Chernobyl as a travel destination

Chernobyl as a travel destination


 About 30 years ago a flawed reactor design in combination with some serious human mistakes led to an accident at the No.4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukrainian SSR. It became the worst nuclear disaster in history and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and the evacuation of about 110 000 more. Ever since then it has been a subject of an on-going scientific debate, a main theme in numerous literary and cinematic works and more recently a popular tourist destination that has seen more than 80 000 tourists in the last year.

 Chernobyl Overview

 The Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant consisted of 4 RBMK reactors and by the time of the accident was generating about 10% of Ukraine’s electricity. The infamous disaster happened at reactor No. 4 on Saturday 26 April 1986 during a safety test. The test had to be run by unexperienced staff, which in combination with the violation of a few safety protocols, led to power surge and therefore a chain reaction of explosions including the core itself, releasing radioactive material in the atmosphere. The accident went unannounced for two days and it was actually Sweden that first alarmed about it. The nearby town of Pripyat was evacuated, firefighters and workers eventually managed to distinguish the fires, but the impacts of the disaster were inevitable. About 30 people died almost immediately after and more than 100 were injured. It is still debatable what is the number of people whose health was somehow affected by the accident. It also resulted in the creation of a 10-kilometre radius exclusion zone which, according to experts will not be inhabitable for at least 3 000 years.

Facts and myths

The Chernobyl disaster was undoubtedly a historical event which had a lasting impact in our world and culture and it is therefore understandable that there are many myths, legends and even jokes surrounding it. Among the ones you have most probably heard are the unusual mutations happening in the region, like people with 15 fingers, three-eyed squirrels and running mushrooms. Such exaggerations are far from the truth, although scientists have noticed some genetic changes in the affected organisms, as well as higher levels in albinism and cataracts. Unquestionable fact is also the boom of wildlife, like brown bears, wolves, lynxes, in the area due to the lack of human activity. Studies have shown that the number of insects, on the other hand, has dropped in the area. While on the subject of animals, we should also mention that one of the strongest scenes in HBO’s Chernobyl series where stray and domestic animals are being hunted and killed is in fact true and Soviet squads were actually ordered to do so.
There is an interesting legend also connected to the days prior to the accident when people have reported seeing a humanoid creature famous as the “blackbird of Chernobyl” which correlates to the myth of Mothman in West Virginia folklore and is thought to be a prophecy of something bad happening.

Visiting Chernobyl today

Some thirty years after the accident Chernobyl has a new role – as a popular and sought –after travel experience and has seen more than 80 000 tourists in 2019. For now, it is allowed to visit only as a part of an organized tour. The president of Ukraine has however talked about the plan to turn Chernobyl into official tourist site with walking trails, better mobile reception and the ban for filming lifted. Though there are some regions with higher radiation levels than others, it is estimated that the exposure during a visit to Chernobyl is pretty much the same as taking a long flight.
The rise of tourism in the region in the last years is illustrative of two interesting travel tendencies: firstly, the overall rise of interest in dark tourism, which is characterized by visiting places associated with death and tragedy. It also shows how popular culture changes our behavior since the number of Chernobyl visitors has risen noticeably after HBO hit series about the accident.

What to expect on a Chernobyl tour?

Seeing Chernobyl for yourself is a unique and eye-opening experience and now there are many opportunities to do so once you get to Kiev, since a lot of companies offer one-, two- or even three-day tours from there. Most of them include the ghost town of Pripyat, where you can see the ruins of a town once full of life and built to be a model Soviet city. One of the highlights here is the eerie amusement park, which was actually never officially opened. Among the other interesting places are the enormous “Duga” radar, which was a secret military object used as an early-warning system against ballistic missile and Canteen 19 where the people working for the cleanup eat now and where the engineers at the reactor used to.

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