Chernobyl disaster zone lures tourists as visitor numbers boom

April 25, 2018 by Ania Tsoukanova
The huge metal dome that now covers the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is one of the main tourist attractions

Camera? Check. Sunglasses? Check. And a Geiger counter? Check. For a growing number of thrill-seekers visiting Chernobyl's radiation-contaminated lands the device is used to help navigate the site of what remains the world's worst nuclear accident.

The uninhabited exclusion zone, a 30-kilometre (19-mile) radius around the former , has seen a surge in tourists in the past few years.

Almost 50,000 people toured the area last year—a 35 percent rise on 2016—to see the plant that contaminated a large swathe of Europe when its fourth reactor exploded on April 26, 1986.

70 percent of visitors were foreigners.

"(I wanted to) see something totally different," said Maja Bandic, a Croatian in her 50s, who described the day as "amazing".

A souvenir kiosk at the main entrance to the exclusion zone sells T-shirts and fridge magnets with the black-and-yellow radiation warning symbol as well as Soviet-era gas masks.

It is even possible to stay a few nights in a basic hotel or one of two hostels near the power station.

Viktor Kharchenko, whose travel agency Go2chernobyl.com has run tours to the site since 2012, says the growth in visitor numbers came after the 30th anniversary of the disaster in 2016 and the installation that year of a huge metal dome over the damaged reactor that significantly reduced .

The number of visitors to Chernobyl in 2017 rose 35 percent on the previous year, reaching almost 50,000 people mostly from abroad

These developments were widely covered by international media and alleviated people's fears over whether it was safe to visit Chernobyl, Kharchenko said, arguing that the risk to tourists is minimal.

"A day's stay in the area equals two hours of flying over the Atlantic Ocean in terms of the dose of radiation absorbed," he says.

But one of the tour group member, Joel Alvaretto, a 28-year-old student from Argentina, confessed he is "a little afraid" of radiation, since he has heard "you can see the effects later, many years after".

Leaving Chernobyl, everyone has to go through radiation checks. Members of the tour group take turns to stand inside a large dosimeter which indicates that they are all "clean."

A souvenir kiosk at the main entrance to the exclusion zone sells T-shirts and fridge magnets with the black-and-yellow radiation warning symbol as well as Soviet-era gas masks

'Nature is stronger than humans'

Several Ukrainian travel agencies offer tours from one to seven days, priced from 25 to 650 euros ($30 to $790).

The activities on offer include viewing the new shield covering the damaged reactor, feeding gigantic catfish in the radioactive waters of cooling pools, and driving past the "red forest" - where pine needles turned from green to red after the accident due to absorbing massive levels of radiation.

The trees were felled and buried during the clean-up operation, but even now, when a tour bus drives past the area without stopping, the tourists' Geiger counters all start beeping frenetically, signalling a very strong increase in .

"A symphony," one of the tourists said.

The ghost village of Kopachi near Chernobyl was one of the locations affected by the disaster

The highlight of the trip is a visit to Pripyat, the ghost town built for nuclear workers a few kilometres from the plant. The nearly 50,000 residents were evacuated the day after the disaster, never to return home.

Blocks of flats and schools where children's toys, books and handwritten notes still lie abandoned and a big wheel still rises above an amusement park on the central square.

Adam Ridemar, a Swedish student who came with his father to see this "iconic place" says that it is "very cool to see all this, to see how a whole city is just a relic of what it used to be."

He voices surprise at the luxuriant vegetation, saying he had expected a "concrete jungle".

Nature is reclaiming this abandoned land with tarmacked roads gradually choked by wild grasses and apartment blocks disappearing behind green foliage - a sight that fascinates many visitors.

Tourists use Geiger counters to measure the level of radioactivity in the area

"It proves that nature is stronger than humans after all," Bandic says.

People "have sun, wind, they don't need nuclear energy: it's so dangerous," she concludes.

Explore further: Chernobyl's radiation monitoring hit by cyberattack: spokeswoman

Related Stories

A look at the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in numbers

April 25, 2016

Telling the story of Chernobyl in numbers 30 years later involves dauntingly large figures and others that are even more vexing because they're still unknown. A look at numbers that hint at the scope of the world's worst ...

Roof collapses at Chernobyl nuclear plant: Ukraine

February 13, 2013

A section of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine collapsed under the weight of snow, officials said Wednesday, raising new concerns about the condition of the facility that was the site of the world's worst nuclear ...

Recommended for you

What can snakes teach us about engineering friction?

May 21, 2018

If you want to know how to make a sneaker with better traction, just ask a snake. That's the theory driving the research of Hisham Abdel-Aal, Ph.D., an associate teaching professor from Drexel University's College of Engineering ...

Flexible, highly efficient multimodal energy harvesting

May 21, 2018

A 10-fold increase in the ability to harvest mechanical and thermal energy over standard piezoelectric composites may be possible using a piezoelectric ceramic foam supported by a flexible polymer support, according to Penn ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

WillieWard
3 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2018
"...it's so dangerous..."
Even so it causes fewer fatalities and less ecological impacts than wind and solar per unit of energy produced.
death/TWh: coal 161.00, oil 36.00, solar 0.44, wind 0.15, hydro 0.10, nuclear 0.0013
https://uploads.d...f0de.jpg
People "have sun, wind,..."
...and fossil fuels to prevent them from freezing in the dark at night or on cloudy/snowy/not-windy days, and which air pollution respects no border and kills millions of people every year.
ChrisMurray
5 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2018
There are so many errors in that sentence above it's hard to know where to start.

1. Your claimed source, NextBigFuture, uses 0.04 for nuclear, not 0.0013. That 0.04 only counts the liquidators, ignoring the additional estimate from the Chernobyl Forum of 5000 fatal cancers eventually among the population of the immediate area. The CF is in turn silent about cancers still further afield.

2. The deaths for coal and oil use LNT to zero. The estimates for nuclear do not. Why is LNT to zero ok to estimate deaths for particulate pollution but not ok to estimate deaths from radiation? Using LNT to zero for nuclear would give a figure of approx. 1.4 deaths per TWh.

3. NextBigFuture has reduced its rooftop solar figure from 0.44 to 0.1.

4. NextBigFuture used Paul Gipe's work for its 0.15 figure for wind. Gipe reduced that figure to 0.032 in 2012.

All of which, using pro-nuke sources, would put nuclear's 1.4 deaths per terawatt hour over ten
times that of solar or wind.
WillieWard
3 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2018
"Remember , the 4000 number is the PREDICTED death count, which was never observed. It was predicted based on the flawed LNT model."
"Indeed, the 2008 UNSCEAR report says the number of future deaths will be "indistinguishable". Might be more than normal, might be less."

There were 3 nuclear incidents, only 1 with victims, meanwhile the deaths caused by fossil fuels(backup for intermittent renewables) never stop.
https://uploads.d...1749.jpg
"Pollution linked to 9 million deaths worldwide in 2015, study says" - Oct 2017
https://edition.c...dex.html
"there were 35 fatalities associated with wind turbines in the United States from 1970 through 2010."
http://cdn.ebaums...deat.jpg
http://www.forbes...ys-paid/
ChrisMurray
3 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2018
UNSCEAR 2008 is very specific that "indistinguishable" does not mean zero. It specifically warns that the "absolute numbers could be substantial".

And the 9 million pollution deaths (a figure I accept) is also a PREDICTED death count, which will also probably never be observed as having been caused by air pollution. And it was predicted based on the "flawed" LNT model. This is a quote from the relevant 2016 WHO report on pollution "Ambient air pollution: A global assessment of exposure and burden of disease:...........Small particle pollution has health impacts even at very low concentrations – indeed no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed."
Why do you keep citing sources that use LNT if you think LNT is flawed?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.