Monday marks the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The disaster, which instantly changed the fate of millions of people and turned huge areas of Belarus and Ukraine into an exclusion zone for years. However, the land, which 35 years ago became a symbol of grief and sorrow, is now relatively open to visitors. On the eve of the anniversary of the fatal accident, TUT.BY photojournalist Dmitry Brushko visited the site of the tragedy.
Despite the fact that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant does not generate electricity, there are those who work at the station, and live in Chernobyl. They are mainly workers of the zone and personnel of the Chernobyl NPP. There are also so-called self-settlers, who are drawn to places abandoned in a hurry many years ago, and stalkers infiltrating the zone. The latter are attracted by the romance of the Chernobyl zone, fueled by computer games and works of science fiction writers.
It is not difficult to get to the places of the Chernobyl tragedy today. The exclusion zone is available to tourists absolutely legally. The cost of a one-day tour with a visit to places such as the city of Chernobyl, “Red Forest”, the radar station “Duga-1”, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the city of Pripyat is about $100. There are also longer tours of two, four and five days.
The first tourists were able to officially visit the exclusion zone back in 2004, and regular tourist routes were launched in 2012. Interest in Chernobyl and the surrounding ghost town of Pripyat, located near Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus, has also inspired a tourist wave to the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. In 2019 alone, 130 thousand tourists passed the tourist route. Of these, 100 thousand are foreigners.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant doesn’t operate now. Work is underway to decommission the station. The New Safe Confinement dome, which took nearly a decade to build, replaced a leaky sarcophagus rushed into place after Reactor 4 exploded just before 1:30 a.m. on 26 April. A new repository for nuclear waste coming from all Ukrainian nuclear power plants is under construction at the station. Two thousand people work at the station, and three thousand employees of the zone and the nuclear power plant live in Chernobyl.
130 self-settlers live in Chernobyl and its environs. There are shops, a House of Culture, a cinema, hotels and a church in the city. The current territory of the exclusion zone is about 2,600 hectares. Part of it will never be fully safe for human habitation, since the half-life of one of the plutonium isotopes, which is the most radiotoxic element, is 24 thousand years.
Tourists can stay in the zone for up to five days without health consequences. Despite freely visit sites, stalkers come here all the time. Illegal tourists risk their own and other people’s health. Indeed, there are many radioactive “spots” on the territory of the Chernobyl zone, and walking around the zone, one can be exposed to radiation and take out radioactive dust on their clothes. On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in the territory of the zone, most of the highways used for economic activities were renewed.