Its been a few years since I’ve had the opportunity to visit Bilibino, home to an ageing but functioning nuclear power plant which is caught in a feedback loop of existing only to power the town of Bilibino which only exists to staff the nuclear power plant…
However, the last time I was here (nearly 3 years ago), this was a rather pathetic town of tired and broken communist style buildings in drab browns, tans and grey concrete. Weeds grew in cracks in the pavement, the few signs that existed were faded paint on peeling concrete, swings and slides were slowly sliding into the ground and children tended to play around them rather on them.
I can’t say a lot has changed in the intervening 3 years – but clearly some money has been poured into this town! Whereas before only two lots of communist apartments had been painted in bright squares of red, blue, yellow and off white, now just about the entire centre of the town (approximately 15 communist style apartments, maybe 10 – I’ve been thrown by the size…) has been painted in either red, blue, yellow and off white or pink, yellow, lilac and orange. Its actually quite cheerful – and I would imagine, when the long dark nights of winter encase the town, most welcome – if they can be seen with the tiny new street lights that have been resurrected in certain strategic places.
One ‘disappointing’ change is the new Orthodox Church that was being built. 3 years ago, it was an impressive half completed structure of raw timber with the brass orthodox crosses on the kupol at the top of the building. And in case I wanted to get close and photograph it then, it seemed to be guarded by rabid dogs intent on forcing me on my way! Although it was relief I noted the dogs weren’t there today, it was with great sadness I noted that the beautiful timbers had been painted white with green trim – yuck!!!
Elsewhere around the town, there were some brand new swings (definitely foreign in origin! Very sturdy compared to nearby dilapidated Russian ones), painted in bright yellows, reds and blues and some of the children had created some new poster signs (all adorned by the atom symbol, presumably the logo of the nearby nuclear power plant…). There were also some new ‘parks’ ie. areas of fresh concrete with little neat rectangular boxes filled with blossuming red and yellow flowers.
There were also new cars (total number of vehicles in town: approx. 100; total new: <20) sporting the taxi logo bouncing along between the cracks and potholes of the clearly yet untouched roads. New bus stops had been erected as well, sporting red plastic roofs.
But say this is a town imploding? Indeed… I describe the heart of the town. I happened to wander past the heart of the town (an area which I could walk around at a brisk pace in about 15 minutes) and beyond that was an area maybe 3-4 times the size of the centre, filled with garbage, abandoned warehouses and apartments beyond structural repair (like huge top to bottom cracks 12 inches wide splitting the building in half). The once proud signs outside the nuclear power plant headquarters were now fading and the large courtyard, clearly a site of periodic celebration was heaving as weeds proliferated between the cracks in the concrete.
The amount of people around has not altered either (population rumoured to be about 3000). Three years ago, there would only ever be one or two people visible walking between the buildings – unless it was early evening and everyone was walking home. The same state exists now. Despite the increase in freshly painted buildings creating an illusion of inhabitation and population, I think the number of people here is still very much on the wane. Its like a ghost town!
Yet this area of decay is easily 3-4 times the area at the heart of Bilibino town.
And all around, the pipes that supply the town with ‘endless’ hot water and power are rusting – badly and covered in peeling insulation, sometimes held in place with big bands of silver duct tape. If this is the state of the pipes supplying the water and power to the town, I hate to think of the state of the power plant!
Photos will follow – but not while I am on the very very slow internet connection afforded to me here. Stay tuned…