Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Panoramas from the Chernobyl Zone

A colleague sent me the link to a wonderful website today. Check it out!

The incredible images were captured by a photographer named Michael Rothbart. He is currently working on a photo project documenting how people cope while living in radioactive areas of the former Soviet Union. He just got back to the US after spending eight months in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Seeing these panoramas really makes me feel like I'm back in the Exclusion Zone... creepy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chernobyl Fungus Feeds On Radiation

The fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum can use dangerous radiation to grow.

Read about it here.

Crazy stuff! Like something from a science fiction novel. But then again, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. When I went to Chernobyl, everything reminded me of something from a science fiction novel.

I'm surprised the article didn't mention whether or not the radiation-munching fungi could potentially be used to clean up contaminated areas. That was the first thing that popped into my head when I read it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More over, Pixar: Chernobyl 3D movies

Some wonderful videos about SIP:

Want to know more about the conceptual design and construction plan of the New Safe Confinement shelter? Watch here:

Want to know more about shelter stabilization? Watch here:

Parlez-vous Français?

$505 Million Deal for Chernobyl Shelter

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian officials signed a $505 million contract with a French-led consortium Monday for construction of a new shelter for the Chernobyl reactor, the site of the word's worst nuclear accident.

The project, financed by an international fund managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, will be designed and built by the French-led consortium Novarka, which includes the companies Bouygues SA and Vinci SA.

The new shelter — an arch-shaped steel structure 345 feet tall and 490 feet long — will enclose the concrete sarcophagus erected hastily after the 1986 accident. That structure has been crumbling and leaking radiation for more than a decade.

"I am convinced that today, possibly for the first time, we can frankly tell the national and international community that the answer to the problem of sheltering the Chernobyl nuclear plant was found today," President Viktor Yushchenko said at the signing ceremony, according to the presidential Web site.

The plan is to eventually dismantle the sarcophagus and the exploded reactor inside the new shelter. Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing radiation over a large swath of the former Soviet Union and much of northern Europe. An area roughly half the size of Italy was contaminated, forcing the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked for money from the European Union and other Western sources to fund a new shelter.

Anton Usov, a spokesman for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said it will take about 1 1/2 years to design the shelter and another four to build it.

The entire project of sheltering the reactor, which began in 1997 and also includes strengthening the existing sarcophagus, monitoring radiation and training experts, is estimated at $1.39 billion, Usov said.

Officials also signed a $200 million contract with New Jersey-based Holtec International for decommissioning the power plant. The project includes building a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from the plant's three other reactors, which kept operating until the station was shut down in 2000.

That undertaking is also financed by international donors in a fund managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

"The successful implementation of the project depends not only on the progress of the construction work, but also on the continued commitment of both the Ukrainian authorities and the international community," European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jean Lemierre said in a statement.

In the first two months after the disaster, 31 people died from illnesses caused by radioactivity, but there is heated debate over the subsequent toll.

A 2005 report from the U.N. health agency estimated that about 9,300 people will die from cancers caused by Chernobyl's radiation. Some groups, such as Greenpeace, insist the toll could be 10 times higher.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Collateral damage

There have been some interesting articles recently about the effects of Chernobyl in Scandinavia.

Evidence of Chernobyl nuclear accident still in Finnish fish and mushrooms

"The toxicity of predatory fish and mushrooms still exceeds the EU recommendations in Western Finland. The fish and mushrooms tested in the southwestern town of Vammala still exhibit elevated levels of the radioactivve isotope caesium-137 and mercury, even 20 years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident."

Is Chernobyl behind academic slump in Sweden?

"It is 21 years since the nuclear plant at Chernobyl went bang, and the extent of the damage wrought by the radioactive fallout is still becoming clear. According to a report in Chemistry World, US researchers have discovered that Swedish children who were in the womb at the time of the accident might have been mentally damaged by their exposure. The findings, which suggest the developing foetus may be more sensitive to radioactivity than previously thought, are based on a survey of the academic achievements of more than 560,000 Swedish children born between 1983 and 1988. "
It's truly disturbing how widespread the affects of Chernobyl are. Clearly, Ukraine and Belarus are not the only countries suffering from the disaster.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back in the swing of things

Since I'm back at Duke, I probably won't be able to update this blog as frequently as I used to. But I will certainly be continuing to write about my research and any interesting things I find related to Chernobyl. For example, check out the following links (provided to me by a photographer friend who is creating a photo documentary on Chernobyl):

A site that provides background to the graffiti on Pripyat's walls: http://www.26-04-1986.com/

Photographer Igor Kostin's work on the Chernobyl accident, published in a German Newsmagazine:

Two photographers' sites dealing with radiation victims:

Anton Kratochvil's work on the Belorussian children: http://www.viiphoto.com/detailStory.php?news_id=481

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Farewell, Ukraine!

One of my last activities in Kyiv was watching the local Premier League team, Dynamo, play Karpaty (from Lviv). I'm not usually keen to watching soccer, but this game was incredible. The final score was 7-3, with Dynamo clinching its first victory of the season.

I am writing this post from JFK after a long but uneventful flight from Kyiv. It's wonderful to revel in the American-ness of this airport after being abroad for so long. Look, there's a Starbucks! Someone reading US Weekly! Little kids dressed in colorful plastic Crocs! Fat people!

It's lovely.

Since my connection to Norfolk, VA, has been delayed for over an hour (that's JFK for you, I guess), I think now is a good time to update this blog about my last few days of research.

On Monday, after interviewing some liquidators, I walked over to the dosimetry department to undergo a full body radiation scan. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. I had to lay prone in a small, metal-lined room for half an hour. There was a web cam installed inside, which is how I got this picture:

Fortunately, I came out as clean as a whistle. My Cesium-137 level was only 30 (I think the units are Beckrels? It's hard to tell because my form is in Russian). The average healthy Kyiv resident carries a load of about 400. The dosimetrist actually expected to see a much higher reading considering that I had been eating a lot of local produce, but I guess five weeks just isn't enough time to acquire any sort of irradiated dose.

On Tuesday, I arrived at RCRM at 10 AM, hoping to interview a potential Ark worker who was in the hospital for check-in control. I ended up getting more than I bargained for; in addition to an interview, I got to watch the man go through the entire process of becoming an ICARR participant. It went something like this:

Step 1: The worker is offered the ICARR consent form.

Step 2: The worker reads and signs the ICARR consent form. He is given a copy for his records.

Step 3: An official at RCRM prints out a full page of identical bar code labels from her computer. These bar codes are the participant’s unique ID number, and they allow ICARR scientists to identify him anonymously. One of the bar code labels is stuck to the signed consent form.

Step 4: The worker is brought to another room, and scientists take from him what looks like a lot of blood. It ends up being only 40 ml, separated into 4 or 5 test tubes, each of which is labeled with a bar code.

Step 5: The worker is paid his "incentive" of 100 Hryvnas (= 20 USD). He is given a receipt for the exchange, which is stored in a binder along with his consent form.

Step 6: An official at RCRM sits down at a computer and logs on to ICARR’s online information exchange system. She enters the participant’s bar code into the system, along with a few other descriptive data points (male or female, etc). From now on, the worker is officially in the ICARR system, and scientists from the US or Ukraine can use the online data exchange program to enter or retrieve his health data. There are drop-down menus where various medical reports (cardiology, gastroenterology, etc) can be made about him in the future.

Step 7: An official at RCRM takes the participant’s blood samples to a laboratory in the immunology department. There, DNA, plasma, etc. will be extracted.

Step 8: Eventually, the biological materials will be divided into two, with one copy staying in Ukraine and the other being shipped to the US for research.

After witnessing the ICARR procedures, I interviewed four more liquidators and called it a day.

It was bittersweet saying goodbye to my Ukrainian friends and colleagues at RCRM and RTI. This trip has been such an incredible experience, and I will miss Kyiv a lot. But, I’m sure we will all keep in touch, and I am ready to go home and start school again. It’s been a long summer!

I'll leave you with a photo from the Kyiv zoo: