There are a few different companies offering tours to the Chernobyl exclusion tour, which is about 2 hours from Kiev. Tours started being offered in 2002. I travelled with Solo East.
On 26 April 1986 an explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster. It wasn’t until a couple of days later when the increased radiation levels were detected at a nuclear power plant in Sweden that the Soviets admitted there had been a radiation leak.
More than half a million workers were involved in the containment and clean up job, many of them later dying of radiation sickness or cancer. Most of them were never officially acknowledged as casualties of the disaster. They built a giant concrete sarcophagus over the top of the reactor. Some of the workers had to clear contaminated material off the reactor roof. They hand-sewed lead onto their clothing to help protect them against the radiation. They were only allowed to work on the roof for 45 seconds, before another worker would run out to take their place. At the end of the job, they got a certificate and the equivalent of about $100.
I had assumed the remaining reactors were switched off after the disaster, but they remained in use until 2000.
Welcome to Chernobyl.
Some people have returned to live within the 30km exclusion zone.
There are stricter rules within the 10km zone. No one is allowed to live there. Within the zone, you’re not allowed to touch anything or put cameras or bags on the ground. The background radiation level is less than what you would be exposed to on an international flight, the danger comes from particles of radioactive materials that you don’t want to get on your clothes.
Abandoned houses in Chernobyl town.
We also stopped at an abandoned kindergarten.
You know it’s time to leave when your gnome’s eyes start glowing green.
Then we approached the reactor itself. I was surprised at how close you can get to it – about 300 metres away from reactor 4. The sarcophagus was designed to last 30 years, until 2016. Work is underway on building a new dome to completely encase the old sarcophagus. It is scheduled to be finished in 2016.
And then it was on to Pripyat, the satellite city created when the reactor was built in 1970. It had been home to around 50,000 people. The inhabitants of Pripyat were evacuated the day after the explosion and the town has been abandoned ever since.
We had a walk down the main street, looked at a hotel, supermarket, the palace of culture and the amusement park, with the iconic abandoned ferris wheel and dodgem cars. You’re not allowed to go inside any of the buildings, as the floor of one of the buildings collapsed in 2012, injuring several tourists.
When you’re leaving the zone, you have to pass through compulsory radiation checks. This involved putting your hands on machines that looked like metal detectors. The tour guide said about twice a year, radiation is detected on someone. Usually their shoes, which have to be decontaminated.
Fortunately everyone in our group got to keep their shoes.
The exclusion zone is a strange and sad place. One of the most fascinating places I’ve visited.