Despite the chilling incidents which happened at Pripyat and Chernobyl in 1986, tons of tourists visit the zone each year, as stated by World Nomads. The disaster was caused by an explosive meltdown during an intense power spike. More than 350,000 residents evacuated from severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.
Today, the Exclusion Zone and its environment are ghost towns, with only a thousand individuals (called the self-settlers) brave enough to continue to reside in the affected areas, which still have extensive levels of radiation. However, it is this very eeriness that has drawn many people to Ukraine to witness its awe-inspiring desolation, but now that travelers want to go back to Chernobyl to see what has been left behind and thinking about the dangers posed by the fallout. So, is it worth the risk? Is it really safe to visit Chernobyl? The short answer is yes, but only on a guided tour. Read on to see why and know some tips on how to view this radioactive region safely.
Why Is It Safe To Visit Chernobyl?
The Chernobyl reactors’ ruins, now covered with a giant metal dome, are still highly radioactive and it will take up to 20,000 years for Chernobyl to be finally radiation-free. However, Professor Fred Mettler, a clinical professor, and a professor emeritus with the Department of Radiology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told Live Science that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone which is now open to the public may have initially received ‘lower doses of radiation,’ regardless to their proximity to the damaged reactor.
About the exposure to radiation levels, Forbes reported that a day tour visit to the Zone is often compared to that of a transatlantic flight–in other words, minimal and without any real impact. The region still has hot spots, though, so avoid these by roaming only within the routes where you are allowed to. Moreover, Chernobyl tour agencies strictly encourage visitors to practice safety precautions and follow the rules and regulations when taking Chernobyl tours (more about this below). As travelers leave the area, they have to pass through a mandatory radiation checkpoint where they are asked to place their hands while the device checks the level of radiation.
How to Stay Safe When Visiting Chernobyl
Look for a Reputable Tour Guide
According to BucketListly, there are plenty of companies that operate the tour all of which are based in Kyiv. They run pretty much the same way with a visit to the Chernobyl Reactor #4, Duga Radar, Pripyat, and Chernobyl town, all in a similar range or costing the same.
Guiding tourists since 1986, the very first months of the Chernobyl accident, Chernobyl Tour is the original tour organization that has been running the tour until today. The company even has their own souvenir shop with items having their name right at the checkpoint into the zone. Although their tour groups are slightly more crowded than most, you will get a few more perks like a visit to the open-air exhibition of robots used in the clean-up, more hours at the exclusion zone, etc. Like most tours, the company practices absolute radiation safety of the visitors, granted by their own studies. Depending on how many days in advance you book the tour, a one-day trip with Chernobyl Tour costs from $ 99 to $149. Book it at least 4 days prior if you want the cheapest price.
However, if you’re looking for a tour that is not too crowded, other tours like Chernobyl Exclusive Tours, Soviet Wonders, GAMMA Travel, Solo East, and Go2Chernobyl are great options.
Book a 1-day Tour
While some tour companies offer up to a 7-day trip to Chernobyl, Responsible Travel recommends an overnight tour, staying at a hotel in the city 18km south of the Nuclear Power Plant. It is understandable that one day might not be enough as there is so much to see across quite a large area. However, the Chernobyl tour explains that short-time visits to Chernobyl with radiation safety followed and designated routes minimize the danger of internal irradiation’s negative effects practically to zero. Then again, tourists will have the time to visit some of the key landmarks, such as the amusement park, the Palace of Culture, and the docks.
Strictly Obey Rules Established in the Zone
Some of the cautions and legal requirements before booking a trip as listed by Tripadvisor are:
- The minimum age limit for the tour is 18 years old. There are no limits in terms of citizenship and/or gender.
- Tourists are the only ones responsible for ensuring there are no medical alerts for their visit. Attendance is forbidden in case of any medical restrictions.
- It is necessary to give 1 to 2 weeks prior notice to the company to arrange your tour. Shorter notice is considered urgent and can either be charged extra or declined.
- Independent visiting to the zone is not allowed; organized guided trips only. Such tours can be group (shared) or individual (minimum for 1 person: maximum as set by each specific company).
- Tourists may not enter the zone by their rented or own car. All visits, including the vehicle admission, must be approved preliminarily by the authorities. Even on special commemorative days, former Pripyat residents’ private cars are prohibited into the zone.
- Finally, always bring your passport with you. Otherwise, you will not be permitted through the control checkpoint.
During your trip, the Chernobyl tour enumerates that it is totally forbidden to:
- Take drugs or drink liquors.
- Carry any kind of weapons.
- Smoke and have a meal in the open air.
- Sit or place video and photo equipment on the ground.
- Touch any vegetation or structures.
- Take any items outside the zone.
- Violate the dress code (open-type shorts, shoes, skirts, trousers).
- Stay in the exclusion zone without the officer-in-charge for the envoy.
Only Follow Areas That are Safe with Less Radiation
Claire Corkhill, a nuclear-waste-disposal researcher at the University of Sheffield who has been assisting with the cleanup of Chernobyl told Business Insider that travelers are only permitted in areas that have been considered safe by the authorities. There are many spots inside the exclusion zone that are still regarded as unsafe, and a guide will have the knowledge and expertise to keep visitors safe at all times. Corkhill also advises not to wander into the forest as the trees are still contaminated with radioactivity, not to pet stray dogs roaming in the zone, and if you’re exposed to radiation, wash off before bed.
Some of the most radioactive areas in the Chernobyl exclusion zone as mentioned in the article, Adventurous Miriam, include the basement of the Pripyat hospital No. 126, Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor No. 4, the basement of the Jupiter plant in Pripyat, and Red Forest near Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Get a Travel Insurance
Express Co cited Rebecca Kingsley, the spokesperson, and a brand manager of Travel Insurance Explained, when she mentioned that as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given the all-clear to travel to the Ukrainian site, most travel insurance policies can cover tourists for their trip. However, she added that a travel insurance policy only covers tourists for the duration of the holiday. So, once you travel back home after the tour, any cover for medical assistance ends at that point as well.
However, World Nomads explained that if you practice caution (wear protective clothing; go with an official tour operator; avoid debris and glass shards), you could get coverage for unexpected illnesses or accidents as long as they meet the conditions and criteria spelled out in your policy. In this case, it’s vital to talk to your insurer if you’re applying to one. Try to explain the nature of the activities to be held during the tour. And before you purchase a travel insurance policy, check your government health advice and travel warnings–there may be no travel insurance for locations with health advice against travel or a government travel ban.
Although it is safe to visit Chernobyl, it is still crucial to be responsible and follow the tips, reminders, rules, and recommendations above to avoid any problems in the end while you enjoy your visit to the radiation region.