Inside the zone of alienation the mushrooms lure the wild boar to feast upon their flesh. Little else can be heard except for the winds sweeping through the forests. Human kind left these parts more than twenty years ago. Now the zone of alienation has become one of Europe’s largest ‘unofficial’ wildlife parks. Smack bang in its centre sits Chernobyl.
On BBC4 tonight Cooking in the Danger Zone entered the Ukraine’s radiation heartland, a 30km off-limits security area. In 1986 one of Chernobyl’s nuclear reactors blew its top after going into meltdown as a result of a series of errors during a regular safety check. The resulting explosion released radiation 100 times that of Hiroshima across a wide area of Europe. The nearest town of 20,000 Chernobyl workers was evacuated. Today it’s still a ghost town. On the day of the explosion the local town’s folk were gearing up for their May day celebrations. A brand new fairground stood waiting to carry their laughter into the night. The celebration never came.
Today, some 300 folk have returned to the zone. Predominantly old peasants with nowhere else to go and nothing else to lose. They are the mavericks, the few who insist on eating food grown within the zone. Twenty years on the cleaning and clearing work continues at Chernobyl. There is a hotel on site for these workers and all their food is brought in from outside the zone. Most of the workers live in market towns on the edge of the zone, desperate for the work. The food they buy from their local markets has to be tested for radiation levels. There is a lab within the market for this purpose.
After the reporter was finally coaxed by a lovely old peasant women to share her homemade lunch (against his producer’s wishes) he decided to have his body scanned for radiation. The contents of his stomach were reading at 8 times over the levels acceptable to the human body. Needless to say the reporter looked rather nervous.
The scale of the Chernobyl accident may be a one off. Maybe human failings can be ironed out within a new risk control regime for newly built nuclear facilities. Then again …. maybe not. If the fall out did hit our shores one sunny day, would we want to join the desperate and the mavericks? ………. I think not.