The radioactive and rusty gold of Chernobyl

Pierpaolo Mittica

2015 - Ongoing


2016 marks the 30 anniversary of Chernobyl disaster. All the media spoke extensively about Chernobyl, but after documenting for more than 14 years the Chernobyl consequences I found some interesting and unknown stories inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

One of this story is about the recycling process of radioactive metals. 12 men recycle radioactive metals from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone working in harsh conditions and contaminating themselves.

Inside the zone tons of metals lie abandoned, but over the years all this rusty gold has not gone unnoticed, and more or less illegally was recycled and continues to be also today. Tons of metal leave the area each month. Since 2007, the Ukrainian government has legalized the recycling of radioactive metals with the blasting method.

The workshop is a huge warehouse where 12 men clean and recycle radioactive metals. His company recycles about 30 tons of metal a year.

The metals come from all over the area, in this period mainly by the railroad tracks, and the reactor number 1. But they also come from the port of Chernobyl where some sunk ships lie, and soon from the unfinished reactors number 5 and 6.

The recycling method consists first of all in a strong blasting of the metal that effectively reduces the contamination at zero level. Once a complete decontamination is achieved the metal is ready to be sold, usually to Ukrainian company but also to foreign companies with 30% of the price less compared to the market price.

In recent years, according to official estimates, about 40 thousand tons of metals were exported. Currently it is considered that still 1 million tonnes remain inside the zone with a value of one billion dollars.

The working conditions of metallists are very hard, safety equipment, although it is mandatory, virtually does not exist. Only a few of them use it. most of them wander all day amid radioactive clouds created by the blasting process, breathing radioactive particles. But the fact of using or not the protections is a personal choice. A mixture of fatalism, popular beliefs and difficulties to wear the protective mask during the entire work shift. But the internal contamination is now the most dangerous aspect to the health of workers.

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  • reactors number 5 and 6 close to them there is the hangar where the scrap metals are cleaned from radioactive particles and recycled

  • the hangar close to reactors number 5 and 6 where the scrap metals are cleaned from radioactive particles and recycled

  • the suit to protect the worker during the scrap metal sandblasting

  • Yuriy while sandblasting the radioactive scrap metal

  • Yuriy while measuring the contamination level of the scrap metal before the sandblasting. Before the sandblasting this scrap metal coming from a local railroad track has a level of contamination of more than 900 beta particles per minute (normal level below 20 beta particles per minutes)

  • Sasha while relaxing after work

  • resting room for the workers

  • Pavel while repairing an engine

  • Workers going around to collect metals

  • The truck to transport the radioactive srcap metal

  • workers dismantling scrap metals

  • Abandoned cranes in the Chernobyl river port

  • workers’ glooves

  • the hangar for the scrap metals recycling

  • Pavel while preparing the sand for the sandblasting

  • a graffiti in the hangar where the radioactive scrap metals are recycled

  • resting room for the workers. Alexander and Pavel while warming themselves close to the heating system

  • Trassar after the shower at the end of his shift

  • Yuriy at the end fo his shift waiting to go home

  • in search of scrap metals in the Chernobyl river port

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