Last December, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Belarus opened its doors for anyone willing to see the dead lands first-hand. Since then about 80 tourists, most of them are foreigners, have visited it.
“Yesterday we walked around the resettled villages, went into empty houses,” the guide of the tourist group describes the first day of the excursion.
Today, seven daredevils woke up early in the morning to come from Khoiniki, where they spent the night, to the Polesye State Radiation and Ecological Reserve.
None of them are wearing any special shoes or clothes. The radiation dose during a 7-8 hours tour is less than the one gets during a two-hour flight by plane.
The main thing is to comply with all radiation safety rules – don’t put things on the ground and don’t drink from open water sources. During these excursions, travelers are allowed only to the cleanest areas.
Those interested in the history of disasters, and extreme tourism are attracted by the atmosphere of abandonment, wildlife and radiation itself. Soon tourists will be given special gadgets to see what dose of radiation one gets during the trip.
In the meantime, a group of foreign visitors climbs into the UAZ, the main transport of the local roads. They have seven hours of travel ahead of them and several villages on their way.
Journalists have their own way. We start from the Maidan checkpoint and go to the first settlement which is in 50 kilometers. Behind the windows of the bus is a dense forest.
If you don’t know, you can hardly say that 30 years ago this territory was affected by the world’s worst industrial nuclear disaster. There was always an interest in visiting the zone.
In Ukraine, for example, such excursions have been held for ten years. About 60,000 tourists visit the Chernobyl zone there every year.
Belarusian side has no Pripyat or power stations to visit, untouched nature and uniqueness of the territory is our thing.
For four and a half months, 16 groups have visited the dead lands of Belarus. Most of them are from Poland. There were visitors from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and the USA.
“The Russians called the other day asking whether they can come with a family. Yes, you can but leave the kids at home, we answered,” recalls the conversation Maxim Kudin.
The deputy director for scientific work at the Polesye Radiation and Ecological Reserve warns: “Age for excursions is 18+.”
$25−$30 per person
Tourists are offered two routes, the length of each is about 150 kilometers. There are 4-6 villages in the route, more precisely – resettled settlements. Each of them has its own features.
In Krasnosel’e, there is a 35m fire observation tower. Climb it and you will see the 4th unit. Go to Orevichi stretched along the Pripyat to visit an abandoned pumping station.
There are two ways of getting into the exclusion zone – the first one is via a travel agency or booking an excursion via the Reserve. Mind that one will have to wait 3-4 days for approval.
Even if one is ready to pay 340–350 BYN ($170-175), this is the price of the seven-hour excursion, he/she will still have to wait. The average price of the guided tour for one person is BYN 50−60 ($25-$30).
Most often, people come to the zone in groups. The price of the tour is divided between the participants. However, if there are more than 10 visitors, the price rises to BYN 550−570 ($275-$285).
The price includes transport, escort, and radiation control of the skin and clothing that needs to be passed at the end of the tour. In addition, a person can get overalls and a respirator.
Stick to the safe zone
We stop at Dranki. Officially, it’s an evacuated settlement, more simply, a ghost village. A back street with old dumpy houses gutted by looters. 232 people lived here before the accident.
“All these 30 years the buildings were left unattended,” says Maxim Kudin. “In order to keep everything safe, specialists of each village found several sturdy and safe buildings.
Besides houses, there are also a cattle-breeding complex, a ferry crossing. During the tour, experts always ask people not to deviate from the route.”
In fact, it is difficult to follow the route, the doors of the houses are open for you. But there’s a moment. The contract one signs buying a tour says “the reserve is not viable for your well-being.”
How safe is the route? The further along the route, the greater is the dose rate. Here it is 2–6 times higher the natural gamma mapping occurrence.
“Yesterday we were in Solnechy village. At the end of the tour, the device showed 0.15 µSv. During X-rays, a person receives a dose 3-4 times higher,” Peter Nikolayenko explains in numbers.
“Don’t forget that people work here. Each of them carries a monitor device that counts the dose a person receives. The standard one for staff is 5 mSv (5000 µSv). To my knowledge, no one ever gained that much.”
“You are clean,” says a decontamination station employee at the end of the tour after checking our skin and clothes for radiation.