Welcome To Pripyat, Chernobyl’s Ghost Town

The worst nuclear accident in history is frozen in time in this Ukrainian city. Is this the fate that awaits the Japanese towns near the Fukushima plant?

Remains of Pripyat city administration building
Remains of Pripyat city administration building
Pierre Avril

PRIPYAT - In 25 years, Fukushima could look like Pripyat, the Ukrainian city where all 50,000 residents fled overnight on April 27 1986. Living within two miles of reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, all the inhabitants were forced to flee on buses, leaving their belongings behind for good, forever contaminated by the leaking radiation leaking.

Inside the gym of this pioneer Soviet town, built in 1970 along with the plant, a tree has grown through the wooden floors. The handball goal posts remain, as does the gym's motto up on the wall: "Strong, courageous and clever." At the bottom of the pool, below the five-meter-high diving board, a pile of broken glass and walls covered in graffiti.

In the local school, once the pride of the city's residents, a piano still stands in one of the classrooms. On the stool, a doll. In the cupboards, scattered books. One of them tells the story of "the summer of pioneers" and starts like this: "the world's number one socialist country has become the world's number one country for a happy childhood."

As the radioactive dust cloud was floating over the city, students were learning the basis of Russian grammar. In an open notebook, these innocent words. "I am taking a walk, you are resting." Resolutions from the Soviet Union's 22nd Communist Party Congress are up in the school's hallways. On the floor, a portrait of Lenin. Marx and Engel were luckier; their portraits have stayed up on the walls.

Everywhere, the dosimeter is off the charts, especially near patches of moss that have grown in the city's main square, near the bumper-cars stand. Rust covers the Ferris wheel and the skeletons of other attractions. Radiation levels are far above the authorized norms, between 2 and 5 sieverts. Slowly vegetation has taken over the streets of Pripyat. Buildings are deserted and apartments left wide open. We look up to the oddest of views: a bathtub stuck in between trees, probably the work of thieves.

"The dark side of life"

Despite spending 13 years at the nuclear plant, Yuri Tatarchy, the vice-president of the Chernobyl Information Agency is still fascinated by this ghost town. Unlike in Pripyat, 3,000 people still work in the Chernobyl nuclear plant exclusion zone. They're part of a Franco-Russian consortium trying to renovate the reactor's damaged containment structure. They live in Slavutych, about 55km (34 miles) away. 4,000 others are in charge of surveillance and management of the plant's enlarged perimeter where residents have moved. Tatarchy doesn't really seem to care about radioactivity. "It's like vodka, some can stand it, others can't," he jokes.

Last year, 10,000 people visited Pripyat through Ukrainian tour operators based in Kiev. For 130 euros ($184), these tourists get the thrill of a brush with death. "I recently read in Forbes Magazine that Pripyat was one of the 10 places on earth to see before you die," says Piotr, a Polish student. A 60-year-old Danish woman, mourning the loss of several loved ones came to Pripyat to discover "the dark side of life."

During the bus ride from Kiev to Chernobyl 100km (62 miles) away, three young Ukrainians swallow down iodine pills with a bottle of red wine. According to popular belief in Russia and Ukraine, this cocktail protects against the effects of radioactivity. The tour operator made sure to tell visitors that it could not be held responsible for future health problems.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Timm Seuss

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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