MCNEG group visit to Chernobyl

By Henry Lawrence July 2017

Where to hold the next meeting?”

The perennial question is asked by conference organisers the world over. MCNEG (the UK Monte Carlo Radiation Transport user group) decided to eschew the shores of the UK for the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Kiev.

In summer 2017 a group of 17 physicists headed east and stayed at the Dream Hostel in Kiev before piling into coaches bound for Chernobyl. The reactor underwent a catastrophic explosion in 1986, the accident and clean up was described in the film “The Battle for Chernobyl” (1).

Tours to Chernobyl must be under the control of licensed tour companies (2). There are two exclusion zones, of 30 km and 10 km radius. The 10 km zone covers the now deserted town of Pripyat, a model Soviet town built to house power station workers and their families. Pripyat boasted concert halls, sports complexes, fairgrounds and parks. It is now derelict and uninhabited.

The 30 km zone covers Chernobyl town, which has two hotels and accommodates many of the decontamination workers. The countryside is now the largest wildlife reserve in the Ukraine; we saw a raccoon and giant catfish, and there are reports of wolves. The exclusion zone is guarded by the Ukrainian army. Despite this our guide Igor (who was born in the year of the accident) assured us that groups of Ukrainian Techno Music fans break through the barbed wire and hold illegal raves based in an abandoned coach in the countryside.

In order to contain contamination, the world's largest moveable structure was constructed to cover the stricken reactor

Because of the contamination barrier effective dose rates away from the reactor and severely contaminated areas has been reduced by a factor of 4, and wind-blown contamination has been greatly reduced. All visitors are monitored, the author received a dose of 3 microsieverts.

David Mouat (3) was one of the delegates. He had built a GPS enabled contamination monitor that stored position and dose-rate. He carried out tests of this device during this visit to Chernobyl.

At the time of the accident, Chernobyl was planned to become the world's largest nuclear complex.

After the accident most of the construction projects were abandoned.

However, the site boasts some fine art; some from the time of the Soviet Union and some recent works, such as this piece in an abandoned cooling tower.

Cooling tower with art installation

We visited Pripyat, the abandoned town next to the reactor. It provides a fascinating glimpse into Soviet life. Schools, shops, concert halls all are deserted. Surrounding villages have been engulfed by forest, and Pripyat is succumbing to the same fate.

Chernobyl Explosion. View from the top of a tower block, showing the reactor in the background.

A Concert hall

Finally, on the way back we visited the DUGA array; this was a RF receiver designed to detect changes in the ionosphere caused by a hostile ballistic missile attack. This secret military installation is based in the military town of Chernobyl 2. It is ¾ a kilometre long, 100m high and is visible on the horizon when viewed from the roof in Pripyat. An RF signal is bounced between earth and the ionosphere and the signal detected in these arrays. Any change in signal would indicate a missile going through the ionosphere. Three such large arrays were built at the extremities of the Soviet Union.

The DUGA array

The visit gave us a poignant view of the aftermath of a major nuclear accident. It also gave a fascinating insight into cultural life in the Soviet Union.


1 The Battle for Chernobyl.

2 Chernobyl tours.

3 David Mouat. Clinical Engineering group, Newcastle General Hospital ?

4 Photography. Andy Brown