Gavin Shoebridge – an electric vehicle nut, a keen environmentalist

                Electric Car Conversion Blog By Gavin Shoebridge

January 11th, 2017 at 2:00 am

Inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone and ghost town of Pripyat

I took a visit inside the Chernobyl 30 kilometre exclusion zone in the winter, then moved on to the ghost town of Pripyat, which was evacuated following the nuclear power station going into meltdown in April 1986.
Click on any image to see it in full size. Video at the bottom of the page.

Geiger counter in Chernobyl

Radiation levels: safe

After passing the military outpost, I entered the “exclusion zone”, 30 kilometres from the reactor core which went into meltdown three decades ago. The first stop was a small settlement; a collection of homes and a shop.
30 years after the accident, my meter now shows radiation levels around normal; safe for habitation.

shop in chernobyl

Open all hours.

A small convenience shop which fell victim to looters once the area was evacuated.

Neighbours attempted to nail their doors closed.

Neighbours attempted to nail their doors closed when they had to leave. This was no match for the looters.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Ripped up floors in every home.

The floors in these homes were all ripped up by looters (and army soldiers) searching for hidden valuables, considering the occupants had to leave in a matter of minutes.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation


This is the entry sign to the small township of Chernobyl, about 14 km away from the nuclear power station.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Paying homage.

A statue created by the firefighters which are still based there today.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Gone but not forgotten.

The statue pays tribute to those who died; not only firefighters.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

A radioactive wonderland.

A dead lunar rover sits among its comrades. These were some of the remote-controlled machines used to remove the dangerous debris from the power station.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

A harsher environment than the moon itself.

They all malfunctioned under the extreme radiation and rendered useless. These ones were able to be decontaminated as best as possible and placed on display. Obviously, don’t stand next to them.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

A billboard for no one.

A lonely billboard offers its old product to an empty street.

communist stars

Remnants of the past are welded to this security gate.

These are the gates to a once-secret radar facility. Ukraine has had an anti-communist signage law in force for some time, with communist stars and symbols long since removed. This place is an exception, however.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

They’re watching me.

The faded face of a Soviet officer stares at me through the snow.

chernobyl radiation warning sign


Despite the warning, I kept moving towards a large structure I could see through the mist.

radiation meter warning Duga radar

Things are warming up.

As we approached the enormous “Duga radar” I noticed my radiation meter beeping a lot. I took it out of my pocket to see that things were warming up.

Duga radar chernobyl

It’s beyond enormous.

The Duga-1 radar is the largest metal structure I’ve ever seen. It disappears into the snow.

Gavin Shoebridge

Straining to see the top.

It was hard to see the top of the radar due to the sheer size and the snow falling.

Duga radar

The Duga radar is quite massive.

Although it’s not active any more, it’s too radioactive to do anything with it.

duga radar

Left, right, and up: it’s bigger than it looks in the photo.

The “Russian woodpecker” as it was known, disappears into the mist.

duga radar elevator

Elevator to nowhere.

The Duga radar is so enormous it even has its own elevator.

school in chernobyl

No classes today.

I made my way to other abandoned buildings. This one was a small nursery school.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Broken plates and broken dreams.

Despite the radioactivity, looters left their mark on anything and everything.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Out of order.

Anything not bolted down was removed and sold elsewhere in the country. Poverty makes people do desperate things.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Quiet chaos.

Only silence and radiation fill the halls of this building now.

Chernobyl nuclear power station statue

A commemorative statue stands in front of Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The infamous site of the nuclear reactor which went into meltdown.
A statue pays homage to the accident. It’s eerily quiet.

chernobyl nuclear power plant radiation Geiger counter

The site is still very much alive with gamma radiation.

It’s quiet except for my Geiger counter telling me to leave immediately. The reactor core is in front of me, inside the new shell and crumbling sarcophagus.

New Safe Confinement (NSC) at Chernobyl

The New Safe Confinement (NSC) covers the Chernobyl reactor building and core.

This is the new airtight dome which was slid over the crumbling sarcophagus. It’s the largest land-based movable object ever made. It was slid into place in November 2016.

При́пять Pripyat sign

При́пять (Pripyat): the sign as you enter the ghost town.

Above is the entry sign to the town of Pripyat. It was only 16 years old when the clocks stopped.

Pripyat hotel

Pripyat hotel: No vacancy.

No vacancy: the hotel in the main square of Pripyat.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Nobody’s watching.

Walking through the side streets of Pripyat: no power, no water, no human life.

Restaurant pripyat


A local restaurant.
Today’s special: Iodine-131.

Pripyat city, Ukraine

The city is a time capsule.

A time capsule: even the communist crest remains atop of this empty high-rise.

trees nature pripyat chernobyl

Man versus nature.

Steel, brick and concrete is no match for nature.

looting chernobyl pripyat

Last one out; rip out the lights.

Anything and everything was tugged at and ripped out by looters hunting for scrap metal to sell.

bumper cars chernobyl pripyat ghost town

Bumper cars sitting idle.

The iconic bumper cars in Pripyat’s never-opened travelling amusement park.

bumper cars pripyat chernobyl ukraine radiation

Sitting idle for three decades.

No sounds of children laughing. No signs of life at all. It’s so deathly quiet.

radiation meter chernobyl geiger counter pripyat

An invisible enemy surrounds me.

These bumper cars may no longer be active, however they remain highly radioactive.
I can see I’m not welcome in this environment.

pripyat chernobyl nuclear power plant ghost town radiation

Lights out.

Looters even removed light bulbs to sell, despite their dangerous radioactivity. Thousands of radioactive household items appeared for sale across the country by looters, from televisions to toilet seats.

Ferris wheel in Pripyat

The iconic Ferris wheel in Pripyat

There’s no fun to be had at this amusement park.

Chernobyl ferris wheel

A testament to man’s ability to create and destroy.

The weather added a gloomy, surreal element to my visit.

 Pripyat football field and race track.

The Pripyat football field and race track.

The football stadium in front of the field and oval race track.

30 years later: the Pripyat football field.

30 years later: the Pripyat football field.

It’d be a bit hard to play football in this football field today. Nature will always win.

Chernobyl swimming pool

3… 2… 1… nothing.

The iconic swimming pool sits empty in the freezing air.

Pripyat swimming pool

Don’t jump.

Today, only snow fills the bottom of the pool.

empty building chernobyl

Is anyone there?

It was surreal to see apartment blocks all around while knowing that no one was watching me.
Not a single soul.

basketball court Pripyat

The basketball court.

With the windows smashed or taken to sell, the bitter cold envelops the basketball court, causing the wooden floor to rot.


The boulevard of broken dreams.

I spent one day in the exclusion zone which surrounds the nuclear power station of Chernobyl. It was fascinating, surreal and depressing. I’ve been thinking about it for days afterwards. The day has left a lasting impression on me and I’d encourage anyone to see it for themselves.

Here are a selection of interesting video clips from my visit inside the exclusion zone:

Please feel free to share and use these images & the video! I’d love it if you credited me, but it’s not essential.

Tags: , , , ,
comments Comments (0)    -
August 29th, 2016 at 10:43 am

My recent electric car adventures!

electric car wheelspin

Fun, but perhaps not entirely legal…

While there might not have been many posts to my blog recently, that doesn’t mean I’ve not been doing stuff! Since I bought my electric car (shown above, doing wheelies in the snow) I’ve been busy driving it and loving every second. I’ve also been making videos of my adventures and learning experiences with the car.

For all the latest pictures and videos, go to, or I’ve posted all the video links here to save you the effort, starting with the video that finally reignited my electric car experiences: a little red Peugeot iOn. Here’s the video from June 2015 where I found the car and test-drove it!

And, after owning the car for just ten days, I churned out another video about the car. This video explains the basics about the vehicle, such as the fact that it’s actually a Mitsubishi i-MiEV underneath the Peugeot badge.

I love my little Peugeot, but there’s one thing it’s seriously lacking: a decent sound system. So, in the next video I got busy removing the old stereo and installing a new one with a cool display, along with a small subwoofer to give the sound a little more warmth:

I’d only had the car for six weeks at that stage, but I already decided it was time for a long distance journey from Bratislava (Slovakia) to the neighbouring city of Vienna (Austria). Unfortunately it was a complete disaster due to liquorice and charging problems. In fact, it was such a screw up that I even put on a suit and a tie to make a formal complaint:

After calming down, I grabbed my wife Veronika and we decided to attempt and even longer journey – but this time within Slovakia, which has a very good charging network run by a company called Greenway. It wasn’t quite as easy as you’d hope however…

The next video in the series is all about data, maintenance, installing an exhaust pipe, and racing the gas-powered version of my electric car. “What?” I hear you ask? Just watch the video!

I’d experienced winters before in my electric car conversion in New Zealand but they were never quite as severe as winters in Slovakia. This meant I had a lot of learning to do with my new electric car. So, in the next video, I take fashion tips from Adolf Hitler and prepare myself for the winter:

The next video in the Kiwi EV series is this one, and boy, it’s a real whopper. I’ve made long-distance journeys before, but nothing like this… Prepare yourself as I take my humble electric city car and drive to Ukraine and back. It’s an adventure and, if I can be so immodest, my favourite Kiwi EV video so far. Enjoy!

Time for modifications! This next (and latest) video in the Kiwi EV series is all about modifying my electric car to unlock the extra “gears” in my shifter plate. It turns out that the Peugeot iOn / Citroen C-Zero has hidden B and C modes under the plastic plate, so I unlocked them! Not only that, I also created a guide on how to service an electric car.

Eeek. Winter is coming. While I love my electric car, there’s one area that leaves me unimpressed: heating. In my little car with its 16 kWh battery, using the heater can soak up as much as 30% of the battery. So I got busy trying all the heating methods I could find – but first I had to remove something from the carpet thanks to an uninvited visitor…

The next video is coming soon, so stay tuned!

Keep watching or for more regular ramblings, follow my Facebook page:

Tags: , , ,
comments Comments (0)    -
January 17th, 2016 at 11:38 am

Which is the better growing lamp: LED or CFL or sunlight?

LED growing lamp comparison with CFL growing lamp

LED (left) versus CFL (right) – click on this photo to see it full size.

In 2015 I bought a fancy 50 watt LED growing lamp (above left) from eBay which promised the earth in terms of spectrum awesomeness. I also went to the hardware store and bought a regular “warm white” 32 watt Compact Florescent Lamp (CFL) shown on the right. I wanted to know what was the best in terms of growing leafy vegetables but I didn’t know what was better.

Some websites said that the new LEDs are the way to go because they use them on the space station, others said that CFLs are better, but you need special “full spectrum” models which cost more. I was confused. The information on the internet is inconsistent. So, I did a little experiment…

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Chinese cabbages are fairly bulletproof so they’ll make good specimens. 

As you might remember from this blog post, I made a special growing box to carry out this experiment. I wanted to see if my fancy LED growing lamp was more effective than a standard CFL lamp from the hardware store, albeit brighter and more powerful than what most people would use to illuminate a room. Other than being 32 watts (a regular CFL is about 20 watts) it’s not special in any way.

Once I had the seeds germinating and sprouting (which took about 10 days before I started the experiment), I moved them into pots to begin the experiment. Don’t forget, you can click on any photo on this page to see it in full size.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 1: LED on the left and CFL on the right.

I carried out this experiment because I wanted to see if I could grow vegetables during autumn and winter, which lamp was the most effective, and how both forms of light competed against the same vegetables using natural light in the glasshouse.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

I put two test cabbages in the glasshouse to compare growing with sunlight.

Because the growing season outside was effectively over, I put my two “sunlight cabbages” in the glasshouse to assist in their growth during these colder, shorter days.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 7

Fast forward to day number seven. There’s very little difference between all three lots of cabbages growing inside and outside. It looks like the CFL might have an early advantage, but it’s only a guess. Let’s have a look how the outdoor cabbages compare on the seventh day:

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 7 outside: one cabbage died, the survivor fights on.

Oh dear. While the difference in size between indoor and outdoor cabbages might be negligible, the loss of the cabbage on the right is of concern. Were the cold temperatures just too much for it? Perhaps the roots were damaged during transplantation?

I didn’t know, but it was a bad start after just seven days. I watered and cared for them all as best as possible, and the next results were starting to show differences in progress.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 14 in the growing box.

Day fourteen is starting to really show a difference in growth between the LED (left) and the CFL (right). This surprised me because the LED cost around $35 USD and had a glowing (pun intended) description of its growing abilities. The CFL on the other hand was just a regular lamp designed to illuminate your garage.

So how does my surviving outdoor cabbage compare after fourteen days?

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 14 outside.

The results are, perhaps predictably, rather gloomy in the glasshouse. While warmer during the day, at night the glasshouse temperature can fall to around freezing (0°C or 32°F) during late autumn / early winter. Still, at least that cabbage is surviving… just.

Let’s fast forward:

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 25 in the growing box.

Now things are starting to get interesting. The regular CFL lamp (right) is giving the cabbages all the right light to grow quickly and healthily, while the fancy LED (left) is making the cabbages grow in a rather scrawny way. Notice the colour difference, too?

These are impressive and surprising results. So how’s our little trooper going in the glasshouse?

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 25 with my hand for a size comparison.

Not only is the glasshouse cabbage surviving the now-winter conditions, it’s actually growing too, albeit very slowly. At this rate it’s obvious the glasshouse cabbage won’t win the race and it proves that even in a glasshouse, it’s not worth growing anything when the season’s over.

So let’s fast-forward to the final day in the experiment: day 36.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 36.

The experiment has ended on day thirty six, which was the 6th of December. I took the indoor cabbages out of their respective sides in the growing box and had a good look at them. The LED cabbages did grow, and they grew well compared to the surviving glasshouse cabbage, but the final result was not how Chinese cabbages should look. Their leaves should be thick and dark, not pale and spindly.

The CFL cabbages on the other hand did remarkably well. I decided to brave the cold and put all the cabbages side by side outside so you can see the final result in one photo.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

We have a winner: CFL!

The results speak for themselves. In first place (left) are the two CFL cabbages, in second place are two rather sad looking LED cabbages, and in third place is one surviving glasshouse cabbage.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

The CFL cabbage grew so well that the pot was restricting its roots.

When I removed the cabbages from their pots I discovered something interesting. The cabbages which grew under the CFL light were fighting for space. At you can see above, the poor things had no space for their roots. I wonder what would have happened if I’d given them a bigger pot and given them more time?

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Getting to the root of the issue.

I rinsed the cabbages and their roots in water to remove the soil so I could see the progress of their root growth. Even though these cabbages were not yet fully mature, the winning CFL cabbages had strong root growth. Unfortunately the fine roots were weak and many broke upon removal.

The LED cabbages had other problems besides poor root growth. It was near impossible to move the LED cabbages because they were so weak. Any pressure at all resulted in broken stems and torn leaves. As for the glasshouse cabbage… well, that was too small to do anything with.

So how did they taste?

Well, very similarly. When eaten raw, the best tasting was the sunlight cabbage because it was lacking the usual “peppery” bitter cabbage taste. The LED cabbages were a little more bitter and cabbage-like, while the CFL cabbages were full-bodied with that tangy cabbage flavour.

I boiled what was not eaten and offered them around the house with a little soy sauce. Once boiled for 15 minutes they all tasted identical and all who tried them enjoyed them.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

If growing indoors during winter, forget LED and get a regular CFL instead!

And there you have it! No matter how good the advertisement may be for LED lighting, for leafy vegetables your best bet is a bright CFL from the hardware store.

Now I’m on to my next growing experiment: feijoas!

Tags: , , , , , ,
comments Comments (1)    -
November 1st, 2015 at 9:27 am

Growing vegetables inside during autumn & winter

I decided to carry out an experiment. I really want to grow feijoas in Slovakia, but I fear the winters will be too harsh for the plant to endure, so I decided to make a “growing box”.

This experiment will see which is better for growing leafy vegetables in fall/winter: a greenhouse, a bright CFL lamp, or a specialised LED growing lamp.

1: Cut pieces of board to make a box.

No one I spoke to in Slovakia had ever heard of feijoas, so it’s a complete mystery whether or not this popular-in-New Zealand fruit will survive in Slovakia. But last week I tracked down a company in the Czech Republic that stocks feijoa seeds, so I bought a few packets.

growing box lamp

2: Make a box.

I bought a special LED growing lamp from eBay for $22 USD. But this had me scratching my head… Professional growing lamps are hundreds of dollars, so is a $22 growing lamp any good? What about a regular “warm white” compact florescent lamp (CFL) instead?

Making this box is One way to find out.

growing box lamp

I recommend adding handles for easy manoeuvrability.

Before I germinate (and possibly kill) my delicate feijoas, I need to find out if an LED or regular household CFL will grow plants. To do this, I’m going to use some cheap and rather bulletproof Chinese Cabbages.

In this experiment I’m going to compare three sources of light during autumn / winter period:

1: my new LED growing lamp
2: a standard ‘warm white’ CFL
3: the greenhouse in the back yard

I added a reflective interior and installed the two growing lamps

I added a reflective interior and installed the two lamps

The lamps in the picture above are (left) a 50 watt LED grow lamp  and (right) a 32 watt CFL lamp rated at 2200 lumens and a ‘soft white’ or ‘warm white’ colour (2700K).

According to the advert on ebay for the LED lamp, it produces light on the following wavelengths: blue (430~440nm, 450~460nm), red (610~615nm, 620~630nm, 650~660nm), white light / UV (380~400nm), infra red (730nm). 

LED growing lamp experiment

These innocent Chinese cabbages are my lab rats…

So, which is better in autumn or winter? LED, CFL, or a greenhouse? To find out I’m placing two cabbages in each environment over the next 10 weeks to see which has the best results.

These ones are using sunlight in the glasshouse.

These ones are using sunlight in the glasshouse.

The big benefit of the greenhouse is the natural light and the warmth during the daytime. However, the biggest problem with this time of year is the cold nights. I know I prefer being inside, so I wonder if my other seedlings will too…

CFL grow lamp versus LED grow lamp versus sunlight

What a difference in colour. The LED is hard to look at, while the CFL looks bright and inviting. What will the cabbages prefer?

With the box complete and my seedlings doing their thing, we just have to leave nature to do its work.

The box actually looks pretty good too after adding a vinyl wood veneer wrap.

These cabbages grow fast and reach maturity in around 10 weeks (the middle of winter). I wonder if it will work. Will the greenhouse offer enough light/warmth? Do you really need a special LED lamp? Will a bright CFL do the trick? Watch this space to find out.

Now we play the waiting game… Or the guitar.

These cabbages grow fast and reach maturity in around 10 weeks (the middle of winter). I wonder if it will work. Will the greenhouse offer enough light/warmth? Do you really need a special LED lamp? Will a bright CFL do the trick?

And then, will my feijoa seeds survive?

Watch this space to find out!

Tags: , , , , , , ,
comments Comments (0)    -
October 14th, 2015 at 12:01 am

My Slovak Life

Some random videos of my life in Slovakia:

In this video above, I attempt to play the Slovak musical instrument called the Fujara. It’s an impressive woodwind instrument with a distinctive sound.

Did someone mention wine?

This this video, my wife’s family show us how to make wine the old fashioned way – despite being in the middle of suburbia!

I love the snowy winters of Slovakia, even in traffic:

In most New Zealand cities snow is a very rare event. To have it fall this heavily is unheard of. Here in Central Europe however, it’s a different story. It’s so cool! This was recorded in Bratislava morning traffic after a decent snowfall.


One thing I love about Slovakia is the festivals. This above video is of a goulash party in the suburbs of Bratislava. As you can see I got decidedly drunk further into the video…


Tags: ,
comments Comments (0)    -
October 6th, 2015 at 9:35 am

100% electric car stickers

A lot of people don’t realise my car is actually 100% electric powered, so I figured I needed to change that!

Free to use: 100% electric sticker design for electric vehicles

Free to use: 100% electric sticker design for electric vehicles

I threw together this image one afternoon and sent it to a printing shop here in Bratislava. They made a vinyl cut-out of the design and gave me two copies. I actually ordered two copies because I don’t trust my label applying skills!

It's 100% obvious that this vehicle is 100% electric!

It’s 100% obvious that this vehicle is 100% electric!

It was actually really easy to apply. I cleaned the rear window with window cleaner and gently applied the 100% electric decal on the back of the car.

download electric car sticker

100% awesome!

I love the plug on the end of the letter “c”.

So there you have it. I like the design because it’s clean and simple, but also because I’m guaranteed that people in the car behind me will start pointing and talking about the car. It’s a bit of cheeky fun whenever I find myself at red light!

If you want to download and use the design, please help yourself. Here is a direct link to the image:

Right-click on that link and select “Save link as”, then choose a place on your computer to store it. Then you can send it to a local printing shop and they can make an adhesive label for you. It’s that easy.

Some technical stuff: the “100% electric” image in that link is a PNG image created on a transparent background. Its dimensions are 3170 x 361 and my version was printed on vinyl lettering at 21 centimetres wide (8.2 inches).

You don’t need my permission to use it but I’d love it if you could send me a photo of your car afterwards! :)



Tags: , , , ,
comments Comments (16)    -
July 26th, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Electric car charging companies: get with the times!

Electric car in Vienna

A Slovak French Japanese electric car in Austria.

Yesterday I took my electric car to Vienna in Austria for what should have been a fun, carefree journey.

Unfortunately, due to fast-charging problems, it wasn’t.

Click here for the full story:

Or watch the video below. Things got so bad that I even put on a suit to complain!



comments Comments (0)    -