Chernobyl and the nearby city of Pripyat have been abandoned for over 20 years. Old Soviet symbols still adorn the buildings, and textbooks remain open on desks at the local school. The worst nuclear disaster in history left 52,000 residents homeless – never to return again. Today, the site is a popular tourist attraction: enter at your own risk.
On April 26th 1986, an unexpected power surge hit nuclear reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Power Plant in Ukraine, causing the biggest and most cataclysmic nuclear disaster the world has ever seen. The chemical explosions were powerful enough to blow the reactor’s 1000-ton lid to pieces, and fatally injure the 31 technicians who were working there at the time.
Russian and Western scientists have estimated that over five million Ukrainian citizens, and those from Belarus and Russia, have been exposed to harmful levels of radiation – the toxic clouds even spread as far as the UK. In recent years, scientists have concluded that the nuclear disaster is directly responsible for a large increase of cancer, and other health issues, experienced by those living in close proximity of Chernobyl.
Over twenty years have passed since the devastating explosion and the Ukrainian government, in conjunction with the management of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, have capitalised on the site’s mysterious factor. By developing the deserted cities of Pripyat and Chernobyl into a tourist destination Dmitry Bobro, from the Management Exclusion Zone, believes that inviting visitors could raise greater awareness and understanding of the threat that nuclear plants pose.
The region is situated just a few hours drive outside of Kiev. You have to sign a waiver before visiting, which covers tour operators should any health issues arise after your visit.
The sheer desolation and dereliction brings home a stark reality, and the huge impact this disaster had on the lives of residents in both cities. As you tour the exclusion zone, you are given your own Geiger counter to measure radiation, and can view reactor #4 from a ‘safe’ distance – just a few hundred feet away from the blast point.
The deserted city of Pripyat, located about a mile from the plant, was once the home to many of Chernobyl’s nuclear technicians and their families. On the day of the disaster, citizens were given only 3 hours to evacuate the city, collecting as many of their possessions as they could carry, never to return again.
Nowadays, Pripyat is a ghost town. Everything is left exactly as it was when the evacuation took place. Gymnasiums and hospitals are entirely untouched, and Soviet symbols on collapsing buildings echo an unstable period, before the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Arguably the most infamous feature is the town’s amusement park, a bewitching spot that gives visitors an eerie and almost paranormal sensation. Access to the buildings is restricted and, whilst most tour guides stick to the rules and regulations, some have been known allow visitors into school classrooms, which stand complete with notes on the blackboard and texts books left on desks.
There are radiation detectors throughout the exclusion zone and all visitors are monitored carefully. When leaving Chernobyl, you exit the bus and pass through a radiation detector, placing your hands on metal plates to measure your radiation level. If the light is green, you can relax, knowing your trip to Chernobyl was safe…
Travellers can visit Chernobyl from $139 through tour2chernobyl.com