Eerie images from the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster still haunt us 30 years later. What is Chernobyl like today?
On April 26, 1986, a safety test gone wrong led to an explosion in reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. (At the time, Pripyat was part of the USSR.) Several factors then conspired to result in an unprecedented, widespread scattering of over 100 radioactive elements into the surrounding towns and cities.
First off, RBMK reactors, like the ones at Chernobyl, don’t have containment structures like concrete and steel domes. Second, the fire resulting from the explosion burned for almost ten days and further destroyed the building surrounding the reactor. And finally, once air was able to enter the core of the reactor, graphite blocks, meant to moderate reactions in a working reactor, also caught fire.
In the hours, days, and weeks after the explosion, radioactive elements including plutonium, iodine, strontium, and caesium contaminated a region of roughly 150,000 square kilometers in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Carried by the wind, these elements were later detected as far away as Sweden and Finland and across the northern hemisphere.
PRIPYAT AND THE CHERNOBYL EXCLUSION ZONE
The entire population of Pripyat, home to about 50,000 people and only three kilometers (about 1.8 miles) away, was evacuated. But the evacuation didn’t happen until 36 hours after the explosion. Many didn’t understand the magnitude of the disaster and thought they’d only be gone for a few days. They were not permitted to bring many belongings, including family pets, for fear of contamination. Their hasty exit left a town that today appears frozen in time: a doll lying atop rusted playground equipment, supermarkets taken over by nature, and a ferris wheel stopped for good.
In the weeks and months that followed the explosion, an estimated 120,000 to 200,000 people in total were evacuated across a region known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which covers everything within a 30 kilometer radius of the site, or roughly 1000 square miles.
Chernobyl to become official tourist attraction, Ukraine says
(CNN) — Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster which resulted in thousands of deaths, is to become an official tourist attraction, Ukraine’s president has announced.
Once at the centre of a 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone, Chernobyl has seen a sharp rise in visitors since an HBO mini-series about the tragedy aired earlier this year. And according to President Volodymyr Zelensky, it is now time for a different narrative surrounding the site.
«We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life,» Zelensky said as he signed a decree on Wednesday. «Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it.»
On April 26 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, forcing a region-wide evacuation and sending radioactive fallout billowing across Europe. While the explosion itself caused around 31 deaths, millions of people were exposed to dangerous radiation levels.
The final death toll as a result of long-term radiation exposure is much disputed. Although the UN predicted up to 9,000 related cancer deaths back in 2005, Greenpeace later estimated up to 200,000 fatalities, taking further health problems connected to the disaster into account.
For more than two decades, authorities maintained the exclusion zone around the reactor, including the city of Pripyat, once home to 50,000 people.
While many might imagine the region as bleak and desolate, the president praised its environmental regeneration.
Accordig to the decree issued by the president, the makeover will involve developing new tourist routes including waterways, building new checkpoints and restoring and upgrading existing ones.
«Groundless restrictions and prohibitions» such as the ban on filming will be abolished while mobile communication will be improved.
Ivanchuk’s company took 11,000 visitors to the region last year and has seen a 40 per cent rise in interest since HBO’s Chernobyl aired.
He said the absence of human inhabitants has allowed nature to flourish in the area. Only about 150 elderly people still live in the 19-mile radius exclusion zone, in defiance of authorities. Officials say it will only be safe for humans to live there again in 24,000 years, according to AFP, although with the right paperwork tourists can visit for short periods.
«There’s no hunting or fishing there so wildlife is booming,» Ivanchuk told CNN.
«Animals that left the area years ago are starting to come back like eagles, wolves and moose. Lynx were recently spotted there for the first time in more than 50 years.»
But Olena Burdo, a junior researcher at the radiobiology and radioecology department of the Kyiv Institute for Nuclear Research, did not welcome the government move.
More scientific research and funds for radiobiological study was needed, she told CNN, adding: «But we don’t need so many tourists.»