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Chernobyl’s Silent Exclusion Zone (Except for the Logging) via The New York Times

PRIPYAT, Ukraine — The road through the forest, abandoned, is at times barely discernible, covered with the debris of fallen tree limbs, vines, leaves and moss pushing up through cracks in the crumbling asphalt.

The moss is best avoided, says our guide, Artur N. Kalmykov, a young Ukrainian who has made a hobby of coming here to the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, set aside in perpetuity after the catastrophe in 1986. It can be radioactive, having carried buried radiation to the surface as it grew.

Above all, he says, watch out for windblown dust, which could well be laced with deadly plutonium.

[…]

The Zone of Alienation, as it is also known, is a rough circle with an 18-mile radius, fenced off with barbed wire. Access is strictly controlled, so that delegations and guided tours typically travel a few fixed routes. Outside those areas frequented by tourists, Stop Corruption said, under the guise of salvage logging of trees killed in wildfires, healthy pines are being felled in great numbers for sale in Ukraine and Romania, from where the timber may be resold throughout Europe.

“We thought these incidents were isolated and unimportant, but when we started to investigate, it turned out the problem was gigantic and systemic,” said Vadim V. Vnukov, the group’s head lawyer.

Lumber from Chernobyl, while not exactly glowing in the dark, would pose risks to anybody living in a house made from it, Mr. Vnukov said.

“There is a clear health risk here,” he said. “We ran into a system worked out over the decades, and under any government, this system of corruption was preserved.”

[…]

Loggers fell burned trees after forest fires, to avoid pest outbreaks, and cut firebreaks and routes for electrical wires, he said. Since 2004, it has been legal in Ukraine to sell timber from the zone if it passes radiological controls.

Mr. Petruk is an unabashed advocate of increased commercial activity in the zone, including logging.

“How do we turn our shame into our advantage?” he said. His answer is “Zone of Change,” a proposal by his agency for increased logging to feed a chip-fueled steam power plant at the site that he noted would reduce dependence on Russian natural gas.

[…]

The concept of the exclusion zone, an important experiment for the nuclear industry, was to limit, through isolation, the lethality of an accident at the nuclear plant. (Fewer than 200 people stayed here after the evacuation of more than 100,000.) Radioactive elements degrade at predictable intervals, called half-lives, that can vary enormously. Particles left in the soil while their half-lives tick past harm nobody; the average particle half-life at Chernobyl is about 30 years.

But logging in a postapocalyptic forest would pose a number of health concerns. Trees, like moss, absorb radiation from the subsoil. Also, clear-cutting churns up soil, stirring radioactive dust and accelerating erosion.

Read more at Chernobyl’s Silent Exclusion Zone (Except for the Logging)

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