Reactor 5 Chernobyl – I leave the darkness of the internal stairwell and head towards the glimmer of daylight in the distance. I stay against the outside wall in an attempt to maintain my bearings. My torch illuminates various lengths of cut girder and random metal objects propped against the walls. Plastic electric cable casing covers the floor, the valuable innards long gone. The trail of metal continues into a vast dimly lit room off to my right. A makeshift winch has been erected over one of the several large circular holes in the floor. A trolley full of battered oxygen and acetylene cylinders sits in the middle of the room. Electric cabling crisscrosses the room hazardously at neck height and forces me to duck at the last minute on a number of occasions to avoid being garotted.
Walking further into the building the air becomes noticeably cooler and damp. Specs of dust glisten in the torch light. With no natural light, and surrounded by thick grey concrete on all sides, I have the sensation of being underground and my brain has to frequently remind me I’m in fact several floors up. The only sound comes from my footsteps, even the colours appear muted. It’s an odd experience, not claustrophobic which I was expecting but deep within this solid structure, I feel very isolated. It feels like no one has walked these dust covered corridors for decades but as brightly coloured crisp packets and water bottles illuminate in the beam of my head torch that’s clearly not the case. In many places there are large shafts on either side. Conscious of smaller holes I take great care to ensure I illuminate the floor in front of me before moving forward. I search the ground for something I can use to check the depth of the shafts and eventually find a fragment of concrete. I drop it over the side, 1, 2 , 3 , 4 splash, deep enough.
All the doors in this section have been removed from their metal frames leaving only a pair of protruding hinges. It’s 2 levels down before I find a door in situ, solid metal and with a large locking wheel that wouldn’t look out of place on a submarine.
Navigating through the building requires crossing many gaps of various shapes and sizes and consequently those in search of metal have had to improvise a lot of bridges. The most basic consist of a metal beam or ladder wedged in place. Across the larger holes it looks like some of the original scaffolding has been re-purposed but not before it’s been dropped from a great height and subsequently driven over a number of times in order to remove any remaining structural integrity. I look down as I cross one such bridge and it sags alarmingly down to the right. I conclude at this point that it isn’t the fall I need to worry about but the pile of twisted metal I would land on. I cling on the one remaining handrail to my left and breathe a sigh of relief as I step onto solid concrete.
The circular holes in the floor that can be seen in many of the pictures are the where Main Circulation Pumps (MCP’s) would have been mounted, 16 in total. The actual pump housing and impeller would sit beneath floor level with their shaft seals and huge electric motors (nearly 12metres in height) mounted above. The functioning pumps would each drive approximately 2 million gallons per hour of sub-cooled water into a common discharge header, from which it then flows into the bottom of the reactor fuel channels. It is in one of the MCP halls in the destroyed Unit 4 reactor where the accident’s first victim, Valery Khodemchuk, is buried, his body never recovered.
The green coloured rooms under the main turbine hall I believe are steam separator drum rooms. These compartments are called “valve compartments” and “condenser compartments” in official plant safety documentation. The floor is nominally at the +50m elevation. The steam drum rooms beneath have their floors at +31m elevation.
I have been trying to establish what was once in the room with the large hole cut in the roof. Google maps also show a second missing roof section on the opposite side of the building. Please get in touch if you know.
View the exterior of reactor 5
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