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Dispatches from a radioactive wasteland

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Forget about a ghost town -- this is a ghost country. The 30km-wide "Zone of Exclusion" that radiates outward from the ruined nuclear plant at Chernobyl has, since a hasty evacuation one Spring day in 1986, been known as one of the most contaminated and uninhabitable places on Earth. (It's also one of the creepiest.) Now that radiation in the Zone has begun to leach down into the soil, mosses and water below its abandoned villages and farms, it's considerably safer to explore (though partaking of local fruits or game ain't a good idea), and so a new kind of life is blooming there, slowly but surely: tourism. About 800 curious souls are led on carefully-monitored, organized tours every year.

One such tourist is the self-styled "Kid of Speed," a Russian, leather-clad biker chick named Elena who, so the story goes, loves to ride her 147hp Ninja up and down the empty streets of the Exclusion Zone, camera in hand. It may be part fantasy (access to the Zone is tightly controlled, and motorcycles specifically prohibited), but her words and pictures paint a haunting (if gleefully hard-boiled) picture nonetheless:

elena.jpgThe roads are blocked for cars, but not for motorcycles. Good girls go to heaven. Bad ones go to hell. And girls on fast bikes go anywhere they want. Time to go for a ride. This is our road. There won't be many cars on those roads. Our journey from here is a gradually darkening picture of deserted towns, empty villages and dead farms.

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Radiation fallen out uneven, as on a chess-board, leaving some places alive and other dead. It's hard to say where the fairyland begin.

More fairyland after the jump:

reactor.jpgIn the first year after a disaster it would be a suicide to ride here an open vehicle, the radioactive particles stay on the ground. I'd have to kiss my shoes goodbye if I'd walked on this grass. Likewise, I'd contaminate and paralyze my Geiger counter if I dared let it touch the radioctive surface. These days, radiation lives in cucumbers and apples, and having a Geiger counter at the greengrocery market is as useful as to have one here. A major concern is the mushrooms. We eat 6 times as much as most Americans.
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prip.jpgWe ride as long as paved roads last and then leave our vehicle and continue traveling by foot. No need to worry about leaving car or motorcycle unattended, no one will find it. There are about as many chances to meet someone here as in Antarctica.
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boars.jpgAt least wild boars are comfortable here now. No one hunt for them, they are radioactive.
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It is hard for me to describe what I feel, when I come in a village with no people, but I will try- first is a feeling, like I got deaf. The silence is tremendous. No birds singing, no wind, nothing that can break this silence. Villages more picturesque then towns, houses and sheds do not look real. All look painted and I feel, like I walk inside of this painting.

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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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iStock

After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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