Inside Chernobyl Reactor 2

The original plan for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station (or the ‘V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station,’ as it was then known) was to build a block of 12 reactors capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of power each. Construction began in 1970, on both the power plant and the accompanying workers’ city of Pripyat. The first of Chernobyl’s RBMK-1000 type reactors – Reactor 1 – went online in 1977. It was the third nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union, and the first in Ukraine.

Three more reactors went online in the following years: Reactor 2 in 1978, Reactor 3 in 1981 and Reactor 4 in 1983. After the meltdown of Reactor 4 in 1986 however, the rest of the project would be cancelled and the remaining eight reactors were never completed.

The plant didn’t shut down altogether after the accident, however. It was deemed safer to let the fuel rods burn down at their own pace, rather than to begin dismantling the damaged reactors prematurely. A Ukrainian friend of mine who works for the Chernobyl administration compared it to sitting on a packet of cigarettes: “try pulling one out once they’re broken in the pack, and you’ll end up with tobacco everywhere.” Only in this metaphor, substitute cigarettes for nuclear fuel rods.

Last winter I had a chance to look inside Chernobyl’s Reactor 2. Reactor 2 had kept burning fuel until 1991; it was only after a fire broke out that the plant was eventually shut down. Now it’s undergoing the long process of decommissioning, a painstaking procedure which is slated to take as much as 65 years to complete.

I wrote a fairly comprehensive article for Atlas Obscura about that visit, and it also addresses the news about a new solar energy farm being constructed alongside the Chernobyl reactors. I would encourage you to read it, if you want to know more – I was very pleased with how that article turned out. However I didn’t have a chance to show off all my photos in that piece, so now I’m sharing them with you here: a guided tour through the decommissioned reactor halls, corridors and control rooms of Chernobyl Reactor 2.
























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