29 September 2016

Amateur Radio in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Last edited: 05.10.2016

On April 26, 2016 it was 30 years ago that the catastrophic nuclear disaster took place at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine (then still part of the former Soviet Union, or USSR). A tragically failed systems test lead to a number of explosions and a huge nuclear leak in "Reactor 4". The accident has been described as the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever seen.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the tragic event, last April various amateur radio stations from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were active with special callsigns. Some Ukrainian radio amateurs even undertook expeditions to the abandoned towns of Pripyat and Chernobyl, and were active from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone itself.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, originally extending 30 km in all directions from the damaged reactor, was established by the USSR military soon after the disaster. The evacuated zone is largely uninhabited, except for some residents who refused to evacuate or have resettled. The zone today is controlled by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, and one of its main purposes today is to restrict access to the hazardous areas around the former Chernobyl power plant. There are checkpoints at the zone's entrances and there are patrols inside the zone and along its perimeter. There's no way of just showing up and entering the area. Some scientists estimate it will take 20,000 years before people can safely live in the Exclusion Zone again. The zone however has been accessible to interested parties like scientists and journalists since its creation, and since 2011 also to interested tourists who wish to learn more about the tragedy, and to which guided Chernobyl tours are offered.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (source). Note that the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located in the town of Pripyat, while the town with the name "Chernobyl" is lying roughly 20 km to the southeast of it.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, despite high radiation levels, has largely reverted to forest and, because of the lack of competition with humans for space and resources, wildlife (including moose, elk, deer, wild boar, lynx, and wolves) is thriving. Unintentionally, the area has become one of Europe's biggest wildlife reserves! The area (I have no information as to the exact WWFF perimeters, so I'm not sure if it's the entire area or just part of it) today even is included in the reference list of designated nature parks and protected nature areas of the Worldwide Flora & Fauna in Amateur Radio programme (WWFF). The WWFF reference number is URFF-0144 (Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Special Protected Area).

A family of moose in Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone (source)
On the website at http://1986.pp.ua/ru/ you can find more information about the "Chernobyl-30" amateur radio commemorative programme. It's in Russian, but Google will help you a bit with the translation here.

The following stations were active from the Exclusion Zone:

EN5R (click here for qrz.com profile) on April 25th and 26th, 2016 was active from the ghost town of Pripyat very close to Reactor 4. The photos below show the EN5R team at their QTH in Pripyat on April 25th with the antennas used for their activity. In the background of the first photo you can see Reactor 4 on the left. In the middle you can see the New Safe Confinement structure, which, once completed, will be moved (in fact the New Safe Confinement is a huge rail vehicle) over Reactor 4 to cover it and limit the leaking of more radiation.

EN5R team in Pripyat (source)
EN5R team in Pripyat (source)
I worked EN5R on the 25th and 26th of April in CW and SSB on 40 and 20m (this was "Stage 2" of their expedition with their QTH close to Reactor 4 in Pripyat. I also worked them a couple of days earlier during the Stage 1 "Chernobyl is our Neighbour" part of their expedition, during which they were active from various villages in the Chernobyl area).

Listen here to a recording of my 20m SSB QSO with EN5R on 26.04.2016.

EM30U (click here for qrz.com profile) was active from the "Pripyat Hotel" in the town of Chernobyl in grid locator KO51CG (URDA KO-26 Kiyv region, Chernobyls'kyi district). I worked EM30U on 30m PSK63 and 20m CW. The resulting QSL card is shown below. For these QSO's I was also credited for URFF-0144 in the WWFF log database. Quite a rare reference to have in the log, I guess.

EM30U QSL card. At the time of writing, I'm still waiting for the cards to arrive from EN5R and EM7UT.
Listen here to a recording of my 20m CW QSO with EM30U.

(click here for qrz.com profile) also was active from the town of Chernobyl in grid locator KO51CG (URDA KO-26). I worked EM7UT in CW and SSB on 40m.

Listen here to a recording of my 40m SSB QSO with EM7UT.

Grid locator KO51CG as found on http://qthlocator.free.fr/
The now iconic Ferris wheel in ghost town Pripyat, still standing 30 years after the town was abandoned (source).
On the Internet an abundant amount of information and photos can be found on the 1986 disaster and the area today. Below a short selection of links.


18 September 2016

The HF Voyager Project

Last edited: 29.09.2016

Interesting project here by the Jupiter Research Foundation Amateur Radio Club (JRFARC) on Hawaii: an autonomous ocean-going Wave Glider roaming the oceans, and carrying a HF ham radio payload which can be contacted in PSK31 by amateur radio operators! Would be nice to see a similar project in Europe someday. Read more here: http://www.jrfarc.org/hf-voyager/. While you're there, also check out the other fascinating projects of JRFARC and the Jupiter Research Foundation (listen live via the Internet to humpback whales singing for instance!)

17 September 2016

St. Pierre & Miquelon (IOTA NA-032) and "ATNO" explained

Last edited: 03.10.2016

After many tries, tonight I finally managed to work the DXpedition TO5FP on St. Pierre & Miquelon! I worked them in RTTY on 20m.

St. Pierre & Miquelon is an archipelago situated in the North Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland. It's the only French territory in North America. The official currency on the archipelago is the Euro!
The team of TO5FP, consisting of F4HEC, F1RAF, FK8IK, and F5TMJ, is active from the islet of Ile aux Marins, close to St. Pierre Island. They will be active until September 20th.

St. Pierre & Miquelon is a separate DXCC entity, and is an ATNO* for me, bringing my total DXCC country count to 198 (mixed).

Ile aux Marins (source)

TO5FP QTH and Hexbeam antenna (source)
TO5FP is working with a real time online log which can be found at http://www.a6dx.com/QSO/to5fp/. A screenshot of the log (with PA7MDJ in the "Recent QSO" window) is shown below. Very nice!

*ATNO = acronym for "All Time New One", used by radio amateurs to indicate a brand new DXCC country worked. To the outsider it looks like just another acronym, but in fact it's the radio amateur's "Hallelujah" and is laden with emotion and excitement. Read this article here which explains pretty well what ATNO really means to the radio amateur.


Vestmannaeyjar (IOTA EU-071)

Last edited: 03.10.2016

Between September 13th and September 16th, 2016, a team from the Cambridge University Wireless Society was active from the Vestmannaeyjar or Westman Islands, Iceland. The team was reported to include G3ZAY, M0BLF, DK2AB, M0WUT, M0ZXA, and M0VFC. The operators all were active as TF/homecall. I managed to work TF/M0VFC (20m SSB), TF/DK2AB (30m CW), and TF/G3ZAY (30m CW). The contacts are already confirmed in Clublog, and QSL cards are requested by OQRS. I will post them on my blog as soon as I've received them.

I've been fascinated by the Vestmannaeyjar ever since I read about them in a travel guide book about Iceland. They're situated approximately 11 kilometres off the coast of Southwest Iceland. It's a relatively rare IOTA, and it's the first time I've worked the archipelago. The biggest island and the only inhabited one is Heimaey. This most probably is also the island where the Cambridge University team was active from. During a vulcanic eruption on Heimaey in 1973, around 400 houses were destroyed, and the entire population had to be evacuated to mainland Iceland. The islands are home to about 4 million puffins as well as many other seabirds.

Between 1998 and 2002 a bay on the island of Heimaey was home to Keiko the killer whale, star of the Free Willy movie. After a life in captivity, Keiko was released here and stayed in the bay until 2002 when he finally departed and with wild orcas swam to Norway.

Vestmannaeyjar town on Heimaey during the eruption of 1973 (source)

Another iconic photo of the 1973 eruption (source)
The island of Ellidaey, one of the Westman Islands, and the only house on it (actually a hunting lodge which is not permanently in use) (source)


14 September 2016

Yet another blog

My Kent twin paddle Morse keyer
which I make most of my CW contacts with

Last edited: 09.10.2016

Does the world really need another blog on amateur radio? The answer probably is "No, it doesn't"!

Why this blog then? Well, sometimes I just feel the need to share my amateur radio related thoughts, memories, adventures, and experiences, the need simply to write about this beautiful and exciting hobby. Probably not many people will read it, but I'd also like to see this blog as a place for myself to collect my memories and thoughts on various amateur radio topics, to document certain events, and to store in that same place any related information found elsewhere, in the form of URL's linking to web pages, photos, sound clips, YouTube videos, etc. A modern version of the old scrapbook, you could say.

For the purpose of sharing in the first place, but also as a collection of memories and information for myself, I used to regularly post amateur radio related pieces on Facebook. I soon realised this wasn't the ideal place to do so; finding a specific post after some time for instance could be quite a hassle. So, I decided to start this blog, also because some of the interested readers on Facebook suggested I should do so (probably because they were fed up with reading about my passion for amateur radio on Facebook, hi). And who knows, maybe someone will find some of my posts interesting, useful, or fascinating, and might find it worthwhile reading after all.

More than is the case with most other amateur radio operators I know, my fascination with amateur radio is closely linked to a keen interest in geography, and, as an "armchair traveller", to exploring the world geographically and culturally, and every now and then maybe even geopolitically. To me, the geographical location (or "QTH") of an amateur radio station is a major contributor to the amount of pleasure I get out of a radio contact. I'm one of those radio amateurs, who after a radio contact will immediately look up the station's location in an atlas, and who is eager to learn more about the location by Googling related articles, videos or photos, or by picking that long forgotten book from the bookshelf that he might have about the place (the average armchair traveller usually has a big collection of books about the places he's interested in).
It doesn't always have to be a very distant station, it can also be a station relatively close by in Europe, on a remote Scottish island for instance, that geographically or otherwise I've always been fascinated by (I'm thinking of my contact with MM8C on the island of St. Kilda right now). Places I'm fascinated and intrigued by (the list is long), getting my signals there, and making contact with amateur radio stations in those places, is what makes my blood flow faster! It's my way of travelling the world, to places I'd normally never be able to visit.

I have a keen interest in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and to me "working" (i.e. making contact with) an amateur radio station in those remote regions is the ultimate in DX'ing (I'm still smiling from ear to ear when I think of the Morse contact I made with RI1FJ on Franz Josef Land recently, and this will probably be the topic of one of my first posts). Also islands and mountain tops are very interesting locations I like to hunt for, so I'm very active in the IOTA and SOTA programmes as well. I can tell you, it's an indescribable thrill to make contact with a radio amateur expedition at 4807m a.s.l. on top of the Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest mountain!

I'm using modest antennas (for HF mostly simple wire antennas) and equipment and low power (100 Watts or less), so working those special locations isn't always possible, but sometimes magic happens, and I work that DX I thought would be impossible to work, like very recently XR0YS on Easter Island! I must be honest and tell you that it can be frustrating at times, but the challenge also is part of the fun, it's all in the game, you can't have it all, and it makes every succesful contact the more special!

So that's what you can expect from me here, posts on amateur radio stations I've worked and their geographical location. Lots of Arctica, Antarctica, remote islands, and other places I'm fascinated by. But also other topics, other things that intrigue or fascinate me as a radio amateur: vintage amateur radio, weak signal experiments, QRP Moonbounce, exotic propagation modes, and the natural phenomena related to it, like the Aurora borealis, again the list is long. And maybe some stuff from the past, from my days as a shortwave listener in the 80's and 90's before I got my amateur radio licence. I'm also an avid QSL collector, so I'll regularly post my favourite cards here, probably with a write-up on either the station or its QTH, or both. I might repost some of my earlier Facebook pieces on here, if I think it's worthwhile and if it's still current. No matter what, this blog is not only the blog of a passionate radio amateur, but also that of a passionate armchair traveller.

For my blog's header image I've chosen for a photo of the Moai statues on Easter Island. To me, the Moai statue stands symbol for all mythical, intriguing, and remote places in this world. Places one often can't visit in person, but one often can by amateur radio.

For now, 73 de Michael PA7MDJ