Chernobyl Officially Opening To Tourists

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the worst nuclear disaster in history, will officially open to tourists beginning next year, say officials in the Ukraine.

Visitors will be allowed into a previously sealed zone, says the Emergency Situations Ministry. Unofficial tours have taken visitors near the plant, but this is the first time the facility will officially appear on tourist maps.

The idea is an attraction where visitors can go to learn more about the 1986 tragedy.

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

Yulia Yershova, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry, tells The Associated Press that new travel routes are being designed to be both safe and informative.

Chernobyl Opens to Tourists

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, file

"There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn't stray away from the group," Yershova says. "Though it is a very sad story."

United Nations Development Program chief Helen Clark, visiting the plant, says she supports the idea of tours as a way of education about nuclear safety.

Chernobyl Opens to Tourists

Efrem Lukatsky, AP

The exact date the plant will open for tours has yet to be announced.

The remains of the nuclear plant, which is no longer functioning, are maintained by 2,500 employees, working in shifts to limit their exposure to radiation.

Officials say they also hope to finish building a safer shell around the exploded reactor by 2015. The current shell is cracked and has been leaking radiation.

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.

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