Chernobyl Has Become a Tourist Attraction

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Nearly 25 years after a Soviet-era nuclear reactor plant exploded in Chernobyl, in what was the worst nuclear disaster in history, tourists are flocking to the site.

Thousands of people come to follow guides with Geiger counters in hand through the irradiated zone around Chernobyl. And they pay about $160 for the experience, AFP reports.

The visitors range from nuclear specialists to ordinary tourists.

At the entrance to the zone, which is only open to those on tours or with special permission, visitors must sign a form saying they will respect rules for preventing contamination. There is no eating or smoking or touching anything.

One recent visitor, a young Belgian psychologist, Davinia Schoutteten, was "a little bit scared" of the radiation, and told AFP she planned to throw her shoes away after the tour.

Numbers on the Geiger counter rise as visitors head towards the reactor, which is now covered in a concrete shell, for a photo stop.

Then the tour visits the abandoned city of Pripyat, about two miles from the power plant, where about 50,000 residents were evacuated the day of the disaster. The city is a ghost town, unchanged since the Soviet-era.

Bobby Harrington, a young Australian tourist, viewing abandoned homes, said the experience made her sad. "It's the voyeuristic element that I feel uncomfortable with."

But other tourists said they see the site as an important reminder of a historical event.

"I always wanted to see this place, since it happened. It's a very important part of our recent history," said tourist Karl Backman, a Swedish musician.

The explosion contaminated the then-Soviet states of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, and fallout also spread to other parts of Europe. In Ukraine alone, 2.3 million people are designated as officially having been impacted including from higher cancer rates.

The death toll from Chernobyl is subject to dispute, ranging from an estimated 4,000 to what may eventually be determined to be tens or even hundreds of thousands.



Photo, Carl Montgomery, flickr
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