Since 1986 and for more than 20 years after it, only those people who had to deal with nuclear energy, radioactive waste or had scientific interest were allowed to enter Chernobyl exclusion zone. In 2011, Ukrainian authorities permitted visits with sightseeing and educational aims. In less than 10 years, zone became popular touristic destination. In 2019, it was visited by more than 100,000 people from all over the world. Why is it so attractive and, actually, is Chernobyl safe to visit?
What Makes It Safe to Visit Chernobyl
Maximum safety can be achieved by taking official tour. In this case, the visitors are provided with a certified guide, insurance, necessary information and additional tools to assure their safety.
Before opening the area for visiting, authorities had to develop routes and rules to make sure that the visitors wouldn’t be exposed to high levels of radiation and be safe. Today, there are 21 official Chernobyl routes. All of them were made taking into consideration not only if the place is interesting to visit or not, but also the level of radiation there. Administration decides with help of the maps of contamination that were made by dosimetrists if it’s secure to include the location into the route or not. Compliance with the route in one-day tour allows to accumulate a dose equal to one hour of flight – 0,3 μSv/h (microsieverts per hour). Every visitor can control his or her dose, because when entering the zone they are provided with personal dosimeters (however, they don’t measure the background, they accumulate only). Besides being safe, it’s just interesting to see how the digits on the screen change as you spend more and more hours in the zone.
Taking a guided tour, visitors will always have a person who is authorized by Chernobyl administration to do the job. Every guide has proper training, takes several exams and signs a contract. You’ll receive all the information from them, including the instructions how to stay safe there. Moreover, if you don’t bring your own tools for measuring radiation, your guide will always have a Geiger counter.
When leaving both 10 and 30km zones, you’ll have radiation check to make sure that you’re not carrying any particles on you. Special machines will scan you and in a few seconds will display whether you’re “clean” or picked up any “souvenirs”. Contamination with particles occurs very seldom and if it happens, usually it is a about shoes. The issue can be solved by washing the shoe soles.
What You Can Do to Increase Your Protection
Start from choosing proper clothes. On one hand, you’ll not be allowed to enter zone if you wear shorts or sandals, for example. Even in summer. Clothes protect us from α and β-radiation. These particles can be stopped even with thin textile. So, when visiting Chernobyl, you have to wear clothes that cover your body as much as possible. Pay extra attention to the shoes and trousers, as long your feet and ankles will always be close to the ground. On the other hand, comfortable shoes will be useful as you will walk a lot. There might be broken glass, metal constructions on the ground and tress’ routs, so hiking shoes will be a good choice for exploring Chernobyl area. And you don’t have to throw or burn your clothes after visiting Chernobyl, by the way. Simple washing is enough.
It would be nice to have wet wipes. The day in the zone is interesting and tiring at the same time. If you bring any snacks, make sure that your hands are clean before eating. The risk of picking up any particles on your hands is extremely low nowadays, but it is better to be on the safe side. The access to running water is not that high there, so bring some wet wipes with you. Hand sanitizer will not be helpful here. It will kill the bacteria, but will not remove the particles if you have any.
Free From Danger, Full of Impressions
Exclusion zone can literally satisfy every traveler. The whole area is 2,600 km², so you can be sure to find exactly what you like.
In one-day tour, visitors usually see several locations. Vast majority of the area remains uninhabited since 1986, so it can be an opportunity to see unique old houses before the nature takes over. Also, you visit Chernobyl town. It is located 10 km far from the power plant and, as the only exception, it is not abandoned. Administrative facilities and some other important institutions are located there.
If the 30km zone is more about villages and generally rural experience, 10 km one takes back to the times of the Soviet Union. Firstly, it offers seeing military radar Duga and secret town Chernobyl-2. Also, you see the power plant and later have a couple of hours of walking in the ghost city of Pripyat. After the accident, 50,000 of its inhabitants were evacuated in less than three hours.
Because of radiation, the area is free of economic activity now. Only the facilities that deal with radioactive waste make an exception. Zone is a place to see shriving nature, the decay of civilization and to get educational experience.
Forest Fires and Coronavirus: When Will Chernobyl Be Safe to Visit?
In April 2020, exclusion zone was hit by severe forest fires. Radioactive particles that were accumulated by trees were released into the air as the wood burnt. Local administration reported: level of γ-radiation was within safe limits, however, activity of β-radiation (particles) increased for a short time. Warm and dry April was followed by rainy March. Rain prevented the dust and ash from being blown away by the wind. Moreover, particles seeped along with the water into the soil. In the end of May 2020, the levels of radioactivity came back to normal and safe as for the zone.
Other concern might be related to the situation around coronavirus. From June 1st, the zone is open after more than two month of quarantine again. Authorities developed additional measures to keep every visitor safe. Everyone will have body temperature check, will have to wear mask (the guides too), number of people in each group will be limited. Also, each group will have different order of locations visited and there will be no crowds.
So, is it safe to go to Chernobyl? Yes, it is. When? Now!