06:00 – Akimov, already nauseous, was replaced at 06:00 by the unit chief Vladimir Alekseyevich Babychev, but together with Toptunov stayed in the plant. Believing the water flow to the reactor to be blocked by a closed valve somewhere, they went to the half-destroyed feedwater room on Level +24. Together with Nekhayev, Orlov, and Uskov, they opened the valves on the two feedwater lines, then climbed over to Level +27 and almost knee-deep in a mixture of fuel and water, opened two valves on the 300 line; due to advancing radiation poisoning they did not have the strength to open the valves on the sides. Akimov and Toptunov spent several hours turning valves; the radioactive water in Room 712 was half submerging the pipeline. Smagin went in to open the third valves, spent 20 minutes in the room, and received 280 rads.
In the 1970s, the town of Pripyat, less than 3 kilometers away from the reactor, was constructed for the plant’s personnel. Once a beautiful town by Soviet standards, its 50,000 inhabitants were evacuated 36 hours after the accident. Today a chilling ghost town, its buildings bear witness to the hasty departure. Dolls are scattered on the floors of abandoned kindergartens; children’s cots are littered with shreds of mattresses and pillows; and in a gymnasium, where teens once trained, floors rot and paint peels. Amidst the surrounding decay, decades after the catastrophe, nature reclaims the town: trees grow through broken windows, and grass pushes up through the cracks in dormant roads that once were glorious promenades – but the town remains unfit for human habitation for hundreds of years to come.