April 26th, 1986, 1:23am. A botched routine safety test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine results in a massive explosion and a fire that burns for 10 days. More than a quarter of a million people are evacuated from their homes as the radioactive fallout spreads over tens of thousands of square miles. It’s the world’s worst nuclear disaster to date.
Seven years later, German-born photographer Gerd Ludwig visits the site of the catastrophe on assignment for National Geographic. It’s the start of a 20-year long exploration into the disaster, its victims and its aftermath. His book, “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl,” comes out on May 12th, timed with a large exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. He spoke to R&K from his studio in California.