It was once a Soviet city of the future, a community of new apartment complexes, community centers, hotels and restaurants. There was even a shiny, new amusement park built to celebrate its future.
But on the night of April 26, 1986, it all came to a disastrous end for Pripyat and its 40,000-plus residents, when reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down, spewing radioactive material into the air and across much of Europe.
In the 25 years since, scientists, journalists and nuclear experts have visited the ghost city and its surrounding area, often referred to as the “Chernobyl Dead Zone” or “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” to study and report on the fallout. In 2011, Ukraine’s Emergencies Ministry opened the area up to tourists, allowing them a glimpse, perhaps, into a post-apocalyptic world.
Emergencies Ministry experts said they’d developed a map of routes that were safe for visitors, and that the radiation situation in the territory was stable. Nearly 10,000 people toured the area, until June 22 of this year, when it was closed down for unexplained reasons. (I was on the last tour that day.)
And at about $180 a pop, the tour brought in millions. The Emergencies Ministry said the money could help fund industrial projects within the contaminated area, such as repairs to the crumbling sarcophagus surrounding reactor No. 4. But the general prosecutor’s office said the money didn’t go to repairs. In fact, the money couldn’t be traced.
This is one reason why Kiev’s District Administrative Court last week banned tours of the Chernobyl area. The main reason, though, the court said, was that the Emergencies Ministry did not have the permission of the Interiors Ministry to allow the tours.
On its official website, the attorney general’s press office said Friday, ”Ukraine’s law prohibits tourism to the area that suffered radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl disaster.”
Still, the Emergencies Ministry hopes to reopen the area to visitors soon, after a review of safety rules and potential health hazards.
New rules could require tourists to carry personal security badges while in the area and to apply for a tour at least 10 days in advance.
The Chernobyl tour is one of the most popular tours in Eastern Europe. Forbes magazine named it one the world’s most “exotic” tourist destinations.
View more of my photos of the Chernobyl Exlcusion Zone taken on the last tour, June 22, 2011.
Visits to the Chernobyl zone will again be permitted, Ukraine’s Emergencies Ministry said Friday. But new rules have been put in place for those hoping to tour the area. The way it’s stated in a story published by the Kyiv Post is confusing, but access to the area should be allowed not only to Ukrainians, but foreign citizens, too.
From the Dec. 2 Kyiv Post story:
Under the new rules, for traveling to the exclusion zone, a written request has to be submitted to the Ukrainian State Agency for Management of the Exclusion Zone within ten days before the trip.
The request has to contain the person’s contact information, citizenship, aim and terms of the trip, a description of the information that a visitor of the Chornobyl zone would like to receive during the trip, as well as written confirmation that the person has no legal bans on traveling to the exclusion zone.
Applicants for traveling to the exclusion zone may receive a refusal to make the trip if they are below 18 years old, if the written request is filled in improperly, if repairs or research activities are being carried out in the area indicated in the request, due to bad weather conditions in the exclusion zone, or if law enforcement agencies report that the person has involved in terrorist activity.
A person can visit the exclusion zone for five days.