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There Are Other Things in Chernobyl Apart From Radiation

Chernobyl is obviously well-known for one particular thing, but as it turns out, the town is hiding things other than two-headed squirrels.


YouTuber Tom Scott has been documenting his trip around Chernobyl with a great series of videos, but this one is particularly fascinating. It tells the tale of the ‘Russian Woodpecker’, a gigantic Duga-3 radar array left over from the Cold War.

In an era before ubiquitous satellite coverage, tracking missile launches from over the horizon presented a unique challenge, with a unique solution: an over-the-horizon radar, which bounced a signal off the ionosphere to track stuff far away. To achieve this required a ton of power, and a radar array 300 feet tall, and 2,500 feet wide.


The Cold War ended (and a nuclear reactor exploded!), but the arrays were left in place, ready for intrepid YouTubers bearing drones to come explore.


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I remember hearing this thing in operation back in 1980s on shortwave. Not that I was a ham enthusiast or anything like that, I just had a radio, a short wave, that sensed the radar’s operation. I didn’t know what it was at the time. If anything I thought it was my own house ringing with the 60Hz hum of the electrical wiring.

But now I know what it was. To hear this thing halfway round the planet, all the way in Seattle, in 1984 speaks to its power.