The explosion at the Chernobyl power plant on April 26, 1986 is considered the worst nuclear disaster in human history.
Now, 33 years later, tourists are finally being allowed to set foot inside the highly-contaminated control room of Chernobyl’s Reactor 4.
Given that radiation levels in the room are 40,000 times higher than normal, there are some constraints: tourists must wear protective gear and will only be allowed inside the room for five minutes at a time.
After leaving, the brave souls that did enter will be subjected to two radiology tests to measure their exposure.
According to CNN, the Ukranian government is developing new tourist routes around the site, with added walkways and checkpoints. The decision to open up more of the site to tourism comes after Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree in July designating Chernobyl an official tourist attraction.
He was at the inauguration of a gigantic dome – 108m high and weighing 36,000 tonnes – designed to keep the harmful radioactive material contained.
‘We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life,’ Zelensky said at the time
‘Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it.’
After the disaster in April 1986, a 1,000 square-mile exclusion zone was set up around the Chernobyl power plant. That included the city of Pripyat, a city built for the power plants workers which is now one of the most famous ghost towns in the world.
The result is a wilderness untouched by humans for over three decades.
In fact, researchers have begun to take an interest in how the area is developing. It was assumed that nothing would be able to survive the high levels of radiation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The TREE (TRansfer-Exposure-Effects) project, led by Nick Beresford, from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, set up 42 motion-tripped cameras in the exclusion zone. The project has been monitoring animals in the environment for years and has captured evidence of large mammals like brown bears, bison, wolves, lynxes and horses in the area.
‘The CEZ (Chernobyl Exclusion Zone) could be the best area in Ukraine where a large free population of the European bison could be established,’ wrote one of the project’s Ukrainian collaborators in a study explaining their findings.
If tourism does return to Chernobyl in big numbers, it may pose a threat to the reestablishment of these creatures.
Radiation is still a real threat (the accident leaked 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima explosion into the area) but researchers say the wilderness it created should be used for future study.