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More visitors heading to Chernobyl, despite the risks

By XU LIN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-23 08:09

Nuclear disaster site popular 'dark tourism' area

A visitor takes a selfie in front of an abandoned bus near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in June. GETTY IMAGES

After Li Yimeng took a one-day trip to Chernobyl in Ukraine, she washed her shoes five times, scrubbing away any radiation that may have been on the soles.

She also washed her clothes and backpack after visiting the area, scene of the Chernobyl disaster-the world's biggest nuclear power plant accident-which occurred on April 26, 1986.

Since the abandoned area was opened to tourists in 2011, there has been an increasing number of visitors. But radiation risks remain.

"The sudden fear I experienced after the trip was purely psychological, but I didn't feel ill," said Li, a photographer from Beijing, who traveled to Ukraine in October.

When the disaster happened, parts of the then Soviet Union, including Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, were exposed to substantial amounts of radiation, with aftereffects in the following years including increased cases of thyroid cancer. The Soviet Union broke up in 1991, five years after the meltdown.

Tourists can book a guided one-day tour of the area through travel agencies in Kiev, capital of Ukraine.

Local travel agencies claim that as radioactivity levels fall over time, and with cleanup operations being staged at Chernobyl, short visits along designated routes are safe, but tourists must follow safety regulations.

Some travel agencies state on their websites that the total amount of radiation a person is exposed to during a 10-hour trip to the area is several times lower than the level experienced during a transatlantic flight.

However, the potential risk is still there, as the dangerous nuclear waste is sealed in a "tomb".

Immediately after the meltdown in 1986, a massive steel and concrete structure, known as "the sarcophagus", was hastily constructed to cover the damaged nuclear reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The installation was completed at the end of November that year.

By the end of 2016, Ukraine and other countries worked together to establish a giant shield to replace the sarcophagus to prevent further leaks of radioactivity. The shield is designed to secure the site for the next 100 years, and tourists can take photos of the area from a distance.

Chernobyl is one of the most popular areas for "dark tourism", which refers to traveling to places associated with death and tragedy.

After the hit TV miniseries Chernobyl aired on HBO in May, increasing numbers of tourists have been keen to visit the disaster area.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Ukrainian government reported that nearly 72,000 visitors traveled to Chernobyl last year, up from 50,000 in 2017.

In July, the Ukrainian government said it would make Chernobyl an official tourist site, with plans to improve infrastructure, checkpoints, routes, waterways and radiation monitoring.

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