I wrote one of my best research papers in College on Chernobyl. I have been very interested in the meltdown since 1986. In my paper I explained the consequences and ramifications that were to occur from the meltdown at Chernobyl. I read the article earlier and found that there was a few things I did not know about the exclusion zone.
This April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of one of mankind’s most catastrophic events: the explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor number four.
Recent years have seen Ukrainian authorities allowing intrepid visitors into the Exclusion Zone to see the haunting side effects of the disaster. But while the abandoned town of Pripyat, with its iconic ferris wheel, receives the most attention, there is an even more mysterious site hidden in the irradiated forest.
The site was shrouded in such secrecy during the height of the Cold War that on official maps, it was marked as a children’s summer camp. Like the rest of what would become the Exclusion Zone, it had to be abandoned suddenly in 1986. While it once was at the forefront of Soviet military and scientific technology, classified as top secret, today it rests, mostly forgotten and silent in the woods surrounding Chernobyl.
Venturing deep into the forests of the Exclusion Zone for Atlas Obscura, I went to explore the derelict and awe-inspiring military base known as Duga-3.
In 1976 amateur shortwave radio enthusiasts began hearing an unusual and highly powerful signal. Ham radio fans all over the world soon had their listening disrupted by an unrelenting tapping sound. When source of the mysterious new transmission was triangulated, it appeared to be coming from somewhere deep behind the Iron Curtain. The peculiar signal was given the nickname “Russian Woodpecker.”
Throughout Europe, public radio broadcasts began to suffer from interference. My Chernobyl guide recalls that higher-end Soviet television sets were sold with a special “woodpecker jamming” device built in. More alarmingly, the mysterious signal began to interfere with emergency frequencies for aircraft.
The purpose of the Russian Woodpecker remained a mystery. Conspiracy theories ranged from Soviet mind control to weather experiments. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union, which revealed that the Russian Woodpecker was at the forefront of what is known as “over the horizon” radar, designed to provide early warning of an inter continental ballistic missile attack. The Duga-3 (Eastern) radar broadcasting the Woodpecker signal was located in the forests surrounding Chernobyl.
While the nuclear reactors and the abandoned ghost town of Pripyat receive the most attention from photographers and urban explorers, there is far more to the Exclusion Zone that remains secluded. According to my guide, the Exclusion Zone, covering some 30 square kilometers (12 square miles), was once home to over 90 villages. With a night time curfew still in place, most of the officially sanctioned guided tours into the Zone remain day trips.
To reach the Duga radar base requires a much longer stay. Fortunately and quite surprisingly, there is still a working hotel inside Chernobyl. The staff at the Chernobyl Hotel work on a strict rotation of 15 days inside the Zone and 15 out, to maintain relatively safe levels of radiation exposure. There are several thousand workers still active in the Zone, occupied with either patrolling the checkpoints or working on a new giant sarcophagus, which one will one day cover the still precarious reactor number four.