Stories of a ghost town

Abraham Epton

A little under 19 years ago, reactor core #4 exploded at the Atomic Power Plant at Chernobyl, in what is now the Ukraine. Among the first on the scene were local firefighters, told only that there had been a fire at the reactor. They would die from the intense radiation, as would the doctors, nurses and orderlies that treated them, the firefighters having become themselves radioactive objects. The Paris Review chronicles what happened to them, and their families, in the aftermath of the explosion in the number 4 reactor. I can add nothing to statements like this: There’s a fragment of some conversation, I’m remembering it. Someone saying: “You have to understand: This is not your husband anymore, not a beloved person, but a radioactive object with a strong density of poisoning. You’re not suicidal. Get a hold of yourself.” And I was like someone who’d lost her mind: “But I love him! I love him!” He’s sleeping, and I’m whispering: “I love you!” Walking in the hospital courtyard, “I love you.” Carrying his sanitary tray, “I love you.” And this is what's left: a travelogue, with pictures, of a journey through a ghost town, ghost part of the world. Devastating. And this also is left. And I know that the differences between a Soviet-era nuclear reactor and a modern, Western one are legion, but still, this is, if not disconcerting, amusing. Making nuclear power palatable to the kiddies…Personally, I'm conflicted about all of this, but I just love that at least the Department of Energy, purchasers of some of the most powerful computing equipment on the planet, the ones in charge of our stockpiles of nuclear material, has discovered clip art.

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