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.
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 in 1986.
The Duga radar system was mighty, yielding upwards of 10,000,000 watts (10MW) of transmitting 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 1970s and 1980s knew of this mysterious tapping or woodpecker sound and began engineering filters to block it. The amateur radio community and enthusiasts started a club called The Russian Woodpecker Hunting Club to target and block the tapping sound heard throughout the world. In the late 1980s with the cold war winding down and the eventual fall of the soviet union, the Duga radar ceased operation.
Duga-1 Radar Station Uncensored
Tourism to Duga-1 is included on most one and two-day tours of the exclusion zone. All visitors must be approved through the zone administration department. Safety is a growing concern in the area as there are pockets of high levels of gamma radiation (most clearly posted) which you should avoid (unless you want to glow).
Before you arrive, you’ll see the radar array from many kilometers away; the structure is gigantic – almost 50 stories tall and 1km in length. The precision of 1970’s Soviet-era engineering and construction of this radar array is impressive – too bad they didn’t employ the same engineers at ChNPP. I found the perfect geometry and symmetry of this structure quite remarkable because of its massive scale.
Exploring the premise will allow visitors to get up close to the now barren electronics rooms and guard shacks that kept watch for missile launches; Today, all that’s left is abandoned buildings, decaying vehicles, and destroyed electronics littering the compound.