Overview of Chernobyl
Chernobyl is an area spread across Ukraine and Belarus. In 1986 is became infamous due to the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station which was the worst disaster in the history of nuclear power generation. The Chernobyl power station was situated at the settlement of Pryp’yat, 10 miles (16 km) northwest of the city of Chernobyl and 65 miles (104 km) north of Kyiv, Ukraine. The station consisted of four reactors, each capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of electric power; it had come online in 1977–83. Today, the exclusion zone is a popular hotspot for dark tourists, urbex fanatics, and photographers.
Why Visit Chernobyl?
The Chernobyl exclusion zone and its ghost city of Pripyat was once a gem in the crown of the Soviet Union, today they stand as an eerie reminder of the consequences of nuclear disasters. Despite being an irradiated shell of its former glory, Chernobyl is beautiful, fascinating, and unique in regards to its flora and fauna. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and surrounding areas are safe to visit. The levels of radiation on guided tours are very small; radiation levels in most places are less than those of a trans-Atlantic flight.
Reserved for the most adventurous of travelers, the exclusion zone that spreads across Ukraine and Belarus boasts the chance to experience a Soviet world trapped in 1986, it’s inhabitants now replaced with the animals of Chernobyl who have slowly taken over the abandoned areas and found a radioactive paradise for themselves. Inside you can explore shipwrecks, abandoned military bases, ghost cities, and gigantic radar systems which once acted as a safeguard against nuclear warfare during the cold war and much more. Chernobyl today is now the poster child for what is often termed “dark tourism”.
The Story of the Chernobyl Disaster
The Chernobyl disaster was caused by a nuclear accident that occurred on Saturday 26 April 1986, at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history and was caused by one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at seven.
The accident started during a safety test on an RBMK-type nuclear reactor, which was commonly used throughout the Soviet Union. The test was a simulation of an electrical power outage to aid the development of a safety procedure for maintaining reactor cooling water circulation until the back-up electrical generators could provide power. This gap was about one minute and had been identified as a potential safety problem that could cause the nuclear reactor core to overheat. It was hoped to prove that the residual rotational energy in a turbine generator could provide enough power to cover the gap. Three such tests had been conducted since 1982, but they had failed to provide a solution. On this fourth attempt, an unexpected 10-hour delay meant that an unprepared operating shift was on duty.
During the planned decrease of reactor power in preparation for the electrical test, the power unexpectedly dropped to a near-zero level. The operators were able to only partially restore the specified test power, which put the reactor in a potentially unstable condition. This risk was not made evident in the operating instructions, so the operators proceeded with the electrical test. Upon test completion, the operators triggered a reactor shutdown, but a combination of unstable conditions and reactor design flaws caused an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction instead.
A large amount of energy was suddenly released, vaporizing superheated cooling water and rupturing the reactor core in a highly destructive steam explosion. This was immediately followed by an open-air reactor core fire that released considerable airborne radioactive contamination for about nine days that precipitated onto parts of the USSR and Western Europe, before being finally contained on 4 May 1986. The fire gradually released about the same amount of contamination as the initial explosion. As a result of rising ambient radiation levels off-site, a 10-kilometer (6.2 mi) radius exclusion zone was created 36 hours after the accident. About 49,000 people were evacuated from the area, primarily from Pripyat. The exclusion zone was later increased to 30 kilometers (19 mi) radius when a further 68,000 people were evacuated from the wider area.
The reactor explosion killed two of the reactor operating staff. In the emergency response that followed, 134 station staff and firemen were hospitalized with acute radiation syndrome due to absorbing high doses of ionizing radiation. Of these 134 people, 28 died in the days to months afterward and approximately 14 suspected radiation-induced cancer deaths followed within the next 10 years
How to get to Chernobyl?
To get to Chernobyl is easier than you think. After booking a tour through Young Pioneer Tours you must then come to either Kyiv or Minsk, depending on which sector you want to visit. From there, everything will be arranged by YPT. On the morning of the first day of the tour, you will meet your YPT guide and the local Chernobyl team at your hotel. From Kyiv, the journey to the Chernobyl exclusion zone takes around 2 hours with a stop for breakfast on the way. Transportation is conducted on a comfortable Mercedes Sprinter minibus with AC, WiFi, and TV onboard. To visit the Belarussian sector we’ll meet in Minsk and take a night train to the town of Gomel and we’ll enter the exclusion zone from there.
Shopping in Chernobyl
Whilst it may come as a surprise to some, the Ukrainian sector of the Chernobyl zone now has various shopping opportunities available created by local Ukrainians looking to make a living from the growing number of tourists visiting the zone each year. In our opinion, this is distasteful to open souvenir shops in a disaster site where people lost their lives, but people want souvenirs of their trip and Ukraine is a poor country, so it is what it is.
Souvenirs commonly on sale are t-shirts, maps of the exclusion zone, magnets, and overpriced Soviet gas masks. Of course, there are also drinks, snacks, and hotdogs for sale in case the lunch doesn’t fill you up or you want something for the drive back to Kyiv.
The Belarussian sector on the other hand has no such thing and is a lot more down to earth. Soviet-style stores and canteens for food and snacks is the best place to part with your Belarussian Rubles in that section of the exclusion zone.
When is the best time to visit Chernobyl?
That all boils down to personal choice. The Chernobyl exclusion zone has its advantages and disadvantages in every season. In the springtime everything is in bloom, there are no leaves on the trees that would cover the buildings in Pripyat and as a result, it is very good for photographers. During the summer the Chernobyl exclusion zone is overgrown and overcrowded. But this is the best way to witness how nature has reclaimed the ghost city and turned it into a jungle.