exception is the functioning of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and scientific installations related to the studies of nuclear safety.
The zone is partly excluded from the regular civil rule. It is controlled by the Administration of the Alienation Zone within Ukraine's Ministry of Emergencies and Affairs of Population Protection from Consequences of Chernobyl Catastrophe The territory of the zone is policed by special units of the MVS and (along the border line) the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.
Everyone employed within the zone is allowed there for certain shifts (ranging from a day to one month). The duration of shifts is strictly counted regarding the person's pension and healthcare issues. The personnel of the above-mentioned nuclear installations constantly reside in Slavutych (a specially-built remote city in Chernihivs'ka oblast'), others in different cities and towns of Ukraine.
Access to the zone for brief visits is, however, possible; day-tours are available to the public from Kiev.
Historically and geographically, the zone is a heartland of the Polesia
region—the birthplace of East Slavs
. This predominantly rural woodland area was once home to 120,000 people, living in 90 communities (including rapid-developing cities of Chernobyl
), but is now mostly uninhabited.
When the authorities allowed brief touring visits to the zone, some evacuated residents of the Pripyat and Chernobyl established a remembrance tradition, which includes annual visiting of the former homes or schools, and Internet sites describing the past and present life of their childhood places.
Nature and infrastructure
Flora and fauna
of the zone have been dramatically affected by the radioactive contamination that followed the accident. The cloud of heavily polluted dust left the Red Forest
)—a stand of highly-irradiated pine
wood near the plant, which was subsequently bulldozed. Cases of mutant
deformity in animals of the zone were reported but none were scientifically documented except partial albinism
There have been reports that wildlife had flourished due to significant reduction of human impact. However, one study indicates that the radiation has had an adverse effect on birds in the area. The zone is considered by some as a classic example of an involuntary park. Populations of traditional Polesian animals (like wolves, wild boar and Roe Deer), red deer, moose, and beaver have multiplied enormously and begun expanding outside the zone. The area also houses flocks of European wisent and Przewalski's Horses released there after the disaster. Even extremely rare lynx have appeared, and there are reports of tracks from brown bear, an animal not seen in the area for several centuries. Special game warden units are organized to protect and control them.
The rivers and lakes of the zone pose a significant threat of spreading polluted silt during spring floods. They are systematically secured by dikes.
The industrial, transport, and residential infrastructure has been largely crumbling since the 1986 evacuation. There are at least 800 known "burial grounds" (Ukrainian
) for the contaminated vehicles with hundreds of abandoned military vehicles and helicopters. River ships and barges lie in the abandoned ports.
However, the infrastructure immediately utilized by the existing nuclear-related installations is maintained and developed, such as the railway link to the outside world from the Yaniv station close to the power plant.
The “Chernobyl-2”, a.k.a. “Duga-3
”, is a former Soviet
military installation relatively close by to the power plant, consisting of gigantic transmitter and receiver belonging to the Steel Yard Over-the-horizon radar
system. The secrecy around this unit once provoked a rumour that it was the real cause of the disaster. According to Ukrainian TV, the base is now defunct and handed over to the Ministry of Emergencies. The rusting iron superstructures of the station are being considered for dismantling over the fears of their accidental collapse which would cause a microearthquake
damaging the radioactive storages in the area.
Looting and poaching problem
of game, illegal logging
, and metal
salvage are problems within the zone. Despite police control, intruders often infiltrate the perimeter and remove polluted materials, from electronics to toilet seats, especially in Pripyat
, where residents of about 30 high-rise apartment buildings had to leave all of their belongings behind. In spite of this extensive looting, some buildings remain untouched.
In 2007, the Ukrainian government adopted more severe criminal and administrative penalties for illegal activities in the alienation zone, as well as reinforced units assigned to these tasks.
Dozens of people (mostly the elderly) refused to be evacuated from the zone or illegally returned there later. After recurrent attempts at expulsion, the authorities became reconciled to their presence and even allowed limited supporting services for them. The population also includes some vagabonds
and other marginalized persons from the outside world. These people (known as "samosely"
, translated as "self-settlers") declare their strong commitment to the surrounding nature and rural
usually deny or are resigned to any significant damage to their health resulting from the high levels of radiation in the environment.
Development and recovery projects
The oldest and most recognized vision of the zone’s future is a research and industrial ground for developing nuclear technologies, including technology of nuclear wastes
disposal. Permanent waste facilities are already being constructed in the zone, although these projects suffer from environmental and business concerns.
There are growing calls for wider economic and social revival of the territories around the disaster zone. For instance, special technologies are suggested for agriculture and energy projects that would avoid the danger of proliferating polluted material.
The most vocal advocate of such revival is President Viktor Yuschenko who expresses his deep concerns with the exclusion of polluted territories from the society and economy of Ukraine.
In November 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution calling for "recovery and sustainable development" of the areas affected by the Chernobyl accident. Commenting on the issue, UN Development Programme officials mentioned the plans to achieve “self-reliance” of the local population, “agriculture revival” and development of eco-tourism.
However, it is not clear whether such plans of UN and Yuschenko deal with the zone of alienation proper, or only with the other three zones around the disaster site where contamination is less intense and restrictions on the population looser (such as the district of Narodychi in Zhytomyrska Oblast).
Cultural precedents and references
- Stalker is a 1979 (7 years prior to the actual Chernobyl disaster) film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, based on a 1972 novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky entitled Roadside Picnic. Both describe a mysterious and forbidden "zone", depopulated of human life by an unexplained disaster, and Tarkovsky's film in particular has come to symbolize the alienation zone in the minds of many commentators. Contrary to popular belief, the power plant depicted in one of the last shots is not Chernobyl; the entire movie was in fact shot in Estonia.
- A science fiction novella titled The Dragon of Pripyat, by Karl Schroeder, is set in Pripyat after the disaster.
- Most of Martin Cruz Smith's crime thriller book Wolves Eat Dogs is set in and around the Zone of Alienation and goes into detail the events that led up to and were caused by the Chernobyl disaster.
- A science fiction video game named S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, released in 2007 by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World, and a prequel, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, released in 2008, is set in the zone of alienation. Authentic photos and video footage from the zone were rendered into the graphics used in the games.
- In addition to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the game Cold War partially takes place in Chernobyl NPP in 1986 just a few hours before the accident. It suggests that the accident was caused by a corrupt KGB director, trying to discredit Perestroika and create a new Stalinist government.
- There is a mission in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare game that takes place within the abandoned city of Pripyat located in the zone of alienation succeeding the Chernobyl disaster, Chernobyl itself is visible in the preceding mission and is the site of an arms deal. This is also where the player gets to see one of the famous landmarks, the Pripyat Ferris Wheel, where the player must stay alive while heavily outnumbered.
- In the American film Godzilla Matthew Broderick's character, an NRC scientist, is studying the effects on wildlife due to the radiation leaked by the reactors at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone before going to Panama to observe the wreckage of the recovered Japanese fishing ship.
- Sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard recorded a series of pieces entitled 4 Rooms, based on the acoustic resonance of a church in the village of Krasno, and an auditorium, swimming pool and gymnasium in Pripyat.
- The hospital section of Half Life 2: Episode One was based on photos of a hospital in Pripyat.
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