The Ghosts of Pripyat

The Pripyat Post Office – then and now

At 01:23:40 hrs on 26th April 1986 there was a catastrophic incident in the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Some of the safety systems had been disabled so that an emergency procedure could be tested. Having completed the test all that remained to be done was to shut down the reactor before returning to normal operation.

Unfortunately, although the operators did not realise it, the reactor was in a highly unstable state. The routine shutdown procedure triggered a rapid rise in the temperature of the core. This increased the pressure in the cooling pipes which ruptured the fuel rods and released highly radioactive nuclear fuel into the coolant. The resulting explosion of superheated steam blew the 1000 tonne lid off the reactor.

Some 2-3 seconds later a second explosion blew the core apart, ejecting hot graphite and reactor fuel out of the containment vessel and starting fires in the reactor building and the adjacent turbine hall. The cause of this second explosion is not known for certain. It might have been another water vaporisation explosion; it might have been hydrogen igniting; or it might have been a thermal explosion resulting from the fission process itself.

Built to house those working on the Chernobyl site, the city of Pripyat had, by then, grown to a population of 49,400. In addition to housing it had factories, shops, schools, parks, leisure centres and a hospital – everything you need for the modern way of life. By 3 pm the day after the disaster the whole city had been evacuated. Pripyat now lies ruined and abandoned. It is the archetypal ghost town.

Steve Rothery’s solo album, The Ghosts of Pripyat, provides the perfect background music for an imagined tour of the now silent, crumbling city.

The Ghosts … is not a concept album; the track titles don’t suggest a theme and there are no lyrics to provide any connections. But a sense of uneasy reflection pervades the whole work.

As we wander through the aural landscape our mind’s eye sees shadowy images of a bustling, vibrant city peeping out from the desolate streets and concrete buildings now falling into decay. The music isn’t making any statements – it is asking questions. What really happened at reactor No. 4? Who is to blame? What happened to the ordinary people of Pripyat? How did the catastrophe on their doorstep affect them?


Steve Rothery is working on a new album. It will be called Revontulet and it will be funded by a crowdfunding campaign which will begin on 28th September (see Steve’s website). A sample track, La Silla, is available now on Bandcamp. Here’s the promotional video:

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