Can I visit Chernobyl

How safe is Chernobyl for tourists?

From TRAVELBOOK | May 12, 2020, 1:21 p.m.

Although the Geiger counter is still ticking, Chernobyl has become a popular travel destination in recent years. It is estimated that 70,000 tourists visited the radioactively contaminated restricted area in Ukraine in 2018. In 2ß19 there was a further increase in bookings of 30 to 40 percent, among other things thanks to the American hit series “Chernobyl”. But how safe is a trip to the restricted area today, decades after the reactor disaster? TRAVELBOOK followed up with experts.

Abandoned houses, schools and kindergartens, a swimming pool that no one has swam in for decades, an amusement park with a rusted ferris wheel - despite the morbid backdrop, the ghost town of Pripyat in the Chernobyl restricted area is attracting more and more visitors. Until the reactor accident on April 26, 1986 and the subsequent evacuation, around 50,000 people lived in Pripyat. The city was built especially for the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant four kilometers away.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

The first disaster, the explosion of reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, had devastating effects. In Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, an area with a total area of ​​150,000 square kilometers was radioactively contaminated. 330,000 people had to be brought to safety. In the same year, a restricted zone with a radius of 30 kilometers was set up around the damaged reactor.

34 years after the nuclear disaster, the ghost town of Pripyat and the so-called New Safe Confinement, the new protective cover over the old sarcophagus, are among the main tourist attractions in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The area, which is still radioactively contaminated, may only be visited as part of official, guided tours. But how dangerous is a visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone?

Radiation dose and precautions

"An organized, officially approved tour is harmless to health," assures Sven Dokter, spokesman for the Society for Plant and Reactor Safety (GRS) in Cologne, when asked by TRAVELBOOK. According to the Ukraine, the participants would receive a radiation dose of up to 0.004 millisievert. “That is still well below the dose that you would get from a flight from Frankfurt to Kiev,” explains Dokter, citing another example: “For example, if around 1000 nanosieverts are measured in front of the former cultural center in Prypiat, you would have to go to 1000 there Staying hours to get a radiation dose of one millisievert. This corresponds to the German limit value for the additional dose that a single person may receive per year through the use of radiation, for example in industry or research. ”Therefore, staying in the Chernobyl exclusion zone for several days does not pose a health risk.

Burkhard Heuel-Fabianek, Head of Safety and Radiation Protection at Forschungszentrum Jülich, strongly advises against staying in the exclusion zone without observing radiation protection and without a professionally trained guide. "Typically, the so-called local dose in the exclusion zone, i.e. the radiation exposure at a certain location, is 0.002 to 0.05 millisieverts per hour," says Heuel-Fabianek when asked by TRAVELBOOK. This would have been shown by measurements by the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection and by Ukrainian specialists in 2016. However, higher values ​​of up to 0.2 millisievert per hour have also been measured in isolated cases. “Places with such high values ​​must be avoided on guided tours with tourists,” warns Heuel-Fabianek.

Visitors should always adhere to the instructions and rules for staying in the exclusion zone. “At checkpoints in the exclusion zone, a number of precautionary checks are carried out to determine whether there are radioactive particles on the clothing or shoes of the visitors. Souvenir hunters are strongly advised not to take objects, stones or other 'found objects' with them, ”says Heuel-Fabianek. Although the pollution caused by the reactor disaster has decreased, the exclusion zone is not a place where one should be without precautionary measures and without expert supervision. Day trips to the Chernobyl exclusion zone usually start by bus in Kiev and cost around 100 US dollars.

 

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Brown bears and wolves in the "Red Forest"

In addition to the city of Pripyat and the New Safe Confinement, many Chernobyl tours also include a visit to the so-called “Red Forest”. The pine forest near the damaged reactor was hit particularly hard by the disaster. Due to the high radiation dose, not only did the trees die, but most of the animals also perished. In the meantime the fauna in the “Red Forest” has recovered. Brown bears, bison, wolves, lynxes, Przewalski horses and more than 200 species of birds live here.

Why go to Chernobyl at all?

Chernobyl is certainly not one of the classic travel destinations from the glossy prospectus. Nevertheless, tens of thousands travel to the restricted area every year - and for different reasons. “It certainly has a 'horror factor' for many visitors. Others, on the other hand, simply want to visit a 'something different' destination, ”says Ornella Carlone from the travel portal Urlaubspiraten when asked by TRAVELBOOK.

Also interesting: the most contaminated city in the world

For some, it also plays a role to be able to show the visit to this extraordinary place on Instagram and other social media channels and to share it with friends and family. “Ultimately, you have to say that this place offers an impressive glimpse into the past and is therefore a great and exciting place for every photographer. We are also seeing a growing trend in terms of lost and abandoned places in general, ”Carlone said.

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