July 12, 2024

Visiting Chernobyl: Your Guide to One of the Most Radioactive Places on Earth

When you’re thinking of dream holiday destinations, visiting Chernobyl might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, this mysterious city, abandoned for years, is the ideal destination for intrepid explorers, history lovers, and adventurous holidaymakers. If you want to explore a location that’s totally unique, read on to find out everything you need to know about visiting Chernobyl.

Where Is Chernobyl?

Located in Vyshhorod, Chernobyl is a city in Ukraine. Approximately 90 km north of the country’s capital, Kiev, Chernobyl was once a thriving urban environment, with around 60,000 residents living in the area and 49,000 people living in the nearby town of Pripyat. Now, however, only 1,000 people live in Chernobyl and its outskirts, some of whom work maintaining the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

What Is Chernobyl Known For?

In 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant became the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster when a combination of design flaws in an RMBK reactor and improper safety tests led to an explosion. Due to the subsequent spread of radioactive materials, the city and surrounding areas were swiftly evacuated, with thousands forced to leave their homes, businesses, and workplaces.

In response to the disaster, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation, or the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was created. Spanning 1,000 square miles, the Zone restricted access to the areas with the highest levels of radioactivity.

Is It Safe to Visit Chernobyl?

Yes. Since the explosion, extensive efforts have been made to contain radioactive material and prevent it from spreading. In 2017, new structures were created and placed atop the site of the explosion to replace the concrete sarcophagus that had previously mitigated the radioactive material. Additionally, buildings have been torn down, wood removed, and topsoil excavated in an effort to eradicate radioactive materials from the area.

This, as well as the passage of time, has reduced the amount of radioactivity in Chernobyl and surrounding areas. While it remains one of the most radioactive places in the world, visitors are routinely given Geiger counters to monitor their exposure to radioactivity.

However, if you’re planning on visiting Chernobyl, you’ll want to do so safely, and this means travelling with an official tour. With a professional guide on hand, you’ll be taken to the most interesting – and safest – parts of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and only be in the area for a limited period of time to maximise safety.

Upon leaving, you’ll pass through a radiation checkpoint that confirms you haven’t been exposed to dangerous materials for too long and your tour guide will check your personal radiation meter to verify how much radiation you’ve been exposed to. For most people, taking an official tour of Chernobyl means you’ll be exposed to around the same amount of radiation as you would on an hour’s flight, so you won’t need to worry too much about safety, providing you follow your tour guide’s instructions.

Why Visit Chernobyl?

Taking a trip to the site of disaster might not seem like an obvious choice for a holiday but you’d be surprised at how popular Chernobyl is with tourists. The abandoned towns offer an insight into the history of Ukraine and enable visitors to wander through the eerily quiet streets and explore abandoned settlements that were once home to thousands of people.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nature has reclaimed Chernobyl since the area was evacuated and the town is now home to a wide variety of fauna and plants, with forests growing in the once thriving urban environment and animals settling in the abandoned streets.

Exploring Chernobyl

If you plan on visiting Chernobyl, you’ll need to book a tour. Most of these begin in Kiev and involve a journey by road of around 1-1.5 hours. After passing through a checkpoint and picking up your radiation meter, you’ll proceed to Chernobyl. The city is a confounding mix of abandoned buildings and busy stores. Now that around 1,000 people have returned to live here, there are basic amenities, shops, and even hotels for daring tourists who want to enjoy a multi-day trip when visiting Chernobyl.

While the itinerary for each tour differs, most take guests to see the Monument of the Third Angel and the Star Wormwood memorial, as well as the Monument to the Chernobyl Liquidators at the Chernobyl Fire Department.

After a short drive into the forested area, you’ll be allowed to depart from the bus and scale one of the most secretive structures in the region: the Duga ‘Woodpecker’ Radar. Built as part of an early-warning missile defence system during the Cold War, the Radar is 150m high and 700m, and shrouded by trees to keep its location secret.

From here, most tours will take you to Kopachi Town, where you can visit an abandoned Kindergarten. It’s in these environments that the true human impact of the disaster becomes apparent and the eeriness that is ever-present becomes most poignant.

Visiting Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

Of course, all tours stop at the Nuclear Power Plant itself, where you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about what the Plant was used for and how the infamous disaster happened. As well as stopping for lunch in a modern Canteen 19 (complete with walk-through radioactivity monitor!), you’ll be given a tour of the site of reactor four to see the new confinement structure that has been built over it.

After finishing your tour of the Plant, you’ll be taken to the nearby city of Pripyat. An abandoned amusement park and football stadium, now overtaken by forestry, are popular sites here, as are the port and infirmary.

Planning a Tour of Chernobyl

Visiting Chernobyl is undoubtedly a memorable experience and one that you’ll share with others for years to come. Whether you’re holidaying in Kiev and take a day trip to the abandoned city, or you travel to Ukraine specifically to tour Chernobyl, you won’t be disappointed. The unsettling environment, combined with the remaining structures, gives you a glimpse into one of the world’s most notable historical events and allow you to experience the aftermath. Truly one for your bucket list, visiting Chernobyl might just be one of your greatest trips yet.

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