The unfortunate circumstances of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in Ukraine left disastrous levels of radiation in the surrounding region. The weeks following the tragic accident left 28 people dead from direct exposure, and within the following years, many more. Although the exact number cannot be determined, many experts estimate that 4,000 to 93,000 people died from the incident.
More than 16 years after the life-changing event, Chernobyl was opened to a select number of visitors, and within a few years, the disaster site was averaging 70,000 tourists a year, and the numbers are expected to climb to 100,000 by the end of the year.
Nuclear Power: A Brief History
Throughout the last century, advancements in nuclear power have had a major influence on the world as we know it. The first demonstration of such power occurred in August 1945, when two American B-28 bombers dropped atomic bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In total, over 120,000 people died from the direct attacks, and in the following months, more would die of radiation exposure.
Almost a decade later, in 1954, the first grid-connected power station was built in Obninsk, Russia. The technology used there laid the groundwork for the larger RBMK reactors that would be built in Chernobyl.
The Downward Spiral
Construction of Chernobyl’s power plant began in 1970, and by 1983, four RBMK nuclear reactors had been built. On August 25th, 1986, the No. 4 nuclear reactor was scheduled to be shut down for routine maintenance. On that day, a safety simulation test was to be conducted, but things took an unexpected turn for the worse.
Researchers wanted to determine whether the reactor would remain cool until the backup generators kicked in in the event of a power loss. Things began to go south when the test was delayed by 10 hours. An hour into the shutdown, a shift change resulted in the power being reduced much further than it should have been. In addition, too many control rods were removed, and the insistence that the test should proceed as planned led to two explosions. The reactor core ruptured, sending massive amounts of radioactive contaminants into the air.
Where Are We Now?
Over the last few years, there has been an increasingly growing breed of travelers who are drawn to “disaster destinations.” These destinations aren’t for the faint at heart, and they come with their fair share of risks. Not only can you be arrested for visiting these places, but there is also the possibility of developing health conditions, and death has occurred in some instances.
Michael Edwards of Intrepid Travel, a company that has been offering Chernobyl tour packages since 2016, has seen a significant change in the number of customers interested in visiting the site. According to him, when they first debuted, the tour was only offered as a limited-edition departure. Over the next year, departures increased by 800%, then by 77% in 2018. Michael also noticed a significant increase after the premiere of HBO’s “Chernobyl” miniseries.
Perhaps the most crucial piece of information is the safety concerns, and it’s not as dangerous as you think, or at least that’s what the companies say. According to Michael, his company’s tours provide travelers with a mandatory and detailed safety briefing at the start of the tour. The guides also ensure that nothing is touched and that visitors not wearing long sleeves or closed shoes are not allowed to visit the site. He also said that the radiation levels should not be harmful to a person given the amount of time spent in the area.