Gerd Ludwig Documents Chernobyl’s Lasting Legacy

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28 years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion released radioactive particles into the atmosphere, spreading radiation over much of the western USSR and Europe. Over the past 20 years, photographer Gerd Ludwig has returned to Chernobyl several times in order to document the still-lasting impact of the disaster.

The first time Ludwig visited Chernobyl, in 1993, he was limited on the extent of the sites he could visit, but eventually got special permission from the police to be taxied around. During this trip, Ludwig met many elderly people who had decided to stay in their homes, ignoring radiation levels. Ludwig tells Slate, “At first Ukrainian officials discouraged them, branding them as illegal residents, but soon turned a blind eye, realizing that they preferred to die on their own contaminated soil instead of a broken heart in anonymous city suburbs.”

By 2005, the laws and regulations surrounding the exclusion zone loosened and Ludwig was able to tour Reactor No. 4, an area so contaminated that it could only be visited for a maximum of 15 minutes per day due to radiation levels. Ludwig says, “While photographing, I needed to dodge the spray of sparks from the drillers in highly contaminated concrete dust, and I knew that I had less than 15 minutes to capture impacting images of an environment that few have ever seen and that I might never access again. The adrenaline surge was extraordinary.”
In 2011, Ludwig returned to Chernobyl supported by Kickstarter donations. It was there, sitting with one of the people who handle cleanup and containment efforts, when he learned of the Fukushima nuclear plant explosion, prompting further consideration of the disastrous consequences of nuclear power sources. During his most recent visit last year, Ludwig was able to document the emerging New Safe Confinement, an advanced dome that will protect the reactor from further deterioration as robots begin to dismantle and decontanimate the area.
Ludwig continues his work documenting changes and lasting effects of the Chernobyl disaster, and is currently raising money on Kickstarter to help fund a high-quality book called “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” featuring his photo documentation. Ludwig hopes that continued documentation of Chernobyl will help spread more awareness of the dangers of nuclear energy. (via slate)

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