Contaminated Chernobyl now a tourist hot spot
Chernobyl, arguably one of the most contaminated places on the planet, is set to become a budding hot spot for tourists. In an announcement made earlier this year by Ukraine’s current president -President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of the importance of changing the way in which Chernobyl is viewed, and granting it “new life” by doing so. “We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life, until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it (2019).” Chernobyl has experienced a noticeable spike in tourism since the debut of the popular HBO series of the same name that was released earlier this year. While some parts of Chernobyl have been open to tourists since 2011, there are some areas – particularly that surrounding the infamous nuclear reactor, that have been completely out of bounds, until now that is.
A quick history lesson for those who are a little shaky on the details surrounding the Chernobyl tragedy: On the 26th of April 1986, what was meant to be routine maintenance resulted in disaster due to human error. The maintenance was due to be done on the then named V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station’s fourth reactor, however a lack of adherence to the safety protocols in place lead to a power surge which ultimately resulted in an explosion that released copious amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere. The radiation released by the two explosions that occurred within the reactor was 400 times that of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima (History.com). The initial explosion and fires lead to the deaths of two people; later that number would increase by a further 28 – including the first responding fire-fighters who were not equipped to deal with the radiation exposure whilst fighting the flames. It took almost two weeks to completely extinguish the flames by using sand, lead and nitrogen (History Channel). The town of Pripyat, population 50 000 at the time– constructed for the purpose of housing the plant’s workers and their families, was only evacuated on the 27th of April. The residents took very little with them as they were under the impression that they would be returning soon, most never did. Only on the 28th of April, after confrontations from other countries, did the Kremlin (Soviet Union Government) acknowledge that there had been a serious incident. The damaged reactor is now entombed in two sarcophaguses, one which was placed 206 days after the incident, and then a second which was erected in 2016 with the purpose of containing the radioactive material for the duration of 100 year period.
While the Ukrainian government indicated in 1995 that 125 000 people had died as a result of Chernobyl radiation exposure, the final death toll from Chernobyl is still widely speculative due to the fact that no official studies were ever carried out by the Soviet Government at the time. It is believed however that thousands of people would be affected by the long term effects of the varying degrees of radiation exposure, which are responsible for the development of various cancers.
Today, the wildlife and plant life in the exclusion zone is thriving due to the lack of human interference and influence. “Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature revives after a global man-made disaster, where there is a real “ghost town”. We have to show this place to the world: scientists, ecologists, historians, tourists” (President Volodymyr Zelensky). With that sentiment in mind, Ukraine has now officially opened the fourth reactor control room up to tourists, for all those who dare to spend a few minutes in one of the most heavily radiated and notorious rooms in history. Would you dare?