Having seen photos of units 5 and 6 this was one of the places I had really hoped to visit. Rarely can anything be guaranteed in the zone so when we pulled up to the gate I had my fingers well and truly crossed. To the left there stood what looked like an old stunted railway carriage on wheels. Having clearly stood there for many years it now blended in with the surrounding decay. On our arrival the door of the carriage swung open, allowing a large plume of cigarette smoke to escape from within, and a bearded face peered out briefly. Almost simultaneously several skittish dogs emerged from amongst the wheels and eyed our bus warily, heads down, their tales wagging frantically.
We remained in the minibus as our guide climbed the steps to the carriage and ducked through the door. Several minutes later our guide emerged along with the inhabitant. Cigarettes were lit and as they smoked there was the occasional exchange of words but negotiation in this instance seemed to involve much gazing at nothing in particular. As the cigarette butts hit the floor there was a brief nod between the two men before our guide beckoned us to approach. The chain was unwrapped from the side gate and we quickly filed through.
Viewed up close, it is truly a remarkable building. It’s vast solid walls tower above the tree line. The bright white and red walls reflecting the sunlight in an almost surreal manner. Trees sprout from rooftops and walls, many dangling at unnatural angles.
This first visit was on a weekday and as we approached there were several men gathered at the base of the walls. This was something I wasn’t expecting. They eyed us, and our cameras, with some suspicion and quickly finishing their cigarettes they soon dispersed. The path led to a non-descript doorway but not before it weaved around a large pile of multi-coloured pieces of metal. This was my introduction to metal reclamation within the zone. I had read reports that metal was being removed but witnessing it at first hand I, perhaps naively, wasn’t prepared for the scale of the operation. Towering high above us was a crane. Impressive in scale, but actually one of the smaller cranes that surround the building, I squinted up at the cab against the sky, was that a light on?
A bulb shone in the cab, the crane was operational. This explained the mass of freshly cut metal around its base.
Here the entrance to the building was small, possibly a fire escape, it lead directly to the base of a partially built concrete staircase. Climbing the stairs we quickly left behind the light from the doorway and ascended into darkness. The stairs are unfinished and contain numerous holes that reveal the structural re-enforcing metal rods within. See photographs of the interior here.
Several floors up we leave the stairwell and emerge back into daylight. A large rectangular hole in the side of the building frames the cab of the functioning crane outside. From this height I can see the roof of a long building to my right. Long deep parallel indentations on the top indicate that something large, and presumably metal, has been dragged off the roof however no sign of this object remains on the floor below.
On my third and final visit I aimed to reach the roof. This involved climbing two sets of external metal staircases and up a long ladder. In common with climbing the dock cranes previously, fear came from an unexpected source, in this case the first set of stairs, with the whole metal structure swaying alarmingly away from the wall and (fortunately) back again as I climbed. The next set of stairs sat on the on the edge of a vast crudely cut hole in the metal roof. As I skirted around it the metal roof panels flexed underfoot making the final ladder climb feel solid and comparatively stress-free. The views upon reaching the top instantly making it all worthwhile.
RBMK, or “High Power Channel-type Reactor”, plants are a class of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactor designed and built by the Soviet Union. RBMK plants of the second design phase (ChNPP 3,4,5,6; Kursk 3,4; Smolensk) are all built in groups of two reactors that share certain plant equipment and structures. So Reactors 5-6 at Chernobyl were to be constructed the same way as Reactors 3-4, side by side and sharing a water chemistry and gas circuit plant between them. The two reactors would also share engine halls and cranes for the Main Circulation Pumps, something not possible in first-phase RBMK plants like ChNPP 1-2.
They would probably also share equipment in the electrical switchyard, certain water supplies like condenser cooling water, discharged fuel storage, backup diesel generators, plant process computers (SKALA), fire control equipment, turbine hall, electrical control room, and radiation monitoring systems. Unit 5 was considerably further developed, approximately 70% complete, at the time the units were mothballed. Reactor 6 only has a (flooded) foundation and lower levels in place.
Construction work on units 5 and 6 was halted following the explosion in April 1986 but resumed again on the 10th October. Six months later on the 24 April 1987 work was once again halted and on May 23 1989 the decision was made not to complete the reactors.
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