Stairs leading to all levels of the old sarcophagus. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

By Rebecca Drew


FASCINATING images offer an incredibly rare insight into the radioactive corridors of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Incredible photos taken inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant revealed the never-ending corridors and miles of cables inside the sarcophagus – which was built after the nuclear disaster to limit the levels of radiation that were being emitted.

Further pictures showed porcelain tableware featuring the powerplant’s logo, smashed clocks, and archaic telephone switchboard inside the power plant’s administrative building which is now abandoned.

The exterior of the plant. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

In another eye opening image the airtight caissons and hot chambers – where radioactive waste is cut, shredded and sorted by radioactivity level and compressed before being incinerated – were revealed.

The fascinating pictures were taken at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine by photographer Arkadiusz Podniesiński (48) from Wrocław, Poland.

Arkadiusz spent two days at the site in March 2021 and used a Nikon D850 camera to take his images. He has been documenting the effects of the Chernobyl disaster since 2008, focusing on the continual problems associated with radioactive contamination of the environment.

The fuel assemblies. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl suffered the world’s worst nuclear disaster. An experiment designed to test the safety of the power plant went wrong, causing a reactor explosion and fire which spewed radiation for 10 days.

Those living close to Chernobyl – over 100,000 people – were quickly rushed from the scene. A 20-mile exclusion zone was imposed around the damaged reactor. This was later expanded to cover more affected areas.

Clouds carrying radioactive particles drifted across Europe, causing decades of havoc for hundreds of thousands of people, both near the epicentre and thousands of miles away.

Porcelain tableware emblazoned with the power plant?s logo. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

Due to his ongoing work documenting the effects of the nuclear disaster, Arkadiusz gained exclusive access inside the power plant which included a rare tour inside the plant’s sarcophagus which was built over the ruins of the damaged Reactor 4 to reduce the radioactive contamination emitted after the disaster.

“When the Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986, I was fourteen years old and a student in primary school,” said Arkadiusz.

“From that time, I remember the unusual agitation and the terrible taste of Lugol’s iodine, which was supposed to protect my body against absorbing radioactive iodine isotopes.

Room 101/3: the electrical switchboard. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

“These events shaped my later interests and led me to think about the consequences of such catastrophes.

“When I got the opportunity to visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone thirteen years ago, I immediately set out for Kiev and then straight to the closed zone in order to see with my eyes how severe the disaster was.

“What I saw there changed my life forever and gave me the push to start documenting the tragic effects of the disaster.

Operating one of the control panels. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

“When I found out that I was granted exclusive access to the power plant, especially a rare tour inside the sarcophagus I was very excited.

“I felt great satisfaction at being one of the few photographers in the world able to visit this place.

“In the abandoned buildings, you can easily find old photographs, books, magazines, rare posters featuring Lenin, communist symbols and propaganda slogans.

Human radiation spectrometer test before and after visiting the power plant to determine the body’s radionuclide content. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

“Most come from the years 1986-1990, the period of cleaning up the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. They depict employees standing in front of the newly built sarcophagus, traveling to work by bus, or living on floating barges.

“Images like these are extremely important historical documents, thanks to which we can not only learn a lot about the liquidators and their work, but also about the everyday life they tried to lead in those difficult times.

“As time passes, such photographs become even more valuable because not only do they set words and images in stone, but they also serve as a way to remember the disaster.

Miles and miles of pipes and electrical cables are visible everywhere. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

“To some, these objects might appear useless or meaningless; to others, they are valuable artifacts recalling the times when this plant produced electricity.”

Arkadiusz went onto explain what it was like to explore inside the power plant’s radioactive corridors where he was accompanied by a dosimetrist who kept an eye on the levels of radioactivity.

“In this labyrinth of near-identical corridors, I quickly lose my sense of direction and, after a while, I stop paying attention to the signs,” he said.

Dark concrete tunnels run through the plant lined with electrical cables. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

“I blindly follow the dosimetrist. Although the masks prevent us from breathing in radioactive dust, there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves from the gamma radiation penetrating our bodies.

“Unseen dangers may lurk around every corner. In such a situation, the dosimeters are our eyes; thanks to them we know how far we can go.

Having visited Chernobyl and Fukushima many times over the years I’m already used to radiation. I try to avoid undue exposure through minimizing exposure time, maximizing distance from the radiation source, and shielding myself from the radiation source.

An old abandoned staff area. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

“I also use the proper personal protective equipment such as a hazmat suit or mask which help reduce the possibility of ingestion or absorption of radioactive.

“The highest level of radiation I encountered in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was when I found some graphite from the damaged reactor which was about five-hundred times higher than normal levels.

“The thought that I’m moving through a mysterious labyrinth of radioactive corridors covered by two sarcophagi stresses me out and increases my feelings of uncertainty and confusion.

At first, the radiation is relatively low. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

“I try with all my might to concentrate on taking pictures, but the fast pace, poor lighting and the lack of a tripod don’t make things any easier. Despite this, holding the dosimeter in one hand and my camera in the other, I try to take sharp images.

“I would like to convey that despite the fact that nuclear catastrophes like Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 are very rare and the likelihood of them occurring is infinitely small, when they happen, the political, economic and human costs can be too high for society to absorb. Forgetting Chernobyl and Fukushima makes it more likely that a nuclear disaster could happen elsewhere.

“My aim is to help people fully understand the scale and severity of the Chernobyl (and Fukushima) disaster and draw their own conclusions – without the influence of sensationalist media, reports by scientists creating illusion of correctness, nuclear energy lobbyists, or anti-nuclear activists – concerning the wisdom and future of nuclear energy.”

Smashed office clocks in one of the rooms in BK-2. Mediadrumimages/Arkadiusz Podniesiski

The original evacuation of Chernobyl was only supposed to last for three days but it never ended so most of the belongings the people who fled left behind could not be recovered.

At least 31 people died – including two at the scene and dozens more who succumbed to radiation sickness in the following weeks – but the number of deaths including from cancer could eventually hit 4,000.

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