Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke
The deserted town of Pripyat is eerie at the best of times. But tonight, it’s downright spooky.
A crowd of former residents has gathered to mark the moment 33 years ago that changed their lives forever.
The reactor meltdown and fire at the Chernobyl plant spewed fallout over much of Northern Europe. But most of it landed within 30 kilometres of the plant.
All 50,000 of Pripyat’s population were evacuated. Human life removed, nature has slowly been reclaiming the town.
But things are changing. As short lived radioactive isotopes have decayed, large parts of the zone are now safe to visit. Tourism has increased ten-fold. There are plans to turn cleaner areas into a nature reserve.
And near the plant, the government plans to build a huge solar power plant, taking advantage of the vast nuclear complex’s electrical grid connections that remain in place.
The challenge is that some radioactive elements scattered in “hotspots” in the zone will remain dangerous for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
But help is at hand. Scientists from the UK’s new National Centre for Nuclear Robotics are using new drone technology to map the zone’s radioactivity for the first time.
While we accompanied them in the zone this week, they discovered hotspots of radioactive material that don’t appear on official maps.
The radioactive signature of one area we visited suggests residues from the reactor itself remain there. Possibly left when vehicles were decontaminated. Highly hazardous, but perfectly avoidable — if you know where it is.
“It’s Mother Nature doing a job here.
"Some of the radioactivity has died away and some of the levels have dropped significantly,” said Professor Tom Scott of the University of Bristol who is leading the project.
“But there are certain radioisotopes that are stilL present that have very long half lives so they’re going to be around for a long time.”
That’s why the maps the UK scientists are producing in cooperation with Ukrainian scientists could be crucial for the zone which, after 33 years frozen in time, is starting to look to the future.