Radioactive Tourism: A Trip to Chernobyl
Perhaps when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, no one would have guessed that the area would eventually become a popular tourist attraction.
While it’s still illegal to hike into the irradiated exclusion zone on your own, many guided tours have cropped up as a result of tourists flocking to the Ukraine to visit Chernobyl.
People seeking to explore the exclusion zone pass through a number of guarded checkpoints, starting at 30 kilometers out from the nuclear power plant. Tourists follow trained guides through the exclusion zone to avoid pockets of high radiation. They are also given Geiger counters to measure the ionized radiation levels.
Contrary to popular opinion, Chernobyl is actually not a highly dangerous place to visit. Certainly at the time of the explosion many people died, and many more were exposed to high levels of radiation, but the clean-up efforts sponsored by the Ukrainian government and the United Nations have made the area vastly more secure.
Though the nuclear power plant itself has now been contained in a megalithic structure called the New Safe Confinement Arch, abandoned ghost towns like Pripyat still remain.
In many of the abandoned buildings, household items still remain. You can find old dolls that children used to play with, newspapers scattered on the floor, and even piles of gas masks in some sections of the community buildings.
Pripyat, for example, even contains an iconic abandoned amusement park, complete with bumper cars and a large yellow Ferris wheel. Areas such as this are keys to the past, and they reveal a future that no one at the time saw coming.
The exclusion zone looks undoubtedly similar to the themes present in many video games and movies. Ruinous buildings, overgrowths of foliage taking back the land, and the remnants of an abandoned past have all given inspiration to modern media sets.
If the exclusion zone of Chernobyl did not already seem strange enough, bands of wild horses can sometimes be seen in the hundreds roaming throughout the area. These Przewalski horses were introduced from Mongolia in 1998 to save them from extinction, and to study the effects of radiation.
Almost all of these horses are reportedly healthy, and their numbers continue to grow.
Chernobyl may be one of the most unique tourist destinations in the world. Most people are surprised to learn that the area is open to tourism, assuming that strange diseases will emerge by visiting the exclusion zone.
In fact, with all of the safety procedures in place at Chernobyl, the opposite almost couldn’t be more accurate. Although it’s recommended that tourists mind their steps out in the field, upon returning, specialized machines ensure that irradiated particles aren’t left clinging to the body.
The greatest risk present in the exclusion zone, aside from random pockets of heightened radiation, is actually stepping on a rusty nail in an abandoned building.
With all of this in mind, it’s actually a great time to visit Chernobyl before the natural environment completely reclaims the remaining structures of this Soviet-era region.