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Glow of pride as Chernobyl nuclear site opens for tourism

July 12, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

What do you do with the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, when the place is still radioactive?

Turn it into a tourist attraction, Ukraine’s president has decided – and tour operators may be able to make use of a proposed new electronic ticket.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian television comedian who scored a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election in April, has signed a decree making Chernobyl an official tourist attraction.

The decree lays out plans for new walking trails and better mobile phone reception.

Chernobyl, site of a disastrous nuclear reactor explosion in April 1986, has been an unofficial attraction for some time. Local touts can smuggle you in. The usual social media “influencers” drape themselves around various relics of the disaster to take selfies.

The Chernobyl exclusion zone even offers visitors a 42-room hostel/guesthouse, complete with free Wi-Fi. The décor is agreeable, if you’re into single beds with vaguely leopard-skin-pattern bedspreads. See: Chernobyl guesthouse awaits glowing reviews

The damage to Reactor 4 following the explosions

Opinions differ on whether Chernobyl is safe to visit. After the reactor explosion, radiation levels in the worst-hit areas of the reactor building, including the control room, were estimated at 300Sv/hr, delivering a fatal dose in just over a minute.

Outlying areas had lower radiation levels, however, and some consider the site is now relatively safe for those who are spending only a short time there – like tourists.

“Just don’t lick anything,” one scientist commented.

Others reckon the promotion of tourism in Chernobyl is irresponsible.

“Chernobyl has been a negative part of Ukraine’s brand,” Zelensky admitted, in what most people would consider an understatement.

Stellan Skarsgård and Jared Harris in Chernobyl (2019)

“The time has come to change this,” he said, according to a BBC report.

At least 31 people were killed immediately after the reactor explosion, which sent a radioactive plume across Europe. UN figures show that almost 50,000 square kilometres of land were contaminated.

“We will create a green corridor for tourists,” Zelensky said on Wednesday. “Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature [has been] reborn after a huge man-made disaster.”

Monument to the brave Chernobyl clean-up teams

“We have to show this place to the world: to scientists, ecologists, historians [and] tourists.”

Making the zone official for tourism will let authorities introduce an electronic ticket system for visitors, to prevent scalping. This should enable organised visits to be included in tour itineraries.

“The exclusion zone is also a symbol of corruption,” Zelensky explained. “This includes bribes that law enforcers collect from tourists. We will stop all of this very soon.”

The reactor core is still highly radioactive and is shielded by an enormous USD 1.7 billion dome, designed to prevent further radioactive material leaking out. The radioactivity will long outlast the dome – the reactor core will be radioactive for about 20,000 years.

The sudden surge in Chernobyl’s popularity owes much to the phenomenal success of the new historical mini-series “Chernobyl”, produced by HBO in association with Sky UK. The highly realistic drama depicts the nuclear disaster and the unprecedented clean-up efforts that followed.

The mini-series brought social media influencers rushing to the real Chernobyl.

The mini-series hit the news recently when a UK actress and screenwriter suggested on social media that the show’s creators should have chosen more “people of colour” for the cast. The suggestion gained little support and was widely mocked, with critics pointing out that 1980s Ukraine was not exactly a multicultural melting pot.

For more on that, see the latter part of: Outrage erupts over Alitalia’s blackface ad for new route

Written by Peter Needham

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