Unusual Place of the Month: Chernobyl

chernobyl nuclear site in nycEver thought of visiting a nuclear power plant? How about one that had a meltdown? Well, think no more. Over twenty years after Chernobyl blew up, you can tour the area. They have been running tours for the last few years to the site of the worst nuclear catastrophe known to man.

The Chernobyl Power Complex, lying 130 km north of Kiev, Ukraine, had a critical meltdown in 1986. The accident destroyed Chernobyl 4 reactor, killing 30 operators and firemen within three months and hundreds more from radiation over the subsequent years. Moreover, large areas of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia were also contaminated to varying degrees. It was a huge disaster for the then Soviet Union.

On April 25th, the reactor crew at Chernobyl 4 began preparing for a test to determine how long turbines would spin and supply power following a loss of main electrical power supply. A series of operator actions preceded the attempted test and by the time that the operator went to shut down the reactor, the reactor was on its way to critical.

A steam explosion released fission products into the atmosphere. About two to three seconds later, a second explosion threw out fragments from the fuel channels and hot graphite into the surrounding area.

It is estimated that all of the xenon gas, about half of the iodine and caesium, and at least 5% of the remaining radioactive material in the reactor core was released in the accident. Most of the material was deposited close by as dust and debris, but the lighter material was carried by wind over the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and to some extent over Scandinavia and Europe.

the petrified radioactive forest

After the explosion, some 45,000 residents were evacuated from the area, notably from the plant operators’ town of Pripyat. This place is now a ghost town and a big part of any Chernobyl tour. On May 4th, all those living within a 30 kilometer radius were evacuated and later relocated. Oddly (and crazily enough) about 1000 people have since returned unofficially to live within the contaminated zone. In the years following the accident, another 210,000 people were resettled into less contaminated areas, and the initial 30 km radius exclusion zone was extended to cover 4300 square kilometers.

If you are so inclined, you can tour the Chernobyl area. Tours cost about $130 – 160 USD and will last a full day, departing and returning to Kiev. Tours leave early in the morning and return around 6 p.m.

On your exciting and really creepy tour, you’ll head to Chernobyl passing Dytyatky, the border into the containment area. At Chernoybal, you get to meeti with the leadership of “Chernobylinterinform” Agency and hear all about the accident. You’ll get to feed some radioactive fish in the cooling channel and then go see reactor #4 covered in concrete. After that, it’s a stop nearby the “Red Forest.” The name comes from the ginger-brown color of the pine trees after they died following the absorption of high levels of radiation. (Good times huh?) Finally, you visit Pripyat, the town they evacuated because of radiation poisoning. There’s nothing here but abandoned homes, cars, and a few crazy people who wanted to move back. After that, its back to the control point for a quick radiation check (try not to glow!) and back to Kiev.

All of the tours do the same thing so the only difference between companies is quality and price. To find out more, you can do a simple Google search but you are better off booking any tour in Kiev as you can probably negotiate your price towards the lower end.

  1. Maxim

    Wow, that’s an unusual place to go! :) I’ve been living in Russia my whole life but have never been to Chernobyl…

    Let me suggest that few pictures would make this post more interesting!

  2. Been, and it’s ace. The town of Pripyat is amazing, though it’s seen a surge of tourism thanks to the fact it’s a map on Call of Duty 4 & they’ve cashed in on the games’ popularity.

  3. I’ve always fancied a visit to Chernobyl, it’ll forever be a man made attraction and I hope they don’t try to renovate it or something, leave it in it’s raw burnt state. I wouldn’t want to spend a week there though.

  4. I personally visited the Chernobyl area for two days in June 2006 with a friend who is a former resident of Pripyat. We toured the Chernobyl Plant (including the Reactor 4 control room), several of the abandoned villages, and Pripyat. I have posted a photo journal of my trip at:

    My Journey to Chernobyl: 20 Years After the Disaster

    The Chernobyl-2 radar site is no longer accessible to visitors.

    I’m heading back to Chernobyl again later this year.

  5. Sebastien

    I’ve been there in 2008 and there is no word to describe that unique experience. You can watch all the pictures and videos online and imagine a lot of things, but when you get in the streets of Prypiat, you really realized what happen there, 20 years ago, and how terrific it should have been for these people.

    I’ve been there with Solo East Travel also, we paid around 150$ each and it was worth every penny, I would recommand it anytime !!

Leave a Comment