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Holiday in Chernobyl — the world's freakiest daytrip

The wasteland that is Chernobyl today
"And then comes the scariest site. Reactor number four. The one where it all went a bit tits-up. Apparently 92 percent of the nasty gloop is still in there, and the 'sarcophagus' surrounding it looks less than sturdy."
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The world's worst nuclear disaster

In the early hours of April 26, 1986, the world experienced its worst ever nuclear disaster. A safety test at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine went badly wrong, and the resulting explosion sent an estimated nine tonnes of radioactive material into the air — that's the equivalent of 90 Hiroshima atomic bombings.

The surrounding areas were badly contaminated, hundreds of thousands of people contracted terminal illnesses, both as a result of the initial explosion and in a bid to clear up the mess, and a whole region was evacuated.

Barring a few workers monitoring the site, and the odd hardy soul that has returned to their village illegally, no-one enters the 30km-radius exclusion zone around the plant.

Apart from, of course, the daytrippers.

Into the exclusion zone

Sergei, our guide, reads out an awfully long disclaimer. The State Department is not responsible for "any deterioration of my health" or "contamination of my equipment". Gulp.

We're in the town of Chernobyl itself, which is inside the 30km zone, but outside the extra-dicey 10km zone. It has been reduced to a few shacks — including what's colloquially known as the 'Chernobyl Sheraton' for those who absolutely have to stay overnight. On the way, we've passed abandoned villages that are slowly being overgrown by trees, grass and weeds.

The trees are new growth — the original ones died out within two weeks of the accident, and are buried under clay. The pines have red trunks — a mark of the radiation — and they're part of the continuing problem. Their roots reach down to the water table, and pass the contamination into the silt of the Dnipro River.

Further along, we pass more villages. These have been buried under the soil in an attempt to reduce the risk. Every house makes a little hillock, and most have a sign indicating radioactivity on them.

The power plant

Eventually we get to the plant itself, and it's a far bigger complex than many would imagine. There were four working reactors at Chernobyl, with two more under construction and four more planned at the time of the disaster.

Reactors five and six are still half-built. They're surrounded by cranes, some of which still carry their load. There were more pressing things to worry about than getting them out.

We're given precise instructions on what we're allowed to take pictures of — an army type joins the bus by this point — so it's impossible to convey the armada of electricity pylons around the site. This place provided power to Russia and the Czech Republic at one point.

The wildlife

Perhaps the oddest thing is the large cooling lake, however. It is full of fish, including some giant catfish that look like sea monsters from a B-grade movie. This is not because of some radioactive mutation, but because they've no predators or competition in the area. Understandably, not many fishermen are interested in reeling them in.

Apparently, this is a story repeated around the region. Because there is virtually no human life, animals are thriving in rapidly growing natural habitats — wolves, deer and boar populations have shot up.

The reactor

And then comes the scariest site. Reactor number four. The one where it all went a bit tits-up. Apparently 92 percent of the nasty gloop is still in there, and the 'sarcophagus' surrounding it looks less than sturdy.

After the accident, helicopters poured tonnes of water, lead and sand in to cool things down, and then the reactor was cased in cement. Frankly, it looks as though they just stuck a few concrete blocks around the side and ran away as soon as possible. And now those blocks are crumbling. As Sergei says, no-one really knows what it's like inside. A bit of roof collapsing could lead to critical mass and then ... well, it's best not thinking about.

You can get within 100m of the reactor, and it's altogether terrifying. Especially with the Geiger counter going mental.

The ghost town

Before heading back to Chernobyl for a three-course lunch (no joke), there's a haunting tour around Prypyat. This was the town built to service the plant, and it was regarded as a model Soviet city — great facilities, young population, smart look.

Its 45,000 inhabitants were evacuated after the disaster, and have never returned. Prypyat itself remains in 1986. We look around a derelict hotel, fairground, swimming pool and school. The latter is spooky. Old footballs are still in the gym, library books are spilled over the floors amongst upturned tables, and a piano is stripped bare in the music room.

Is it safe?

In a word, no. Chernobyl will not be 'safe' for a very long time. In terms of doing the daytrip though, exposure to radiation is minimal as long as you obey safety instructions, don't eat apples from the trees or take home uranium-laced 'souvenir' stones.

As a rough measure, you would need to spend four or five days in the exclusion zone to get the same dosage of radiation as you would from an X-ray.

Getting to Chernobyl

SoloEast Travel runs day tours from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Prices start at US$130.

Scandinavian Airlines (T: 1300 727 707) offers flights to Kiev from Australia — via Bangkok and Copenhagen — from $2219 including tax.

To get a good overview of the Chernobyl disaster and its consequences, visit Chernobyl.info, or go to the sobering Chernobyl Museum in Kiev beforehand ...

Be sure to check out our photo gallery of a Chernobyl holiday by clicking here:

User comments
I am pro Nuc Power and I say we should have done it years ago. Build one in Brisbane I wont say no. Also Australia is really the only country with the space to store the waste product, we should store the worlds waste in an outback underground facility. We can charge heaps for it and tuck it away for the years to come. As for Chernobyl being a day trip, hell yes, brilliant idea, if you lot would do some research you'd know that the levels of radiation are far lower than assumed. Its all hype.
This is the progression from petroleum. any one involved in the consumption of the petrochemical paradigm has paved the the way into this nuclear nightmare.
I agree with Prancers comments but must pull you up in your comment when you say there's "nothing out there" in regards to putting solar panels all through inland Australia. That comment irritated me for the reason that just because you don't live there (and it is safe to assume that you never have otherwise you would not make such comments) nor appreciate the diversity of Australia's arid landscape, it doesn't mean that there is nothing out there! There are aboriginal remote communities, those who enjoy working and living on sheep and cattle stations, and a whole host of plant and animal species endemic to certain areas, many of which are in danger of joining Australia's extinction list (Australia has the highest mammal extinction number of any country in the world-due to this type of thinking). So put your glasses on and look again- and you will change your mind! If you want to put solar panels somewhere how about all the empty space on roofs throughout Australian cities!
...and yet for some reason people wanna research and go down the road of nuclear power (with not only it's creation problems and dangers but also the hundreds of years trying to safely store its byproducts and waste) rather than renewable sources such as hydro, solar, wind etc. Yes, these renewable sources may be far less efficient at the moment, but if proper research and funding were available it would not take long for it to catch up to what we require. If NASA can put spacecrafts and robots on the surface of mars etc then surely we can invent a small, powerful solar cell - if you listen to the conspiracy theorists and rumours, we already have one but the big oil companies and lobbiests etc are using their force to keep it under wraps. And i wouldn't doubt it either...big money makes the world go round and keeps us all ignorant to what's really going on. There's nothing out there so why not put solar panels all over inland australia?? and turbines in the ocean on our beaches??
"They're surrounded by cranes, some of which still carry their load. There were more pressing things to worry about than getting them out." The cranes were left there deliberately because the metal became radioactive. Same goes for all the helicopters and trucks used to fight the fire and clean up. "A bit of roof collapsing could lead to critical mass and then ... well, it's best not thinking about." That's not true. There's no risk of nuclear reaction, but it could spread more radioactive dust around, which would be much worse than a nuclear reaction.
So ... we've had Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island now and those of sound mind must ponder, "Is THIS the road we go down - globally - as the answer to significantly reducing the burning of fossil fuels as our main source of energy?" Perhaps the planet will be lucky enough to host the brillance of another brain, like that of Mister Einstein, that will offer intelligence as to how we may better manage this resource. Quite simply, it is obvious that our species' complancency with our own standards of living is not in line with the environment (Mother Nature.) In the past, we have made mistakes. Perhaps we are able to learn from these 2 major ones and rather than fear the power of atom splitting ... simply apply more effective management techniques, team that with alternative energy supply (wind, water, solar) and preserve this planet we seem almost reluctant to care for and simply take it for granted.
Hey Galvanium, you're so right. Whats with all the 'RADIOPHOBIA'? Radiation rules. I wish i could be pelted by radiation RIGHT NOW actually so i could mutant into a freak or just die a cancer riddled husk. Thanks for setting us right on that. Im off to go repeatedly X-ray my groin now....
Your report panders to the usual radiophobia. The abundance of wildlife arround Chernobyl now is scientifically well documented - and should come as no surprise. If you really want to go somewhere to soak up the radioactivity, could I suggest Rammsar in Iran (radon springs), Guaripari Beach in Brazil or Kerala in India (both with thorium sands), or even the European radon spas. Interestingly, these places are renowned health resorts!
holiday in cherbonyl you gotta be kidding.Next it will be mail order ex soviet military reactors park it in the backyard and watch it glow all nice at night time.
My partner & I visited Kiev last September and I tried my utmost to convince him to go on the day-trip to Chernobyl. Unfortunately I couldn't but so regret not going. We did go to the museum in Kiev though - thoroughly interesting, deeply disturbing but so inspirational. To see that so many people have chosen to liveand work there still is rather amazing. Next time we'll definitely be going!

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