30 years after nuclear catastrophe, Chernobyl has a new energy mission.

The Chernobyl meltdown on April 26, 1986, remains the most ruinous nuclear catastrophe in world history.

More than 30 people died in the immediate aftermath, and cleanup costs ran into the billions of dollars.

After the meltdown, the city and surrounding areas were evacuated, leaving 1,600 square miles of radioactive real estate rotting away in what was then the Soviet Union, now Ukraine.


The abandoned town of Pripyat and the Chernobyl power plant, through scaffolding holding a remnant of the Soviet Union hammer and sickle. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.

30 years later, we're still discovering the long-term effects of this devastating fallout.

The total body count is estimated to be in the tens of thousands now, although it's difficult to determine exactly how many cases of cancer and other health complications in the surrounding areas can be attributed directly to the toxic waste still lingering in the ground.

To this day, the area remains abandoned except for occasional workers still struggling to contain the wreck in its concrete sarcophagus. But even the milk produced at the farthest edges of the disaster zone still contains 10 times the acceptable radiation limit.

On the bright side — which, ya know, is a pretty low bar here — the general lack of human activity means that wildlife in the area is thriving. So that's nice.

Horses in Belarus near Chernobyl. Photo by Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images.

What do you do with 1 million acres of uninhabitable nuclear wasteland? It's no good as farmland, and you can't build houses...

But you can harvest sunlight.

These are actually in South Burlington, Vermont. But you get the idea. Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images.

That's right: The Ukrainian government is turning Chernobyl into one of the world's largest solar farms.

"The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy," Ukrainian environment minister Ostap Semerak explained at a recent press conference in London. "We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap, and we have many people trained to work at power plants."

As crazy as it might sound to build another power plant on the site of such a famously poisonous disaster, we can be fairly confident that sun fuel doesn't come with the same toxic risks.

Ostap Semerak (right) examines a hot cell on the construction site of a spent nuclear fuel storage facility next to the Chernobyl plant on the 30th anniversary of the disaster. Photo by Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images.

If this Chernobyl solar farm reaches fruition, it won't just energize the country. It'll dramatically transform it on a political level, too.

The estimated $1.1 billion project would produce 4 megawatts of energy, or enough to power up to 4,000 Ukrainian homes. "We want to be a successful Ukraine, to show people in the conflict zone that life is better and more comfortable with us," Semerak said at the press conference.

Clean, steady energy would obviously have a positive impact on the lives of those families. But it would also help the country wean off its reliance on neighboring Russia, which still provides Ukraine with much of its natural gas supply (except for when they don't, which is sometimes).

The relationship between Russia and Ukraine is complicated, to say the least. So in addition to the power-producing benefits of this potential new solar farm, energy independence offers an opportunity for the Ukraine to ally itself more closely with the European Union. As Semerak said, "We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks at Chernobyl on the 30th anniversary of the disaster. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

While Ukraine is still in the planning stages, this ambitious project represents a positive potential for a brighter, sun-fueled future.

There are still some hurdles to cross, of course. The big one right now is fundraising, which was the impetus behind Semerak's press conference in the first place. While solar power is undeniably more efficient and affordable, the up-front overhead costs run a little steep, even if they ultimately pay off.

There's also the fact that it'd be naive of Ukraine to enter into such a huge campaign without considering the full ramifications of nuclear fallout. Given the increased wildlife presence, it's entirely possible that the radioactivity has subsided enough that it would be safe to start a large-scale construction project — with proper precautions for the workers, just in case.

But this is definitely a situation where it's better to be safe than sorry.

Photo by Sergei Gapon/AFP/Getty Images.

Humans have done serious damage to the planet over the years. But if it does work out, the Chernobyl solar farm could be an inspiration for all of us.

This is not to the diminish the tragedy of April 26, 1986, of course.

But building a clean-energy plant on a radioactive graveyard is a strangely powerful reminder that our people and our planet can rebound from even the most terrible catastrophes.

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

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Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

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Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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