Ben Fogle has revealed he sat his children down to talk to them about the dangers of radiation before heading into Chernobyl’s high-radiation Exclusion Zone.
The 47-year-old TV star’s new documentary, Inside Chernobyl with Ben Fogle, which airs on Channel 5 this week, sees him visit the abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine, which lay in the shadow of the Chernobyl power plant, where the nuclear disaster happened on April 26th 1986.
During the show, Fogle visits the haunting control room where Reactor 4 failed, sparking the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, exposing residents in and around the Eastern European city to intense radiation poisoning, with thousands of people subsequently dying of cancers and illness’ related to the exposure.
He told the Mirror he’d decided to speak to his children, Ludo and Iona, with wife Marina about the dangers of being exposed to radiation before making the trip.
The programme, which was filmed over a week, sees him step foot inside the ‘eerie’ Exclusion Zone – which locals simply call ‘the Zone’ – where high levels of radiation are still recorded.
For his latest documentary, TV explorer Ben Fogle travelled to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and toured the city which was ravaged by the world’s worst nuclear disaster (pictured in a classroom in Pripyat, a deserted city 3.5km away from the nuclear plant)
Ben was struck by how eerie and haunted Pripyat – close to the former power plant – felt, but said he was hopeful to see how nature had come back in the city (pictured: a room left as it was after the blast)
He said: ‘I had to do a course with a radiation expert before committing, so that I could actually explain to Marina and the children the risks involved.
‘I decided that the benefits of making a film that would entertain people, educate people and maybe give them a little bit of hope, outweighed the risks to my own health.’
While he admitted there were risks to travelling to Chernobyl’s centre, he said he felt confident he would be fine under expert medical guidance.
Pripyat, which was a model city built in the 1980s, was completely evacuated following the disaster, with inhabitants told to never come back to their homes
Fogle, heading into the most toxic areas of the city, toured the abandoned schools and houses, and even meets with residents who made the choice to come back to the city after the disaster.
An abandoned swimming pool in the heart of Pripyat. Ben said he was touched by the sadness of the deserted city, which was meant to be a model Soviet urban landscape when it was first built
A derelict classroom: Ben said he had to take a course on radiation exposure before travelling to the Exclusion Zone – and was told to not touch anything during his visit
In the Exclusion Zone, Ben was handed several devices to monitor the radiation level around him. He had to wear a chip around his neck which registers his total radiation exposure, and a meter to register the level of radiation around specific places and objects – he was also warned not to touch anything.
However, the adventurer said the trip filled him with hope, seeing how the once-deserted city was being overtaken with nature, with trees breaking through the concrete.
He said he saw packs of wolves roaming around the city and horses walking around, and was impressed with the power of nature to reclaim the land back.
A view of a fairground ferris wheel at an abandoned fun park in Pripyat. Ben noted several people suffered from trauma after they were evacuated from their homes, saying the mental health impact was significant
The explorer said Chernobyl felt very different to the war zones he’d visited in the past for similar programmes
He meets ex police officer Alexey Moskalenko, left, who witnessed the blast in 1986 and has survived with no major health issues
An aerial view of Pripyat and its hospital (foreground) where firefighters and employees of the nuclear plant were treated on the night of the disaster, with surrounding abandoned buildings
Arriving in ghost town Pripyat, he said: ‘I’ve been to war zones, I’ve seen places that have experienced great upheaval and changes but never quite like this.’
He also spoke with locals who lived through the disaster and decided to come back to Pripyat, which was stripped of its 48,000 inhabitants following the fire at the plant.
He spoke to Vanessa, who was evacuated but returned to Pripyat because she was unhappy about having moved. He also met with Aleksey Moskalenkow, a policeman who was on duty the night of the disaster, and who is still in good health today, having suffered no apparent damaged from the blast.
The total number of casualties caused by the Chernobyl disaster remains unknown because many people died later from radiation poisoning and subsequent health issues. Only 28 people died immediately after the fire.
The TV star concluded he was moved by the sad past of Pripyat and the good times its inhabitants – whose average age was 26 – would have had before disaster struck.
In a deserted classroom: Ben was equipped with several devices to monitor his radiation exposure during his visit
Ben wearing PPE in the heart of the Chernobyl control room where disaster struck in 1986 when a nuclear reactor caught fire and exploded – sending shockwaves about the dangers of nuclear disasters around the world
Ben noted several Pripyat inhabitants had died of depression and suffered from poor mental health due to the fact they had been taken away from their homes.
‘The majority of them all died prematurely, not from radiation, but from depression and health issues that probably came out of the trauma of being pushed from their homes, losing their livelihoods, losing their jobs,’ he said.
Ben Fogle: Inside Chernobyl airs at 9pm on Wednesday on Channel 5.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE 1986 CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR DISASTER?
On April 26, 1986 a power station on the outskirts of Pripyat suffered a massive accident in which one of the reactors caught fire and exploded, spreading radioactive material into the surroundings.
More than 160,000 residents of the town and surrounding areas had to be evacuated and have been unable to return, leaving the former Soviet site as a radioactive ghost town.
A map of the Chernobyl exclusion zone is pictured above. The ‘ghost town’ of Pripyat sits nearby the site of the disaster
The exclusion zone, which covers a substantial area in Ukraine and some of bordering Belarus, will remain in effect for generations to come, until radiation levels fall to safe enough levels.
The region is called a ‘dead zone’ due to the extensive radiation which persists.
However, the proliferation of wildlife in the area contradicts this and many argue that the region should be given over to the animals which have become established in the area – creating a radioactive protected wildlife reserve.