National Geographic : 2014 Oct
Nuclear TOurism 129 But most of the effects were slow in unfolding. So far, some 6,000 people who were exposed as children to irradiated milk and other food have had thyroid cancer. Based on data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the overall mortal- ity rate from cancer may rise by a few percent among the 600,000 workers and residents who received the highest doses, possibly resulting in thousands of premature deaths. After the accident a concrete and steel struc- ture—the sarcophagus—was hastily erected to contain the damaged reactor. As the sarcoph- agus crumbled and leaked, work began on what has been optimistically named the New Safe Confinement, a 32,000-ton arch, built on tracks so it can be slid into place when fully assembled. Latest estimate: 2017. Meanwhile the cleanup continues. According to plans by the Ukrainian government, the reactors will be dismantled and the site cleared by 2065. Everything about this place seems like science fiction. Will there even be a Ukraine? What I remember most about the hours we spent in Pripyat is the sound and feel of walking on broken glass. Through the dilapidated hospi- tal wards with the empty beds and cribs and the junk-strewn operating rooms. Through the school hallways, treading across mounds of broken- back books. Mounted over the door of an old sci- ence class was an educational poster illustrating the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Heat to visible light to x-rays and gamma rays—the kind that break molecular bonds and mutate DNA. How abstract that must have seemed to the schoolkids before the evacuation began. In another room gas masks hung from the ceiling and were piled in heaps on the floor. They were probably left there, our guides told us, by “stalkers”—surreptitious visitors Tourists, some of whom lived near the Fukushima nuclear plant, prop Geiger counters on a memorial to show how it blocks radiation from the reactor, which will be shielded by a new 32,000-ton arch.