On the 34th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in history, the area surrounding the decommissioned Chernobyl plant is currently accepting visitors.
About a decade ago, the Ukrainian government opened up the area affected by the nuclear disaster – a 30 km radius known as the Chernobyl exclusion zone – declaring the site safe but with strict regulations.
On April 26, 1986, an experiment at the Chernobyl plant went awry, causing an explosion and fire that sent radioactivity into the atmosphere, resulting in 31 deaths and the evacuation of 40,000 from the area.
The world didn’t know about the nuclear disaster until two days later when Scandinavian technicians detected abnormally high levels of radiation. Only then did the Soviet Union come clean about the catastrophe.
Today, Chernobyl and its neighbouring town Pripyat are literal ghost towns, but both are high on the list for adventure seekers curious to visually experience the aftermath of a nuclear mishap.
Mark O’Connell, author of the new book Notes from an Apocalypse, visited the site to see for himself why anyone would want to visit the area.
“I wanted to see what the end of the world looked like, in a way,” he told NPR. “And I also wanted to see what a catastrophic event on the order of Chernobyl – what happens afterwards.”
But what he found interesting was the extreme tourism that opened up in the last decade.
“There are tour companies that have set up in and around Kiev who will bring you there and you can stay overnight, which is what I did on the tour. You get to explore Pripyat, which is the abandoned city that was purpose-built for the workers at Chernobyl.
“It’s a fascinating kind of insight into the sort of visual spectacle of the apocalypse.”
With the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 hitting tourism hard, virtual guided tours of the exclusion zone are now an option.
One tour company, Chernobyl Tour, has an online booking option where “professional guides will virtually take you to the exclusion zone and answer your questions.”
Tourists are also offered the latest updates to the zone, along with unique photos, videos and documents of the area.