Duga-1 Radar Station

The Russian Woodpecker


Duga-1 Radar Station

Just inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone lies a must-see relic from the Soviet anti-ballistic missile early warning network.  Now silent, this massive steel radar receiving station used to be responsible for detecting launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) headed towards the Soviet Union.

Construction and operation

Duga-1 (Not Duga-3 as some refer to it) was in commissioned in 1976 and operated until shortly after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion.  The structure is gigantic – almost 50 stories tall and 1km in length. The precision of 1970’s Soviet era engineering and construction is impressive to say the least.  I found the geometry and symmetry of this structure truly mind blowing simply because of the massive scale.

The Woodpecker

The Duga radar system was extremely powerful, yielding upwards of 10,000,000 watts (10MW) of transmit power.  To put in perspective, it was so powerful that low frequency radio signals were susceptible to interference from Duga no matter where you were on Earth. Electronics manufacturers in the 1970’s and 1980’s knew of this mysterious tapping or woodpecker sound and and began engineering filters to block it.  The amateur radio community and enthusiasts began a club called The Russian Woodpecker Hunting Club to target and block the tapping sound heard throughout the world.  In the late 1980’s with the cold war winding down and the eventual fall of the soviet union the Duga radar ceased operational.

Touring Duga-1

Tourism is allowed and must be approved through the zone administration department.  This site is inside the 30km exclusive zone around the ChNPP.  Radiation levels are low, however there are pockets of medium-high levels (most clearly posted) which you should steer clear of.

Visitors will get to see Duga-1 up close, along with touring the electronics rooms and guard shacks.  There are abandoned buildings, vehicles and dismantled electronics strewn around the area.

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