In order to really comprehend what happened at Chernobyl, you have to know something about the Cold War.
Because without it, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster would've probably never happened.
In 1986, things had warmed up a little between the United States and the Soviet Union. At least, the tensions weren't as bad as they had been during the "Red Scare" days of the mid-20th century.
Back in 1954, Russia's first nuclear reactor power plant was the first in the world to create nuclear energy. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, it seemed like a better way to harness the power of nuclear fission.
But in the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine, the four reactors at the Chernobyl plant weren't being used just to power local cities like Kyiv.
They were the primary source of energy to power an anti-ballistic missile early-warning radar network, called Duga (Дуга).
Running at 10 megawatts, it required as much energy as would an entire city.
Its existence was top secret and unconfirmed by the government until after the fall of the Soviet Union.
But even if you never saw the enormous radar towers, you couldn't avoid the interference created by its short-wave radio transmissions.
The intermittent tapping sounds—which earned Duga the nickname of the "Russian Woodpecker"—interrupted legitimate radio and television broadcasts, as well as air traffic control and other transmissions.
Some thought the sounds were some form of mind control initiated by the Soviets.
Eventually, after analyzing the sound patterns over an extended period of time, experts and amateur enthusiasts figured out that the sounds were coming from a type of long-range radar array—called "over the horizon" or "beyond the horizon" because it could detect missiles (or even submarines) that were headed that way from even great distances.
That way, the Soviets would never be taken by surprise—and they could take down any incoming missiles before those missiles took them down. It was something like their version of our Project Nike.
And, of course, the antennae—including Duga-3, the one just outside of Chernobyl—were pointed straight at the U.S.
The Soviets weren't likely to have been caught by surprise by the U.S. anyway.
The entire Duga radar base—which once employed over 1000 people who both worked there and lived in the barracks—was devoted to studying the whereabouts of every U.S. military vessel and aircraft in its fleet.
They knew how many there were, where they were, and where they were going.
And it was all highly computerized—especially for the 1970s.
Since the radar base mysteriously went silent in 1989—not surprisingly, since it's within the so-called "Exclusion Zone" of the Chernobyl accident—some of the buttons have been scavenged and ledgers thumbed through.
But there's still plenty of propaganda to behold.
Supposedly, this base wasn't irradiated during the Chernobyl accident—a fate that was generally determined not only by geographic proximity but also by which direction the wind was blowing at the time.
Any gas masks you find have been placed there just for show.
During our visit to the Exclusion Zone, we didn't see any other American tourists.
In fact, we didn't see any tourists at Duga at all.
But the Chernobyl disaster and the surrounding areas are just as much a part of Western Bloc history as that of the Eastern Bloc.
The Cold War may have ended in 1991...
...but the geopolitical tension between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union—namely, Russia—hasn't disappeared.
You can bet that the Russians are still watching and listening.
Ever since Ukraine declared its independence in 1991, you won't find Russian operatives training cadets on how to fight the American "cowboys" at Duga.
But it makes you wonder where they've moved to, what they've recorded, and what they've watched from afar.
And if Duga isn't haunted, it's certainly haunting...
...tucked away there, just six miles from the Chernobyl reactors that powered it, hidden deep in the Red Forest.
Amazingly, you can take a walk through Duga yourself, courtesy of Google Street View.
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