On the 30th Anniversary of Chernobyl

Exactly 30 years ago at the time I am posting this (01:23:40 am local Kiev, Ukraine time), the lives of over 300,000 people were changed forever. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Unit Number 4 suffered a catastrophic accident that, to this day, is still the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident. It was not one single item that caused this epic accident, but many interconnected events. 

There were many moments along the timeline of events where this catastrophe could have been prevented beginning with these two factors - the type of reactor that was constructed and the people who managed it. Governmental nepotism allowed those in the industry to promote people based, not on their ability, but based on who they knew and some of these people were not the best in the field of nuclear power engineering. Additionally, this was a reactor design built not with safety in mind, but with low cost and efficiency for the creation of Plutonium for weapons - quite a valuable development to those in power.

Government organizations including: Soyuzatomenergo, Gidroproyekt, and Gosatomenergonadzor, which were responsible for the safe design and operation of Nuclear Power Plants in the USSR, were all aware of a scheduled experiment and its flagrant disregard for standard safety procedures, including the disconnection of all emergency cooling systems. These groups could have stopped the experiment, or changed the design parameters, but instead did nothing. Anatoly Dyatlov, Deputy Chief Engineer for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Complex, who (in my opinion) is the individual with the greatest single responsibility for the accident due insisting on continuing the experiment even after the reactor had dropped below 200 MW thermal and had been poisoned by neutron absorbing fission by product (xenon). The governing organizations could have changed or halted the experiment. Today could have been like any other ordinary day, but they did not, and it is not.

On the night of the accident, Anatoly Dyatlov bullied Aleksandr Akimov (unit shift chief who took charge of the experiment at 12 am on the 26th of April 1986) and Leonid Toptunov (SIUR senior engineer of the reactor) and forced them continue to increase the reactor's power by removing more control rods beyond the minimum required by the defined safety protocols. Akimov and Toptunov both wanted to shut-down the reactor at approximately 1:00 am, but were vetoed by Dyatlov. At the time of the accident, only 11 of the required 28 control rods were inserted into the reactor's core.

At 1:23:04 am on the morning of April 26th, this experiment commenced and the main circulating pumps began cavitating almost immediately due to the excessive temperature of the inlet water. The cooling water in the reactor boiled-off and the power of the reactor began to increase. At 1:23:40 am, the AZ-5 button was pressed to immediately shut-down the reactor by lowering all control rods; however, due to the deformation of the fuel channels from the excessive heat, the control rods seized at a depth of about 6 feet into the reactor, instead of being inserted their full 25 feet. The reactor began to rumble and the control panel indicated no water flow and failure of the pumps.

The reactor power spiked in a matter of seconds from 200 MW thermal to over 30,000 MW Thermal (or about 10 times its operational design parameter). Dyatlov continued to believe the reactor was intact and continued to report this to his superiors. It was not until 10 am (approximately 9 hours after this reckless test commenced) that it was officially reported that the reactor had been destroyed and it was not until 2 days later that the rest of the world learned of this catastrophe.

In the aftermath of the accident, over 192 villages inside the Zone of Alienation (Zone of Exclusion) were evacuated and over 200,000 people were forced to leave their homes forever. To this day, the Zone of Exclusion, which is the size of the state of Rhode Island, is still off-limits and official permits are required to enter.

I have dedicated the past 6 years of my life attempting to document the results and inform the public about the consequences of human actions. My work is not meant to depress, but to inform and help us learn to appreciate the delicate and amazing world in which we live.

United Nations Exhibition Reception

On the 20th of April the opening reception for my United Nations Photo Exhibition was held in the Main hall of the General Assembly building.  The reception was opened by Minister of Foreign Affairs for Belarus, Vladimir Makei and Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark.

The event was presented by the Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations, Project Chernobyl, Russian American Foundation and unite4:good

The exhibition included thirty three (33) images from my collection of work from Chernobyl taken over nearly a six (6) year time frame.  A gallery of the images from the exhibition is located below.

Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus opening the reception

Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand making opening remarks.

Ambassador Andrei Dupkiunas of the Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations

Meeting Prime Minister Helen Clark

One of the many interviews for the UN and Foreign Press

First meeting with Minister Makei

Gallery of Images Presented as part of the United Nations Exhibition

“CHERNOBYL: TRAGEDY, LESSONS, HOPE”

UNITED NATIONS PHOTO EXHIBITION

 

Date/Time:  Exhibition: April 18-22, 2016

A photographic exhibition entitled “Chernobyl: Tragedy, Lessons, Hope” featuring a collection of photographs by the American artist and cinematographer Philip Grossman will be on display in the United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 18-22, 2016 in commemoration of the 30th  anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. The exhibition brings attention to the Chernobyl catastrophe and its consequences through the exceptional art of Philip Grossman and revolutionary research by Project Chernobyl in elucidating the causes of the rapid increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States.

The exhibition is co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations, Project Chernobyl (USA), Russian American Foundation (USA) and unite4:good (USA).

“I hope that this exhibition, although limited in its scope and duration, will remind us all, on the eve of the thirtieth Chernobyl anniversary, that we have an ultimate shared commitment to a better, safer and more prosperous planet.” ~ Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus

“Once again, the photographer Philip Grossman who has made seven expeditions into the Zone of Alienation documenting the devastating physical and psychological effects of the accident draws attention of the international community to the aftermath of one of the worst man-made disasters in history.” ~ Dr. Branovan, Founder of Project Chernobyl.

“Thirty years have passed since the terrible tragedy in Chernobyl, affecting not just surrounding Countries of Belarus and Ukraine but the entire world. Thirty years after we can remember about this tragic accident not only as a world disaster but a great lesson of how people from multiple countries united their efforts to curtail aftermath and reduce the disastrous effects of Chernobyl. Unite4:good is a worldwide organization to bring together multiple volunteers, organizations and influencers in order to help in time of need.  We at Unite4:good would like to remind the world that only by uniting our efforts for greater good we can prevent tragic accidents or greatly curtail the effects of them.” ~ Anthony Velikhov, Founder of Unite4:good

“As the curator of the exhibition, I can say that the artistic value and the social impact of Philip Grossman’s project cannot be overestimated.” ~ Marina Kovalyov, President of Russian American Foundation

"My work in the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion is not meant to depress, but to help motivate us as well as help us learn to appreciate the delicate and amazing world in which we live." ~ Philip Grossman

 The 30th  anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant marks a significant milestone in the disaster prevention and mitigation efforts of the international community.

Chernobyl changed the way countries deal with nuclear power, safety and security and highlighted the need for joint efforts to prevent, react to, and mitigate the long-term consequences of a complex manmade disaster. The global community led by the United Nations has been involved in alleviating and overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster for almost three decades and has gained unique knowledge and experience, including best practices in moving from recovery to development.

One of the most crucial lessons of Chernobyl was that the world should stay vigilant and united in face of such disasters. Further concerted efforts are needed building on the previous years of cooperation and partnerships. They should focus on preserving and sharing the experience of overcoming complex consequences of a nuclear disaster in a broader UN context, including 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction.

It is not a coincidence that the images conveying the consequences of one of the worst man-made environmental disasters will be exhibited during the time of the Signing of the Paris Agreement – a landmark historic event that will bring Heads of State and other highest ranking officials from 196 countries to the UN General Assembly on April 22. It also coincides with the observance of the International Mother Earth Day on April 22.

The opening ceremony of the exhibition will be held on April 20 at 6:00 pm and will be attended by Heads of the UN diplomatic missions, members of the UN secretariat, Ministers and other high ranking diplomats from the United Nations Member States. For five full days, the collection of images documenting the devastating physical and psychological effects of the accident will be on display as a sobering reminder of the legacy of the Chernobyl disaster.

Author and exhibits:  Over the past 6 years, Philip Grossman has made 7 expeditions and spent over 65 days in the Zone of Alienation photographing, filming, and documenting the results of the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident. He has interviewed survivors and those who chose to resettle in the Zone in order to record their incredible stories for current and future generations. With an extraordinary visual
portfolio of over 60 hours of 4K video footage and over 20,000 still photographs, Philip is finalizing the production of his documentary, “Exploring the Zone”, while lecturing on the topic around the world to help history from getting lost with time. He has been featured in domestic and international publications and shows, including Russia Today Television, International Broadcasters Conference (IBC), Dutch News Design, Sony @ction Magazine, Video Maker Magazine, RedShark News, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and many others.

 

 

 

United Nations Chernobyl Exhibition

A photographic exhibition entitled “Chernobyl: Tragedy, Lessons, Hope” featuring a collection of photographs by the American artist and cinematographer Philip Grossman will be on display in the United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 18-22, 2016 in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. 

The exhibition is co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations, the Project Chornobyl (USA), the Russian American Foundation (USA), and unite4:good (USA).

The 30th anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant marks a significant milestone in the disaster prevention and mitigation efforts of the international community. 

Chernobyl changed the way countries deal with nuclear power, safety and security and highlighted the need for joint efforts to prevent, react to and mitigate the long-term consequences of a complex man-made disaster.  The global community led by the United Nations has been involved in mitigating and overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster for almost three decades and has gained unique knowledge and experience, including best practices in moving from recovery to development. 

One of the most crucial lessons of Chernobyl was that the world should stay vigilant and united in face of such disasters.  Further concerted efforts are needed building on the previous years of cooperation and partnerships.  They should focus on preserving and sharing the experience of overcoming complex consequences of a nuclear disaster in a broader UN context, including 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction.    

It is not a coincidence that the images conveying the consequences of one of the worst man-made environmental disasters will be exhibited during the time of the Signing of the Paris Agreement – a landmark historic event that will bring Heads of State and other highest ranking officials from 196 countries to the UN General Assembly on April 22.  It also coincides with the observance of the International Mother Earth Day on April 22.

The opening reception for the Chernobyl exhibition will be held on April 20 at 6:30 pm and will be attended by the highest ranking diplomats from the United Nations and the United Nations Member States, among them the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, the Ambassador of Israel to the United States, and many others.

For five full days, the collection of images documenting the devastating physical and psychological effects of the accident will be on display in the UN Headquarters as a sobering reminder of the legacy of the Chernobyl disaster.  

If you would like to help sponsor the exhibition you can send your tax deductible contribution to:

Russian American Foundation, Inc.
c/o United Nations Chernobyl Exhibition
70 West 36 Street
Suite 701
New York, NY 10018

Make Checks Payable to "Russian American Foundation, Inc"

For additional information please contact Irina Svirid at isvirid@russianamericanfoundation.org or (212) 687-6118 x 200

The Russian American Foundation (RAF) is a New York non-profit corporation that is exempt from income tax under section 501(c)(3). Tax ID No 13-3946716

Special Update

I am happy to announce that I have signed an agreement with Patrick Jager's CORE Innovation Group to help develop, produce and distribute “Exploring the Zone.” Patrick is a seasoned veteran of the television and film industry and prior to founding Core Innovation Group, Patrick was the Senior VP of Development for High Noon Entertainment. He has created programming for a vast array of outlets including MTV, AMC, VH1, A&E, Travel Channel, USA Network, HGTV, Food Network, GSN, Science Channel, SyFy, Nickelodeon, PBS, Animal Planet, Discovery, and Reelz Channel. 

Elizabeth and I have spent the past 5 years working on this project and we are extremely excited to have Patrick’s experience, attention to detail, excitement, and counsel in helping us bring “Exploring the Zone” to a larger audience. We are extremely passionate about educating people about the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster and what has happened there over the past 30 years. I look forward to posting more updates on this topic soon!

For more information about Patrick and Core Innovation Group Click Here

Whirlwind 14 Days

On November 12th, my friend, fellow adventurer, and filming partner, Arek, sent me an email letting me know we had been given permission to film in the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Complex again and, more importantly, we were also given permission to film on the actual construction site of the New Safe Containment Facility (aka. Sarcophagus 2), where we have not been permitted to film before.

I scrambled to make arrangements for the trip, including acquiring a DJI Osmo, DJI x5, and some bigger batteries for my Inspire. Thanks to Cliff Whitney and the amazing team at Atlanta Hobby (www.atlantahobby.com), I was able to receive the equipment less then 24 hours before I departed. I don't think Amazon Prime can even do that!

Check Point Dytyatka on the Southern end of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Check Point Dytyatka on the Southern end of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Mirion Technologies DMC 3000 Dosimeter reset to zero for the trip

Mirion Technologies DMC 3000 Dosimeter reset to zero for the trip

On the 7th day of this expedition, we got word that we had been granted permission to film in several of the Red Zone towns in the Fukushima Exclusion zone. So... within 4 days of my return to the United States, I was back on a plane headed to Japan to film for the first time in Fukushima.

I arrived in Japan with about 50 lbs less gear then I had lugged to Chernobyl; this time trying to travel as lightly as possible (not an easy task). A large part of the weight reduction was in the remote aerial vehicle. I love shooting with the ever-smooth DJI Inspire 1 and the x5 has introduced some real excitement in the realm of aerial photography for me, but on this trip, I decided to pare down and just pack the DJI Phantom 3 Professional instead.

In addition to the Phantom, I rented a Canon 5Ds. Unfortunately, my trusty 5D Mark III had some major issues in Chernobyl and after nearly 150,000 shots it might need to be retired. I packed my 16-34 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8, and my 70-200 f2.8 along with my Metabones E to EF adapter, so I could exchange lenses between my still camera and my Sony FS7. I packed my Panasonic GH4 as my back-up camera just incase something didn’t work. I've learned that at least one back-up option for everything is a good idea on trips like this.

I left early Thursday, December 3rd from Denver, Colorado and one connection and 20 hours later, landed at Narita Airport, Japan with successful receipt of all gear. I checked into my hotel in Tokyo for a restless night's sleep before departing for the Fukushima Exclusion Zone early the next morning. Fukushima vs. Chernobyl. Certainly an interesting topic of research! 

My "DJI Story"

On my 5th Expedition to the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion Zone in June 2015, a fantastic team from DJI, lead by producer Paul Moore, came along to document my work on "Half-Lives: Love and Energy in the Nuclear Age." The DJI team spent 4 days in the Zone with me learning about the catastrophe and seeing the results first hand.

This is my "DJI Story - The Lost City of Chernobyl."

We have produced a special trailer for "Half-Lives: Love and Energy in the Nuclear Age" to go along with my DJI Story.

The highlight of this trip (and of my life) was my wedding to my wonderful wife, Elizabeth Hanson, in a small church in the village of Krasne. This village is located 5 km from the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Complex and has one of only two churches still standing in the Zone of Exclusion"

The Church in the Woods

About 5 miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Complex and a mere 3 miles from the border of Belarus lies the abandoned village of Krasne (Красне). It is located on the left bank of the Pripyat River and was previously part of the Red Chernobyl area. The village was liquidated in 1986, the year of the nuclear explosion, and its residents where relocated to the Ivankov district, the equivalent to moving to a different county in the United States.

The winding, single lane drive to Krasne took about 45 minutes from the village of Chernobyl, so there was enough time to ponder the lives impacted in the villages that passed by my car window: Koshivka, Starosillia, and Zymovyshe - just a few of the over 188 villages evacuated after the catastrophe. Near the center of the village is the Russian Orthodox Church St. Michaels built in 1800.

My fiancé, Elizabeth, joined me on this expedition, which was her 2nd time in the Zone. She originally encouraged me to photograph in Chernobyl and, as you can imagine, it has been a big part of our lives ever since. Considering that we wanted to have a small wedding that would have special meaning to us, we decided that Chernobyl should clearly be the place and the Church in Krasne should be the location. Although, neither Elizabeth nor I are Russian Orthodox, we were given special permission by the religious authorities in the Zone to be married in this historic location.

Our Wedding Video in Chernobyl

Encompassed by iron gates decoated with a cross and diamond motif stands this 215-year-old church, shockingly not as dilapidated as one might imagine. The peeling, thick, white painted exterior, the 8 feet tall, mustard-toned oak doors, the blue and green painted, hand-carved details and embellishments, and topped off with not one, but two patinated copper, classic, onion turrets (common for Russian Orthodox churches) all rise in the most beautiful, regal, colorful contrast amidst what is now a forest.  

Officially, St. Michael’s has not been used in decades, but is still in good condition. After viewing so many buildings that have become ruins, one can only look at this fascinating structure and imagine its future. The pews have all been removed and several of the decorative wall coverings have shed and paintings have disappeared. In the nave, a manoumalia (candle stand) and iconostasis (icon stand) are still poised and the center of attention. Accompanying these staples of a traditional Russian Orthodox church, there is a small table where people still come to leave offerings. There is a book on the table where the few, determined people who have managed to visit the church have written their prayers in order for the priest, who still oversees the church, to also pray. Elizabeth and I wrote ours and signed the book. We don’t think the priest speaks English, but we feel blessed nonetheless!