Return to Chornobyl

I recently returned from an assignment to Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the exclusion zone around it, in Ukraine. I was there commissioned by Greenpeace Germany to work as a part of a team conducting a radiation survey of the Russian military impact after their March 2022 occupation of the zone, and to make photographs of Chornobyl exclusion zone.

The Chornobyl nuclear explosion took place 36 years ago, on 26th April, 1986. A scheduled but delayed test, and faulty reactor design, resulted in the worst nuclear disaster the world has seen.

Caesium-137, which was spewed out early on that Saturday morning, more the middle of the night, in 1986, has a half life of approximately 30 years, so by now will be starting to decay. But many of the radionuclides ejected by the force of the blast of the meltdown of Reactor No. 4 of the nuclear power plant are still devastating the landscape and environment, and health of people, to this day. Plutonium for instance, holds a half-life of 24,000 years.

The event in northern Ukraine was almost a half life ago for me also, (almost, bit of poetic licence here, I’m not that old…), but the disaster features in my career twice.

In late 1990 I travelled to Ukraine with a gentleman taking aid (medical, and toys) to children affected by the radioactive fall out of the disaster. It was a short trip, one of my first abroad to take images on a sort of job, and looking back I didn’t do as well as I should have. But on that trip I travelled to Kyiv, to Slavutych town built to house those evacuated from the Pripyat and the zone, and to the edge of the exclusion zone itself set up around the contaminated lands. But not within the zone itself. The following black and white photographs come from that trip in 1990.

And then this past month, I was part of a team for Greenpeace Germany, (most of whom had previous nuclear experience – I’ve worked in Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone in Japan) invited by the Ukrainian state authorities, to travel within the Chornobyl exclusion zone to survey the impact of the recent occupation of the plant and area by the invading Russian military. 

The approximately month-long occupation of the Zone by the Russian military has implications of a global significance – from theft of research data and hard drives, the moving around of radionuclides, the damage to safety monitoring equipment, the covering of the Zone in land mines, and the land mines of course means surveys and fire safety is harder to undertake for the scientists working there, and more.

Greenpeace Germany have built this story map website, which is rich in information about the recent occupation of the Chornobyl zone and also the history of the site, information about the survey work carried out by Greenpeace Germany on this trip, and previous Greenpeace work within Chornobyl. A lot of my images in the story map are from this recent trip, and I picture edited the rest of the site while traveling to and from Ukraine across Poland. The images I present on this page are a glimpse of what was shot, and you can see more on my main website: photographs of Chornobyl exclusion zone.

See the story map here: 

I hope you find the time to take a look and take a read of the site, I appreciate it.

Hope you find it interesting, and it gives an insight into yet one more facet of the current war on Ukraine.



All images ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Greenpeace. No unauthorised use permitted.

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