Pripyat - "Life After People"

I have not watched the entire show yet, but did see it through the segment covering Pripyat.  Before the Pripyat segment, they made it seem as if nature would completely take over a city after only five years, showing graphics of streets being totally covered by vegetation.  The Pripyat segment followed, as a case study of what can actually happen in 20 years.  Having been to Pripyat myself, I need to make some comments about the show's presentation.

First of all, after 20 years, the surface of Pripyat's streets are clearer than the show's computer graphic from the "after 5 years" segment.  Pripyat's roads are not completely covered by vegetation.  Sure, some of the pavement is covered by moss and there are definitely weeds growing out of the cracks, but as a whole, you see much less vegetation than cement.  When you travel through the city, many of its streets look like poorly maintained sidewalks, but that is due to the massive amounts of overhanging trees and bushes, not because of vegetation covering the pavement.  Pripyat is definitely being slowly overrun by vegetation, but the show used specific camera angles to make it look worse than it really is.

The show also seemed to treat Pripyat as if it has been completely devoid of humans for the last 20 years.  Yes, the city's population was evacuated the day after the accident, however Chernobyl plant workers as well as researchers still made use of some city facilities well into the 1990s.  For example, the city's indoor swimming pool "Azure" was used by plant workers and city services until it finally closed for good in 1998.

I also have an issue with one scene focusing on gas masks strewn across the floor of a Pripyat school.  While the show did not specifically mention the gas masks, it used the scene to evoke emotions and make an impression.  Most people seeing images of the gas masks believe they were used by children after the accident.  In fact, the masks were stored in school basements for use in case of a "Cold War" nuclear attack by the United States.  The masks were moved upstairs by looters who extracted the filters that were made from silver.  Gas masks in the schools had absolutely nothing to do with the Chernobyl Plant.  I think the scene was misused and deceptive - it had nothing to do with the show's topic.

Finally, I found part of the segment with Ron Chesser to also be misleading.  In one scene he made a comment that the radiation levels were basically normal, but that it was too late to repopulate the city.  There are definitely areas within the city where radiation levels are at or near normal background levels, however there are also sections that have much higher levels.  Normal urban background radiation levels are typically between 20-50 microroentgens per hour (µR/h).  During my visit to Pripyat, I found many places with radiation levels over 1,000 µR/h, and on the dock behind the Pripyat Cafe, the levels reached 3,400 µR/h.  These levels are way beyond the normal range and are not safe over extended periods of time.  I agree with Chesser that, regardless of radiation levels, conditions in the city prevent repopulation, but the show was wrong to insinuate that radiological conditions in the city are now safe enough for human habitation.

Don't get me wrong.  I think the show, from what I saw, was very interesting.  It really makes you stop and think about what will happen to our planet in the future.  I only wish they were more truthful with their presentation of Pripyat.  The Chernobyl disaster was a terrible tragedy and does not need embellishment and misinformation to get that point across.

5 Comments

Dear Mark, I saw the Life After People episode as well, and I share your impressions.

I have not been to Prypyat, but I have been to the Belarusian side of the Zone -- an area that is restricted to a much greater extent than the Ukrainian side, and which has truly been abandoned for 20 some years. The area is much much clearer and well preserved than one would believe from watching the Life After People show. Some vegetative overgrowth is there, and of course evidence of looting. But in general, my Chernobyl experience would tell me that cities to not go back to nature as quickly as the television show indicates.

Mark- Thanks for the link to your blog and photos from Chernobyl. I enjoyed the new info and your photos are amazing!

Kathy,

Thank you for adding your experiences in Belarus to the discussion. There is not much information available about the Belorussian sector of the Exclusion Zone (at least as compared to the Ukrainian area), so any facts and content is much appreciated.

Thanks for stopping by Michele. I am glad you enjoyed the content on this site, and thank you for your kind words.

I found this very interesting- I too had questioned the fact that Pripyat looked for better than the other 'after 20 years' segments suggest, and questioned the melodramatic use of the gas masks, though i had no idea what they were actually used for.
I found the show entertaining, but a bit skewed. To paint a picture that says "no matter what awful things humans do to the planet, nature can recover" seems a bit like anti-green propaganda.