The Exclusion Zone in the 2000s
The Exclusion Zone in the 2000s

The beginning of the 2000s was literally and figuratively zero for Chernobyl in general, and the Exclusion Zone in particular. Management activity was inertial, without special claims to the state, and the last, it must be said, reciprocated.

The form of managing the Zone and the enterprises located on it was unsystematic, unstructured, neither long-term prospective development projects, nor methods for solving short-term problems – just a kind of blurry site with a source of radioactive contamination.

In the physical sense, the Zone continued to be a strategic object, but by the end of the 90s, in addition to a loud statement in the name, the “strategic” in it, almost nothing remained. The scientific, energy, cultural, and economic activities of man in the Zone appeared to be diplomatic formalism at the turn of the century. This has its own logical explanation of whether it can be considered objective – our readers will judge…

Crisis efficiency

The high pace and tangible result of the tremendous work of thousands of people who worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant during the liquidation of the consequences of the accident laid a serious foundation for the further efficient use of the accumulated resource. The Shelter -1 facility was built and commissioned, a whole complex of buildings with protective functions – numerous dams, a wall in the ground – was erected.

In turn, this made it possible to significantly reduce the radiation situation around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. All these measures, by means of technical mechanisms, communication lines, machines, automated structures, were carried out exclusively within 5-10 km zone, that is, in the territory as close to the focus of a man-made disaster. But by the end of the 90s, it had become obvious that this was not enough.

Gradually, the emphasis began to shift to the rest of the Exclusion Zone, and it turned out that the usual methods of organizing control over the radiation situation in vast natural landscapes and objects simply did not work. The rest of the Zone is many times larger, compared with the technogenic site near the Chernobyl nuclear power units, and it is also characterized by heterogeneity and lack of small-scale structure.

It was at least utopia to guarantee a successful result on such volumes of work. Nevertheless, the main strategic slogan “to bring the Zone back to life”, no matter how fanfare it sounds, has not been canceled. Long-playing projects with a long-term research program began to appear like mushrooms after rain, which, like a broken record, required further research.

Some ephemeral projects were created to solve large-scale tasks, but as soon as their financing was completed, inconsistencies and discrepancies had appeared, requiring new investments. As a result, such projects were quietly curtailed, or at best, paused after 2-3 years of promising start.

Decreasing event’s importance

It became apparent fifteen years after the Chernobyl accident that the once colossal significance of its harmful effects was gradually falling in public consciousness. The catastrophe itself from the real category began to pass into the category of “historical memory”.

This, of course, affected the approach to domestic politics at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and, as a consequence, its financial situation. Chernobyl ceased to be a “primary problem” and smoothly turned into a kind of “national tragedy,” which was allocated huge amounts of money from the state budget as wastefulness.

“What is clean and what is dirty?”

The further perspective, laid down in the essence of the Chernobyl management at that time, consisted in the main distribution of concepts – “Clean” and “Dirty”. It was necessary to clearly lay out on the shelves – there should be more “Clean”, and less “Dirty”. Headlines often began to appear in the media that, thanks to modern technologies, the Zone managed to obtain clean products from an environmental point of view.

Some, in this regard, even proposed to significantly reduce the territory of the Zone and to conduct mass resettlement of people there. Intuitively, on the one hand, it reassured the public, but on the other hand, it didn’t correspond much to reality. Such an attitude to “pure” had a colossal economic equivalent, and the conditional watermelon or tomato grown in the Zone was gold from a financial point of view.

At that time, projects for the technical cleaning of the entire territory of the Zone were comparable with the financial costs necessary for space exploration. At its core, such an anthropogenic attitude made it possible to ignore any methods of restoring the natural environment and raised awareness among the masses of the lack of economic value of the territory.

Personnel famine

Changes in the personnel management of the Chernobyl NPP and the Exclusion Zone, which came with a change in the political system in the country, led to the fact that there were fewer people who understood and knew the problems of the radioactively contaminated territories. Each new appointment, both in the top leadership of the country and in the relevant ministry, was the start of the next PR of the newly appointed leadership.

The theme of Chernobyl is a fertile field for PR itself, especially if such enthusiasm is supported by large circulations of popular media. What is the once-worn proposal of one well-known official worth making Ukrainian Las Vegas on the basis of the Exclusion Zone? There are no boundaries between absurdity and real things for people with wild fantasies.

This is especially evident in this context, if we take into account that the speaker proposed to place gaming casinos in proximity to the unfinished Chernobyl facilities. There were a few suggestions with a less painful imagination, but equally hopeless. For example, some suggested using the territory of the exclusion zone for growing biofuel in its open spaces. It was not only about the use of rapeseed grown for these purposes near Chernobyl.

Some “agro-reformers” still insist on the idea of growing Chernobyl rape. And the part went even deeper – it is proposed to use the abandoned wooden houses of the former residents of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for burning in thermal power plants. It is hard to say what is in the head of these failed experimenters. Nevertheless, there are articles about rape spiking on the Chernobyl fields, which almost made rich the enterprising farmers, in some publications from time to time.

All the above reasons are a clear illustration of the attitude of the powerful in the late 90s and early 2000s to the problems of the Chernobyl NPP and the Exclusion Zone on a secondary basis.

The time has come and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant still had to be shut down. This is long overdue, and was absolutely justified. It would seem that we sorted out one problem – the risks from the use of nuclear power plants that survived after the accident, which, although decontaminated, were nevertheless completely packed with residual effects of radionuclide wastes, were minimized.

In addition, the remaining Chernobyl units are crammed with old equipment, outdated to such an extent that working on it is not only inefficient, but it turned out to be not safe. Chernobyl personnel remained faced with all outstanding management and financial problems after the announcement of the closure of the station.

This state of hopelessness was aggravated by the understanding that no planned strategy or systemic decommissioning of nuclear units existed at that time. The closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was the beginning of another financial problem and led to economic destabilization of the plant’s further work.

These inconsistencies were reflected very sharply on the qualified personnel of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The satellite city plunged into another avalanche of ways to survive. It took a while for the strict discipline and management regulations established at the station to close the Chernobyl nuclear power plant into a systematic rhythm.

The next 15 years will pass, and, we will all talk about the real resuscitation of the territory, so hopelessly called once the Exclusion Zone, only after almost a third of a century after the Chernobyl disaster.