Chernobyl's "invisible" danger

Bob Simon visits Chernobyl 28 years after the nuclear meltdown and finds out why this ghost town is still dangerous

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

This week on 60 Minutes, Bob Simon travels to Chernobyl, where a nuclear meltdown in 1986 forced thousands of residents to leave forever. Although the site is still radioactive, Simon was surprised to find that people want to visit and even move back to this haunting place.


The following is a script of the video produced for 60 Minutes Overtime by Lisa Orlando and Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson.

[Worker: So you put it in the pocket.]

[Bob Simon: Who designed these Breshnev or Krushchev?]

Bob Simon: When's the last time you heard anyone say, "Gee, Chernobyl is really dangerous." Today we're thinking of Ebola and ISIS. Chernobyl? You don't hear about that anymore, which is why it was worth doing the story, because it still is dangerous.

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: Does it have to do with the fact that nothing's really burning, no dead bodies are seen or anything?

Bob Simon: Radiation is invisible, which makes it the deadliest enemy of all. You don't see it, you don't feel it, you don't experience any pain when it hits you.

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: But you hear it as we saw in the piece. You started to beep.

[Bob Simon: All of a sudden we're beeping. What does it mean?]

[Nicolas Cailles: Look at the dosimeter. We've took for the time being two dose and you have, you can take 200 dose per day.]

Nicolas Cailles is the project manager for Novarka, the French company overseeing construction of the new containment structure.

[Bob Simon: I shouldn't worry about anything?]

[Nicolas Cailles: Should not.]

Bob Simon: From the very beginning when the big explosion happened, everyone in charge of it lied. The Soviets said to the people living nearby, "Well, you have to leave now but you'll be back in a week." Well, they've never come back. So how much confidence can you have in a guy there today who says, "Nothing to worry about?" I mean you don't want to hear the sound of a beep when you're in Chernobyl.

[Bob Simon: The dome is going to go this way all the way over there.]

[Nicolas Cailles: The dome, yeah.]

[Bob Simon: I'm beeping again.]

Michael Gavshon: What is happening now is that engineers have built this rather extraordinary arch over the sarcophagus. The sarcophagus was a structure that was built very hurriedly after the accident in 1986. And it's been really unstable and rickety ever since. My name's Michael Gavshon. I'm a producer at 60 Minutes and I did the story on Chernobyl this week.

Bob Simon: Michael Gavshon, was there many, many years ago. And, okay, we went there now and felt uneasy at times. But when Michael went there the first time, it was really dangerous.

Michael Gavshon: Twenty years ago, Steve Kroft and myself went to Chernobyl and did a story on the sarcophagus itself.

[Steve Kroft in 1994: Inside the sarcophagus, amidst the twisted steel and broken concrete, there's still 180 tons of melted nuclear fuel that will be deadly for hundreds of thousands of years.]

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: Were you ever worried, yourself, for your health, going there?

Michael Gavshon: When I first went, 20 years ago, we took a lot of precautions. We had to wear protective clothing when we went into the sarcophagus. We had respirators. This time, we didn't go as close to the stricken reactor.

[Cameraman: Zero point six four.]

[Michael Gavshon: That's quite elevated. That's quite high.]

[Cameraman: Are we in a bad area?]

[Michael Gavshon: Yeah.]

Michael Gavshon: And I think we were taken to only places that were relatively safe.

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: What was it like going back?

Michael Gavshon: It wasn't a difficult decision to go back because, in fact, it's fascinated me ever since. It's a most haunting, eerie place. And I wanted to see just how things had progressed over the last 20 years.

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: Speaking of haunting and eerie, you used some music in your story. This composer, this musician who also served as your tour guide.

Bob Simon: He's a musician from Kiev. And he went out to Chernobyl. And something about it -- which is difficult for me to imagine -- sunk into his soul in Chernobyl.

[Michael Gavshon: It was never opened?]

[Yvengen Goncharenko: Yeah, never opened. I think about this place like a horrible place after the nuclear disaster. But I saw very beautiful place with lot of wild nature. A very peaceful atmosphere.]

Michael Gavshon: He told us that he had a block and it was only once he went to Chernobyl that he was able to compose the music again. And the music that you hear is really his feeling for the place. I mean, I don't really know how to describe it other than perhaps post-industrial rock.

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: The images that you shoot in your story, it's as if time stood still.

Michael Gavshon: It's exactly that. This is 28 years later. You're actually in a time capsule. The Soviet Union is long since gone and yet you see these old symbols of the Soviet Union. You see the statues of Lenin. It's really a relic and there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: Does this explain why so many tourists are drawn to this place?

Michael Gavshon: It's really quite bizarre. I mean, I don't know why anybody would willingly want to go to Chernobyl.

[Bob Simon: How did your friends react when you told them you were coming on vacation to Chernobyl?]

[David McHale: They thought it was very strange.]

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: Your expression, I have to say, is priceless when you're interviewing some of these tourists. What thought is going through your mind?

Bob Simon: My thought was, "I don't believe it."

[Tourist: Our tour guides are telling us that actually we'd be getting more radiation in Kiev so.]

[Bob Simon: You know, tour guides will say pretty much anything, won't they?]

[Tourist: Yeah.]

Michael Gavshon: And somehow, I guess, they just are intrigued by the notion of being in a post-apocalyptic environment.

[Yvengen Goncharenko: That's one of our kindergartens.]

Bob Simon: The one thing you've got to say about Chernobyl, it's like no other place in the world.

[Bob Simon: Listen, I got to tell you in all honesty, this is making me nervous.]

[Nicolas Cailles: Well let's go in that case. Let's go.]